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Recs. for a great meal on short notice?

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Help! My sister is in town for her birthday and I wanted to take her somewhere special on Saturday evening. Because of our schedule I need a reservation for 6 between 7 and 8. I had intended to take her to Aziza, Slanted Door, Range, or Kokkari, but I ... I ... I just plain forgot to make the reservation. Now of course all of the above are booked up, and I could just poke my eyes out.

I throw myself upon the helpful folks here. Any recommendations for similarly good places to those above that might be able to squeeze in 6 at 7:30 on a Saturday night? I know, a tall order. We could go anywhere in SF, or Berkeley (maybe slightly later--say, 8 p.m. in Berkeley).

My sister likes fun places with reasonably adventurous menus beyond the usual French & Italian fare; cocktails a plus. She adored Aziza and wanted to go back. I've also taken her to Fonda on Solano, which was a big hit (mostly for the cocktails). It would need to be not too expensive (i.e., in Aziza range, not Coi range).

Thanks so much for any advice!

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  1. For questions like this, I like to check Opentable -- at the very least, it reminds me of places I wouldn't have thought of. A couple of ideas of places that showed availability: Bong Su (upscale Vietnamese with a cocktail lounge) and Saha (Yemen/Mediterranean).

    5 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Ooh, Bong Su might be perfect... I haven't been there, but it's sister to Tamarine in Palo Alto, which I actually think is better than Slanted Door. Good cocktails, stylish interior (as far as I can tell from the website).

      On the Cal-Mediterranean small plates side, Isa looks like it has a lot of reservations available for that time (is that a bad sign? I went in December and it was still pretty good).

      1. re: daveena

        Of course, OpenTable! <slaps forehead> Oooh, I had never heard of Bong Su. I've been to Tamarine and really loved it. I snagged a reservation. Thanks so much!!

        1. re: banchory bolo

          Great! Be sure to report back on how you all liked it.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Well, all in all it was a terrific dinner. I can't add too much to bernalgirl's excellent report here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/383163. Our experience was a bit louder than hers, because we were at a round table not far from the entrance, but it was easy to carry on a full-table conversation. The service was attentive but not cloying, and the waiter knew how to hang back without ignoring us. The only service misstep was that we had intended to order cocktails before getting to appetizers and wine, but our waiter took so long to get back to us that we skipped cocktails. (I'll have to go back for the kaffir lime cocktail.) A bit of upselling (I asked for a wine rec. under $40 and he recommended a $48; much suggesting of additional dishes).

            The food was really very good. I was happy that it was family style, although our party made it pretty much impossible to do anything fun and interesting (one vegan, one non-fish-eater, one lowfat vegetarian, and three genuine omnivores). Among the appetizers, the salt & pepper calimari stood out for their tenderness and delicious, light cilantro emulsion. The Da Nang beef rolls were solid, and the shrimp cupcakes were delicate but a little starchy and bland. The papaya salad was fine, but not as flavorful and interesting as Ruen Pair's (in Albany/Berkeley). Among the entrees, my favorites were the Tamarine prawns (just exquisite, with Tamarine's utterly delicious signature sauce) and the lemongrass bass, which was melt-in-your mouth tender.

            The Chilean syrah our waiter suggested was a good pairing for our food (unfortunately, I've forgotten the name). A good balance of acidity and fruit; although I usually like beer with Vietnamese, this was a nice change of pace for me.

            My only "complaint" is that the whole affair is a bit high-concept and precious. I became afraid (very afraid) when the waiter offered to explain the "inspiration" behind the menu, but the food ultimately spoke for itself. The waiters dress like Zen pirates, and the hostesses wear these backless wraps that are more appropriate to fan dancers than wait staff. But then again, I'm a curmudgeon.

            Overall, I'd say the food is worthy of Tamarine, Bong Su's sister restaurant in Palo Alto, although I prefer the more subdued, food-focused atmosphere at Tamarine.

            At $300 for six, including tip (with almost $100 of that being wine), I'd say it was a good value, too.

          2. re: banchory bolo

            Here's a recent report from bernalgirl about Bong Su. Sounds like a good choice.

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/383163

      2. Incanto often has last minute spots open. It's currently my favorite place in the city.

        www.incanto.biz

        1. Bong Su is FABULOUS - have a great time!