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Post-graduation: Somewhere good, other than...

Pizzaiolo, Dopo, Eccolo, Chez Panisse, Oliveto?

These seem to be the places that come up over and over (and over for emphasis) again when asked for restaurant recs.

We live in such a flourishing food mecca, I'm wondering if someone can offer me some other suggestions? Its not that I don't like these places, its just that I think they're over recommended and I feel like there's got to be some other (good) choices out there. Help!

I don't really have specifications other than my graduation will be ending around 1-ish on a Saturday, so the place needs to be open for a b/w lunch and dinner (brunch) meal. Also, I'd like it to have a not-too-limited menu for the non-adventurous in the group. Lastly, there will be ~10 of us, so a place that will accomodate that many, not be too noisy, and ideally take reservations would be great.

Thanks, Chowhounds!

P.S. Italian, Cal-cuisine are good, but I'm not opposed to others. I prefer places that use fresh ingredients and are moderately priced. Preferably no Indian, Mexican, asian...

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  1. I think the reason those places come up so often is because they're the best restaurants in the Berkeley/Oakland area. Particularly if you're looking for places that use fresh ingredients, no Indian, Mexican or Asian. I can tell you that they're the restaurants I eat at over and over and over again.

    Are there others? Sure: Wood Tavern, A Cote, Cesar, Zax Tavern, Cafe Rouge, Sea Salt, T-Rex, Lalimes, and Luka's Taproom are fine choices.

    If it was my graduation, I'd go to Pizzaiolo.

    1. Usual suspects (not all of which I recommend personally):

      A Cote
      Bay Wolf
      Cafe Rouge
      Chez Panisse
      Dona Tomas
      O Chame
      Sea Salt

        1. The last few times they've come up I believe the poster has specified that Cal Ital or Italian would be good since the group included some non-adventurous types (and most everyone likes Italian, I guess).

          When hubby got his Master's degree last year, the ceremony was in the am on a weekend (in San Francisco, not in East Bay) and if memory serves it was also Mother's Day: yikes! Well, all of my family is adventurous enough for dim sum, so we had a graduation party/brunch for about 25 people, at Kan's: took over three tables in the back of the beautiful main room (I don't recommend the private room's at Kan's: not attractive and up an additional flight of stairs. the one flight up to Kan's was hard enough on my 80 year old plus Father...), ordered the menu in advance, and brought in a cake and champagne with their knowledge and permission. The food (all dim sum) was great, everyone loved the party, and if they charged us corkage it was minimal (cant remember now). Bottom line: a great party, very reasonably priced, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

          But then you said no Asian.....

          so, if you eliminate Asian, I do agree with Morton that the places you mention, along with a few others, are in fact among the best in the East Bay. (Mexican is never among the best, so never mind that you eliminated that too). On Robert's list, I'd recommend A Cote, Cesar (but it might have logistics issues depending on your size), Soizic, Rivoli, Chez Panisse, and certainly Eccolo...Jojo is too small, IMO, Bay Wolf not that great (again IMO)...some of the others I either haven't tried or haven't been to in so long that I am not sure I really have an opinion...

          1. Well, once you limit your request to 1) having a menu for non adventurous people 2) not too noisy, 3) take reservations, 4) no Indian, or Asian, or Mexican, then these places are among the top of the ones in the East Bay. When you further need lunch on a Saturday, your choices are pretty limited. There were lots of recommendations in your previous thread, did you not like any of those places?

            15 Replies
            1. re: JasmineG


              I did like most of the recs in my previous post. However, for various reasons this degree has taken me 7 years to get and I have family and friends coming from all over to help me celebrate this important event. I guess I just want something special, ie. not the same old places that get recommended to everyone no matter what they're actually looking for. For me, I'm looking for someplace that has really delicious homestyle cooking, not frou-frou or particularly out of the ordinary, but good, quality ingredients, nice but casual atmosphere, and good service. A not-too-limited menu is a plus; parking is a plus; moderate pricing is a plus; not too noisy is a plus (although I know that these are all difficult requests given the area).

              Someplace where we can all enjoy a quality meal together and enjoy eachother's company at the same time.

              Maybe this is all too much to ask for.

              1. re: chemchef

                Your description applies to a lot of the places that get recommended, and have been recommended to you: that is *why* they get recommended! It isn't too much to ask for; it is out there, but it is going to be someplace someone knows about and has thought of, unless it is brand new (and do you really want to deal with brand new kinks on your special day?)

                Perhaps you should consider a backyard picnic prepared by talented friends with very high quality ingredients.

                1. re: susancinsf

                  I *would* be doing that myself (since I am a trained chef) except that I don't have a backyard at my apartment nor do I have any friends that have one. That would've been the best idea if I had the means to do it.

                2. re: chemchef


                  We hear you! Of course you want to have a wonderful evening. I think that Pizzaiolo is the best fit. I would definitely describe the food as "really delicious homestyle cooking." Ingredients are stellar, atmosphere is casual, service is good, prices are moderate. The only con with Pizzaiolo is that it gets noisy (although the back patio will seat 10 and is very quiet and peaceful.)

                  Here's the problem, there are no restaurants in the Bay Area that have:

                  1) Delicious food featuring quality, seasonal, ingredients
                  2) Moderate pricing
                  3) A quiet atmosphere during peak hours

                  You can easily find two out of three, but I've never been to a place that does all three (much to susaninsf's eternal consternation, I'm sure). Just take a look at the noise rankings on the Chron top 100: A significant majority are 4 bells or bomb, and the ones that are 1 or 2 bells are all $$$$. It comes down to simple restaurant economics: given high rents in the area, you can't use pristine ingredients and keep prices reasonable without packing in the tables and maximizing your covers.

                  Good luck with your search!

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    One way to get all three is to eat in the middle of the afternoon. Cesar in Berkeley, for example, is often insanely noisy in the evenings, but mid-afternoon it's tranquil.

                    Though its prices are not what everyone would call moderate.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Fair enough, I changed #3 to "A quiet atmosphere during peak hours" (although with really popular spots, peak hours are from opening until closing).

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I love Cesar, but I'm not sure it really fits the bill for my family. They would probably rather have a meal rather than small plates.

                      2. re: Morton the Mousse

                        I'm not that picky! :-) well, maybe sometimes I am, which is why I try to avoid peak hours whenever possible....in our household, dinners out on Friday and Saturday night are to be avoided!

                        Speaking of which, hubby and I went out to Aziza on the spur of the moment Sunday night, after noticing that it had lots of availability...perhaps folks don't dine out on Easter, I don't know, but anyway, we were seated in the back room at my request and it was soooo great: quiet, food was wonderful, service attentive...no one seated right next to me....I've never seen Aziza so uncrowded. I for one loved it, though I am sure the owners would want to see mroe business. If you wanted a graduation party in the West Bay, that back room would be a terrific spot. BTW, hubby ordered the prawns en brochette, which I don't think either of us have had before, and they were super fresh, absolutely perfectly cooked. The vegan lentil soup to start was also outstanding...we were too full for dessert but with discussions of a new pastry chef compromised and shared a pomegranite granita anyway. Very tart, essence of pomegranite: not sure I'd call it dessert, but quite enjoyable nonetheless.

                        But I digress....

                        1. re: susancinsf

                          Sounds great! I think I'll take my husband there one of these days. For the graduation, I think it'd be easier to keep it in the EB.

                          Thanks for the post!

                        2. re: Morton the Mousse

                          I do really like Pizzaiolo, but they're not open in the afternoon (my graduation ends at 12pm, so by the time we finish after ceremony formalities and gather everyone up, it'll most likely be b/w 1-2pm). Which leads me to the next point... I didn't think mid-afternoon were necessarily "peak" hours?

                        3. re: chemchef

                          I had another thought when you said "homestyle" -- maybe you could check out Somerset on College? I've been there for brunch and enjoyed it, and they have breakfasty and lunchy foods then, and I know they're open at the time you need. The atmosphere is nice in there too, nice wood tables, but not too formal. The food isn't as good as some of the other places listed, but it's still good.

                          Here's the problem with your request for something different: everyone always asks for the same thing when it comes to graduation meals, which is why they get the same recommendations. If the request was "really cheap and casual" or "my family loves ethnic food" or "price is no object" the answers would be different, but the requests tend to all be asking for the same things, which is why they get the same answers (all of which are great restaurants!). Your request is particularly difficult because it's for mid day on a Saturday, because a lot of the good places aren't open then.

                          Cesar on Piedmont is great, but I wonder if the menu is basic enough for your group, and Sea Salt is a favorite of mine, but I don't know how your party feels about seafood.

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            I had a really dreadful dinner at Somerset - probably my worst of '07 to date. Was it an "off night"? Maybe. But everything was lousy, and I was so unimpressed that I wont be back. No indication of ingredient sourcing, either.

                            Three words: burnt fried chicken

                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                              Ouch. I've only been for brunch, I was wondering how dinner was.

                            2. re: JasmineG

                              Sea Salt is right near my apartment, so it would be ideal, except that my husband doesn't eat seafood. I don't think it would be fair to disclude him since he has been one of my major supporters during my academic career! :)

                        4. EDIT: --After posting this I went back and read the original post and realized that it said no Asian, Mexican or Indian so it seems a lot of these don't qualify anyway . . . Sorry!--

                          I don't know about the availability of Saturday lunch at these places, and I haven't even been to most of them BUT these are some places I considered or that were suggested to me for my graduation dinner (price/fancy-ness varies a lot):
                          Ajanta (Solano Ave.-- I am sure there are other places on Solano that might work too)
                          Breads of India
                          Cafe Rouge
                          O Chame
                          Vik's Chaat (very casual, but FUN)
                          Sahn Maru (I love this place, not super fancy (but it is nice) and your family has to be open to eating Korean-- there are also some other nice looking Korean places on Telegraph if you're open to that)
                          Angeline's (Shattuck)
                          Unicorn (Telegraph)(never been, but some people I know like it)
                          Kirala (didn't like it personally but a lot of people I know do)

                          Also, if you are willing to go to the city, I really wanted to have my graduation dinner at Aziza

                          Also, I love the Dim Sum idea-- even the pickiest of eaters are likely to find something to please them!

                          I personally stayed in the California/Italian vein because most of the restaurants that I love (Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Vietnamese etc.) are either divey or would just NOT work well for a white American family with grandparents, and I usually am not really into more upscale Chinese/Korean/Indian/Mexican etc. etc. places.

                          1. A Cote, Dopo, and Pizzaiolo don't open until 5:30 on Saturday.

                            Chez Panisse and Oliveto close between lunch and dinner.

                            More or less festive places that are open all Saturday afternoon include:

                            Cafe Rouge (limited menu after 3)
                            Cesar (Piedmont branch is more suitable for your needs)
                            Eccolo (limited menu after 4)
                            Luka's Taproom (limited menu after 3)
                            Sea Salt

                            Cesar on Piedmont would be my first choice. They have a nice semi-private room with a round table that seats 10-12, plus a couple of long tables in the main dining area. The food's great and for fussy eaters there are simple dishes like grilled chicken.

                            Sea Salt's my other favorite for a late lunch, especially if it's warm enough to sit on the patio.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              *I'm on the fence about Cafe Rouge... they're menu seemed a little bit more limited than I would like.
                              *Does the Cesar on Piedmont serve regular food, not just small plates? (may be a little too Spanish for my grandparents who are in their 80's)
                              *Eccolo is on my list.
                              *Fonda-same concern as Cesar, plus their website says that they open at 4pm.
                              *Luka's- not really into eating at a *bar*. I'm 36, so I'm not in the 20-something range where drinking's a big deal for this type of event. Also, my husband doesn't drink, so a bar's not really appropriate. If anything, some people may have a glass of wine, but that's about it.
                              *Sea Salt-my husband doesn't eat seafood.
                              *T-Rex-looks ok, never been, but have seen mixed reviews on the board. Also, closes at 2:30, which may be a little early for us, but maybe not.

                              1. re: chemchef

                                Fonda's now open for lunch from 11:30 on every day. They just haven't finished updating their Web site. Limited menu after 3:30.


                                T-Rex is open all afternoon. They just stop serving brunch at 2:30. I was not very happy with the food with they opened but it has gotten much better. The spareribs might be the best in the area.

                                Cesar in Berkeley is small plates only. Cesar on Piedmont has a longer menu including entrees.

                                1. re: chemchef

                                  Sounds to me like Eccolo is the best choice, given the time constraint. I've had several excellent brunches there, and they offer a nice combination of safe dishes and more adventurous ones. I particularly like the chicken crisped under a brick (perfectly moist), the hash, the benedict, the fries, and the cheddar and guac burger. They're large enough to accommodate your group without difficulty, and quiet enough that your older relatives will be comfortable. Although dinner is fairly pricey, brunch is perfectly reasonable. They serve brunch until 4pm on weekends.

                                  I would definitely choose Eccolo over Cafe Rouge, Cesar, Fonda and T-Rex.

                                    1. re: chemchef

                                      How about Bistro Liaison on Shattuck & Hearst?
                                      IMO, their food has improved recently
                                      and they even have an adjacent banquet room that comfortably
                                      seat around 10-15

                                      1. re: chemchef

                                        One last note on Eccolo: the 4th St lots can get pretty crowded on weekends. There is always plenty of street parking west of the railroad tracks, much easier than circling in the lots. For relatives with mobility issues, there is always pay parking in the Spengers lot, about one block south of Eccolo.
                                        I hope you have a wonderful graduation.

                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                          Good point. The parking lots not only can get but are invariably jammed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

                                    2. re: chemchef

                                      Luka's isn't really like eating in a bar, though, any more so than a lot of other restaurants with full bars.