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Please help!

Looking for rec's for a romantic birthday dinner in Oakland or Berkeley. Quiet, romantic, great food. I'm not too familiar with the East Bay, so could use some help!

Oliveto? Garibaldi's? Chez Panisse (although not sure if it's within my budget!)?


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  1. Chez Panisse would be good, if it's within your budget. If not, I'd suggest Jojo -- it's on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, consistently good food, excellent service, and is a very romantic setting.

      1. I think Garibaldi is more a 6-person dinner party or business lunch kind of place.

        Rivoli on Solano. Short menu doesn't distract from the occasion and full of quality--especially (IIRC) a portabello mushroom appetizer that used to be one of the few consistent items on the menu. Room isn't very private feeling, but maintains a nice hushed vibe for special occasion. Go during daylight to enjoy the ambience added by the garden outside.

        1 Reply
        1. re: j_b

          I second Rivoli on Solano, they've never disappointed on numerous special occasions. Let them know ahead that it's a special day and they will put Happy Birthday confetti on the table which is pretty cute. Of course, the portabella mushroom appetizer is something not to miss...

        2. Bistro Liaison is a nice option - good food, sophisticated yet comfy interior, and good value.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Maple

            Never been to Oliveto's, but from what I've read this isn't a place I would personally choose for romantic.

            I think Jojo is the most romatic place I've been in the East Bay with good food. Great house champagne.

            I understand that Chez Panisse has some sort of alcove upstairs in the cafe that is supposed to be private if you didn't want to go for the downstairs restaurant. That is cozy and could be romantic.

            Rivoli has tables close together. As for the table in the corner for maximum privacy. You might drop by to scope out the place to get the table that is off by itself.

            1. re: rworange

              Agreed on Jojo -- I was just there tonight, and it's a very warm and cozy little place, and the food is reliably good.

              Also on Garibaldi: I like the food there, but it's pretty expensive, and also very loud.

              1. re: rworange

                I don't know about the alcove in the Chez Panisse Cafe, but my husband and I went there for an anniversary dinner last week, and it was so noisy that I had a headache after about 10 minutes. I think the noise level would have been given a little bomb symbol by the Chronicle restaurant critics. It was also cozy inasmuch as the tables were *really* close together. I was lucky the candle at the table next to ours wasn't lit yet when I squeezed into my seat or my bum would have gone up in flames. (Food and service were excellent, though.)

              2. re: Maple

                I find the food at Bistro Liaison to be uninspired. Ingredient quality is markedly inferior for Berkeley.

              3. While I know it is not exactly high end, when we lived in the East Bay, we often went to Cafe Mediterranee (sp?) on College whenever we needed an infusion of romantic atmosphere. Chez Panisse does have that nice cafe upstairs that feels cozy if you get the right table. I love the food at Oliveto, but the atmosphere leaves me cold. There is a little cafe down the street whose name escapes me that features tremendous pizza and regional Italian dishes--help me out here, Chowhounds, what's it called?

                4 Replies
                1. re: aelliottsherman

                  Hmm, are you talking about Dopo? It's not down the street from Oliveto, but it's close by, and fits the description, it's the only place around that I can think of that has good pizza and regional Italian. I love Dopo, but it's not particularly romantic, and you can't make a reservation, which makes it difficult for this kind of thing.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    I love Dopo too, but it's not right for the OP - too loud and casual, lots of kids running around, etc.

                  2. re: aelliottsherman

                    La Mediterranee is dark but the food would kill any sense of romance for me.

                    For Middle Eastern, romantic, and low price, Zatar.

                    1. re: aelliottsherman

                      You're thinking of La Mediterranee. I always liked going here - has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant, and entrees are under $10.

                      1. re: Lori SF

                        I love A Cote but it can be fairly noisy at peak hours, which last till 9:30 or 10.

                      2. So much depends on your definition of romantic. East Bay restaurants are quite casual, so if a jacket and tie atmosphere is desired, you'll be out of luck.

                        For small, cozy, and quiet, Jojo is a good bet, just understand that some diners will show up in jeans. A typical menu is here. http://www.jojorestaurant.com/menu/me... I've never gone wrong w/ the trio of salads app.

                        I don't know if it's your cup of tea, but I enjoy the nightly parade of hungry wildlife at Rivoli. You might ask if they'd be able to seat you by the window overlooking the back garden. It's a nice place to sit as the sun goes down and the animals come out. Menu is here. http://rivolirestaurant.com/menu.php Hot fudge sundae is mandatory.

                        Chez Panisse upstairs or down is great, but the upstairs has a decidedly more casual feel. The little front room upstairs is nice, but be clear that it is not a private room--you'll share the space w/ other tables. Cafe menu is here, to give you an idea of the prices. http://chezpanisse.com/pgcafemenu.html The downstairs is more formal and will feel more special. Price depends on the night of the week. Monday through Thursday is quite reasonable. http://chezpanisse.com/pgdownmenu.html If you opt for a Monday, not only is it a bargain, but you'll also get a bit more advance notice re: menu if you're dining late in the month. They announce the Monday main courses for the entire month. http://chezpanisse.com/pgmonday.html

                        We have our anniversary dinner every year at Oliveto, but our anniversary is New Year's Eve. On that night, the atmosphere is festive, rather than quiet. I'm not sure why others find it less romantic than other East Bay offerings. I'd say it's pretty similar on most nights. The only scary part is a tendency toward service glitches. I've had to be firm re: dishes ordered, timing (no, I do not want my hot appetizer now, 30 seconds after the arrival of the salumi). If you're comfortable being clear about what you want, it's no problem. This might, however, be a romantic mood killer.

                        Skip Garibaldi's. The room is loud, the food is just okay for the prices.

                        Call me crazy, but I find great cocktails and small plates romantic. There's something about sharing food that I really like. The music is likely to be a little loud to fit the quiet bill, but I would love to spend my birthday w/ the hubster over great cocktails and mussels at A Cote. Be sure to reserve so you don't get stuck at the communal table. This is what we did for Valentine's Day, and it was perfect. Menu is here. http://www.acoterestaurant.com/menus/...

                        I'd give a big no to La Med or any other place in the Elmwood. Everything's far too casual for a special meal, and you're likely to be seated amidst a sea of families with young children.

                        Bay Wolf on Piedmont is good and quiet. Food not quite as good as the Chez, but it is reliable. Menu is here, to give you an idea of the prices. http://www.baywolf.com/home.html

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: lexdevil

                          Excellent rundown of the options. I think A Cote would be perfect, though it might be just a touch too loud.

                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                            I find it's quieter at the small tables near the window in the front (not on the bar side). They're well away from the bar and communal table noise.

                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                              Until recently, at least, you could only make reservations at A Cote before 6:30, so that might be a problem. I love A Cote, so if you can make reservations for all party sizes at all times, definitely request one of the tables on the back patio, or in one of the little nooks, because otherwise, it's a really loud place.

                          2. Have you considered Olivia?

                            1. I think JoJo is quite romantic and the food is good -- we celebrated our engagement there and the staff went out of their way to make it a special night. Both Citron and Bay Wolf are quiet, but I don't think the food is as good and they are a little, well, stale. I love A Cote, but I think it's too loud and crowded for a romantic meal (the back patio is quieter but seems a little too casual or something to be romantic). Oliveto can be very romantic if you get the right table, but if you are in the middle of the room, it won't seem cozy enough.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: The Dive

                                Citron is a reasonable choice for this occasion. More romantic than some of the other destination restaurants. Have you considered Zax Tavern? Lowkey, nice, fairly quiet, small, finely crafted menu with lovely cocktails. On Telegraph, about three? blocks past Whole Foods headed north from Oakland to Berkeley.

                                1. re: oaktowngirl

                                  Citron always looks depressingly dead to me. Maybe I'm there outside of peak dinner hours, but it never seems to be more than a quarter full.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Agreed -- I live in the neighborhood and walk by a lot, and I don't think I've ever seen it even half full. And no one ever looks like they're enjoying themselves.

                              2. Second (or fifth or whatever) on Rivoli and Jojo.

                                O Chame.

                                Chez Panisse is my first choice for a romantic meal. Oliveto is no cheaper.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I agree with rworange that the tables at Rivoli are too close together to be romantic. People have different ideas of "romantic" but I think spending the evening listening to other people's conversations and knowing they can hear every word of yours would be at the top of the list of mood killers.

                                  I was going to say Olivia, too, but we haven't had a report in a while, so I don't know how the food is doing.

                                2. Thanks for all the suggestions! To answer someone's question - I'd like to stay under $150. I've checked out some menus - Oliveto and Rivoli seem most appealing. Chez is a risk with their set menu since we stick to fish over meat. We've actually been to A Cote and I'd like to try somewhere else. With the limited options in the East Bay, I may just opt for driving into the city!

                                  Any more thoughts about Rivoli - never heard of it before now, so any input would be greatly appreciated!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Newcomer76

                                    You could reserve at the Chez and cancel (at least 24 hours in advance) if the menu is too meat heavy. If you're lucky and hit the occasional 100% seafood night, you're golden. If you catch a night w/ a seafood app. or main, you can easily ask for a substitution for the other course. I just wouldn't want to have to ask for subs for the bulk of the meal...it denies the premise of the downstairs menu.

                                    The food is very reliable at Rivoli. Doesn't hit the high notes that the Chez can (but does not always) reach, but I've never been less than happy. You do, however, have to make it through the crush at the entrance to get to your table. Have faith...the chaos disappears once you reach your table.

                                  2. I don't know how risky this will be, and I don't have recent first-hand experience.

                                    But I've started hearing good things about Jordan's at the Claremont Hotel. If only that were true!

                                    The setting is magical. And it's very quiet.

                                    For $150, you might be able to pull it off. Paragon, also in the hotel, is more moderately priced, a little more casual, better food, I thought at the time (already couple of years ago when I tried them both). The patio sunset view is truly out of this world.

                                    You never know - will you be brave enough to try one of them....?


                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: grocerytrekker

                                      The view is killer, but the only reports here about the food have been pretty negative.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I'd say come for the view, and stay for the cocktails. I had a meal at Paragon more recently and it was pretty good, but next time I think I'd just have cocktails instead.