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wedding food that worked

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I'm planning a wedding in or very near San Francisco and need help finding a caterer. We can't afford to spend more than $60/person and are hoping against hope to spend less, but we don't want to settle for a generic meal or worse. One site we're considering is the Berkeley Faculty Club, where you have to use their in-house caterer.

Any recommendations or warnings about SF-area caterers in general, or the Berkely Faculty Club in particular?

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  1. The wedding hasn't happened yet, but other than that we've been very happy with Rising Sun Catering, and have heard good things from friends who have used them before. The only negative is that they're completely unresponsive to phone calls, and it sometimes takes three or four attempts to reach them. Other than that, the food is great, the people are nice, and the prices are reasonable.

    Most of the other companies I spoke with were either ungodly expensive or had served questionable food at other weddings I'd attended.

    Link: http://www.risingsuncatering.com/

    1. The city of Oakland parks and rec has some very nice venues that are reasonably priced and they don't require you use one of their approved caterers.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Please tell me more about your experience, Ruth, and the experience of other Chowhounders. I found good reviews elsewhere online, and they seemed really nice and ready to work with my ideas on the phone. In fact Culinary Excellence was one of my top choices until I read this. Please tell me about your experience!

        1. re: katya

          Even though I can't answer your questions about Culinary Excellence (I saw your post below), I can say that if you want a caterer who will work with you and maybe do something a little untraditional, my sister had an excellent experience with Jimmy Beans (the catering branch of the Lalime's empire). My sister talked to a lot of caterers, and they were the only ones willing to work with her on all her requirements (family style, mostly vegetarian, diabetic-friendly (she wanted the recipes in advance so she could precalculate her insulin needs)). And the food was great (one meat-and-potatoes type guest said afterward the food was so good he didn't even think about the fact there was no meat served).

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Sorry, I meant to reply to another post, but I really appreciate your advice.

            Unfortunately, since my wedding is at the Brazilian Room I have to go from a list of about 12 approved caterers so I can't use Jimmy Beans. But it's good to know about them anyway. I've never been to Lalime's but was considering it for a rehearsal dinner... or is it too small?

            1. re: katya

              Wow, congrats on snagging the Brazilian Room. Maybe if you listed the approved caterers, people would have more specific feedback.

              I don't know how big your rehearsal dinner will be, or what part of the restaurant they use for private parties, but Lalime's is not particularly small.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Thanks! I was really lucky to get the day we did. I've looked up all the caterers we're considering on Chowhound already and found posts on all of them, but I may post again to get some added feeback.

                1. re: katya

                  We got married at the Brazilian Room in 2000, and we used Shai's as our caterer. If they're still on the list, I'd recommend them highly. They were one of the less expensive choices and the food was great.

                  1. re: chompy

                    Thanks for the recommendation!

                    I tried Shai's food at a Brazilian Room wedding fair, loved it and loved their hummus artwork even more. A good friend was very happy with the food Shai's catered to their wedding as well. Unfortunately, I called Shai's yesterday and found out they're considering taking a week off right around the day of my wedding to go to Hawaii. No! And my other top choice, Serves You Right, is booked the day of my wedding, too. I'm hoping Shai's decides to take their vacation later!

                    1. re: katya

                      Yeah, I can't remember all the details of the food at our wedding because I hardly ate (probably the only time in my life that I've had that happen!) That hummus "painting" is nice, isn't it - I think we actually had baba ganoush, which looked beautiful and was really tasty. We also had a whole poached salmon with some kind of sauce I can't remember, roasted green beans of some sort, an excellent salad...there was other stuff but I can't remember what it was. My overall feeling about the food was that it was fresh, unfussy and very flavorful.

                      Hopefully they will change their vacation plans...good luck.

        2. re: Ruth Lafler

          In regards to city of Oakland venues--- I'm getting married in April at the Sequoia Lodge. It's lovely; indoor space with hardwood floors, big enough to accomodate ~90 people, wrap around deck, surrounded by redwoods. Cheap (~300), and you can use whomever you want for food. The rose garden in Oakland is also quite nice for a wedding, and I'm assuming pricing is similar.

          1. re: Hunicsz

            Sequoia Lodge is where my sister got married -- it is really nice. The City of Oakland Parks and Rec has all their rentable venues on their website, with pricing.

            1. re: Hunicsz

              My daughter was married last summer at Sequoia Lodge. The site is quite suitable for a good party, and the price won't break most people's bank.

          2. This is just my own personal opinion and does not reflect the opinions of this Website or it's owners.

            DO NOT go with Culinary Excellence Catering in Concord. They've ruined 3 weddings that I know of already. Including mine own. Terrible service and lousy food. One couple is taking them to court.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Homecookin'

              I couldn't tell on my computer last night whose post was whose. Can you please tell me, Homecookin' more about the problems you experience with Culinary Excellence?

              Feel free to e-mail me if you don't want to discuss them here:

              1. re: katya

                Katya, were you able to find out from Homecookin' what her issues were about Culinary Excellence? I would love to know what she said since we're considering them for an October wedding at the Brazilian Room. If you prefer to contact me offline, I'm at karen8330@yahoo.com.


                1. re: kediamond

                  I didn't find out, and with this version of Chowhound, our e-mail addresses don't seem to be listed so I couldn't contact Homecookin' that way.

                  Our August wedding is at the Brazilian Room. Our first tasting is this weekend, and we're looking into Ann Walker, Shai's, Schumann's, and Blue Heron. From the Brazilian Room catering list, Ann Walker, Shai's, and Blue Heron all have many great reviews on Chowhound. (Schumann's has some good reviews, too - no bad ones, but they're harder to find.)

                  Culinary Excellence is catering a wedding fair at Dunsmuir in Oakland on March 4th. They just sent me an Evite - I'm not sure if I'm going to go yet. I think they might be the only caterer there. I'm sure if you contact them they'll add you to the list. You have to RSVP by Feb. 26th.

                  If you want to contact me offline, I'm kmikulis at gmail.com

                  1. re: katya

                    I'm not sure if the venue has restrictions on caterers they allow, but I heartily recommend California Rose Catering, based in Berkeley. They have done two friends' weddings, both of them excellent, and doing my wedding in April. Their food is unique and extremely tasty, their prices are very fair, and they are very professional and easy to work with.

                    1. re: chaunceymo

                      Thanks for mentioning California Rose. Unfortunately the Brazilian Room has a list of preferred caterers and California Rose is not on the list. However, this information will undoubtedly be helpful to someone else looking to cater a wedding in the Bay Area.

                      1. re: chaunceymo

                        chaunceymo, how did California Rose Catering do at your wedding. We are thinking of hiring them for a heavy outdoor hors d'oeuvres standing reception in August. Like to hear your review on them. Thanks.

                2. re: Homecookin'

                  I'm interested in them for a Brazilian Room wedding as well. What were your issues with them?

                3. hello! congrats on your upcoming wedding. i dont know if this is anything your looking for- BUT, i got married on a boat in the bay right off of tiburon and then after the ceremony we all walked up the boat dock up to servino ristorante and had the upstairs to ourselves. the room was beautiful ( just small enough to not be a typical banquet room ) and the whole wall is glass overlooking the bay. the service was GREAT. they have a different staff for upstairs functions then their regular wait staff downstairs. the food- the food was REALLY GOOD. our party was small, only 47 people total and everyone raved about the food. we had 3 cold passed apps, 3 hot passed apps, a sit down dinner with 2 choices for main- we had sea bass piccata & pork stuffed with spinach and veggies. the salad was a spinach salad with gorgonzola, cranberry, walnuts...there is a whole menu to choose from. out price was $45 a head, not including booze...the lady who organized the whole thing, AWESOME. just a really really good experience there. the night was flawless.

                  1. Try the wedding forum on Craig's List - many caterer reviews there. Having gone through the usual suspects recently (Rising Sun, Living Foods, Culinary Excellence, Grace Street, etc) I was very unimpressed with them in general. They run their businesses as if they were dry cleaning shops rather than a complete service experience that will cost you many thousands of dollars. Many don't return calls, not to mention treating you like a client. Out of the above caterers, Grace Street seemed like the best-run *operation* - don't know about food.

                    Oh and last I looked at having a small party, these "high-end" caterers were more expensive per head than a 4-star restaurant (with all expenses included). One of the reasons people hire caterers is that they think renting out a restaurant is going to be expensive but that may not be true. It all depends on the size of your party and whether the restaurant of your choice will have the space (NOT entire restaurant) to accommodate you.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Mr Smart

                      totally agree on this. you are practically guaranteed good food when you go with a restaurant plus you dont have to rent tables, chairs, linens, etc etc.

                      Farallon was the wisest decision we ever made.

                      1. re: itsolivia

                        We're planning a wedding a Farallon too. Any advise?

                    2. The last wedding I attended at the UCB Faculty Club was perhaps 15 years ago, but I have been to catered events there more recently (work related lunches) as well as to their annual Holiday party, and if those are any indication the food is fine to very good. Passed appetizers at the holiday party are always particularly good, with some less usual options. I remember tasty pakoras last year.

                      It is a very pretty site for a wedding. However, it might be to the upper range of your budget (particularly if an immediate family member isn't a member: I think members get discounts?).

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: susancinsf

                        Thanks very much for your responses -- they've helped us narrow the search.

                        1. re: Lauren

                          I was at a wedding at the Faculty Club and all the food and service was fine. I'd say keep an eye on which wine is being served over the course of the evening (if you bring in outside wine), but htat's pretty much something you should do wherever you are. I was a bridesmaid and decorating was a bit of a challenge (unless you are really into moose heads and log cabins), but we were able to transform it into an indoor garden party with some creativity from a very artistic bride. If you're having the ceremony outside you'll have more luck.

                          My own wedding was at the Carnelian Room, but I do have a friend who married at the Brazil Room years ago and had her own family cook. I don't know how that worked, though, and your family might not be keen on that idea. :)

                          1. re: coolbean98

                            What do you mean? The moose heads and antlers are the best part of the Faculty Club's reception room! :) We looked at the Faculty Club recently but decided to go with the Brazilian Room instead (Hakone Gardens in Saratoga and the Berkeley City Club were close runners-up).

                            Actually I just reviewed the Faculty Club as a wedding venue on Yelp last night:

                            1. re: katya

                              LOL! Yes, perhaps a different bride would have been perfectly fine with the antlers. :) We would have loved to do the Brazilian Room for our own wedding, too, if my family weren't so gigantic.

                              When are you getting married???

                              1. re: coolbean98

                                August 12th. We picked a Sunday so it wouldn't conflict with the Sabbath for the boyfriend's family, and frankly it's cheaper anyway! I wish we lived in Alameda County so it could be 20% cheaper.

                                1. re: katya

                                  How exciting!! Congrats to you both and I hope you find lots of good stuff during your wedding planning! :)

                                  It's more expensive for non-county residents?? That sucks! Still a better bargain than many places in the city, though, right?

                                  1. re: coolbean98

                                    The Brazilian Room was our favorite of the places we looked at (although I liked Hakone Gardens - a Japanese tea garden - in Saratoga, it wasn't one of the boyfriend's top venues), and it was surprisingly one of the cheapest. I think it's because it's operated by the Parks Department. City venues seem to be cheaper.

                                    Where did you have your reception again?

                                    1. re: katya

                                      We were at the Carnelian Room. The food was pretty good, but the service was exceptional, considering how sloppy our guests were by the end of the night! :)

                                      1. re: coolbean98

                                        Oh yeah - I remember that you said it was at the Carnelian Room. I definitely remember your awesome Moroccan honeymoon.

                                        1. re: katya

                                          Yeah! :) But the food was not as good, at least at restaurants. :( Well, here's to all the good eating involved in celebrating a wedding! Bon appetit, and I wish you both many heavenly meals together!

                      2. We just attended a wedding reception in Golden Gate Park which was catered by Askew's. A variety of grilled skewers, some salads; we thought the food was quite good and was acceptable to a variety of tastes.

                        1. We just used Ann Walker Catering a few weeks ago and they exceeded our expectations in both food and service. They seem to be reasonably priced as well.

                          Link: http://www.annwalkercatering.com/

                          1. I haven't used them for a wedding, though I know that they do many, but one of the caterers I work with as an event planner seems to buck all the stereotypes of non-responsiveness. I have had nothing but great experiences with them for the 6 years I have used them. Again, this wasn't for a wedding, though I have done some sit down dinners with them.

                            The Cheshire Cat (650) 624-5551

                            1. Congratulations!

                              We are about to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We got married a church in Berkeley, where we had the reception catered by La Mediteranee, on College Avenue. We were both just out of graduate school and none too affluent. We are none too affluent now, but just had dinner with our sons at the La Mediteranee on Fillmore in San Francisco, and we agreed we'd do it exactly the same way again today.

                              We always enjoy the food at La Mediteranee, in which I can detect no change in at least 17 years. We particularly enjoyed the response of relatives from the midwest to dolmas, tzatziki, hummous, and lamb kebabs. "Where are the iced shrimp? The little weiners on sticks?"

                              Good luck!

                              1. Thanks! We'll keep all your recommendations for the next big event.

                                1. We used Market Hall some years ago and the woman at the time, who was their catering manager was great. Food looked lovely, tasted great and the price was very reasonable compared to other full service caterers. They have an office on the 2nd floor in the Market Hall complex. Would be interested in knowing if anyone has used them more recently.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: recycleit

                                    Was it Susan Macdonald (this may be her married name) by any chance? Chin-length, curly brown hair?

                                  2. Wedding isn't until April, but I've been very pleased so far with Carrie Dove Catering. Her husband Adam handles the business end of the operation and Carrie is in the kitchen. Very responsive and the food at the tasting was delicious. Prices seem comparable to other caterers I considered, and they don't tack on an additional service fee.

                                    1. We rented the back room at Garibaldis on College in Oakland. About $50 per person, with a choice of Filet Mignon, some seafood or risotto. The staff was delightful, and we had a really nice party for 30 people for a reasonable price. The best part was walking away when we were done. The only work my family did was wedding related.

                                      1. The Berkeley Faculty club is housed in a beautiful Arts and Crafts building with beautiful Arts and Crafts furniture, but I've found the food to be not so beautiful. I started lunching there several years ago while attending a class and have continued to do so from time to time because of convenience. I haven't eaten in the sit-down restaurant but the food at the salad buffet, grill and hot food station has been undistinguished. What I do like there are the sandwiches, especially the deviled ham. I used to be tempted by the salad bar, but every time I tried it I was mildly disappointed. The food in general is passable, but not at all out of the ordinary. That said I did go there for a ham salad sandwich a week ago. I don't mean to be over critical, but you might explore other options. On the otherhand if you sampled, you might like BFC just fine. They are open for lunch 11:30-1:30 approximately.

                                        1. I had my wedding catered by Massimo European Catering, almost 7 years ago. They did a wonderful job. The wedding was at Fogarty winery, they had a list of caterers that work up there and after meeting a few, ended up with them. They did a very nice "stations" style buffet. I don't know if any one else has experience with them, but everyone told me they really enjoyed the food, since as the bride, the day goes so fast you can't really savor the food. I used Nancy's Fancy's in San Carlos for the wedding cake.

                                            1. haven't read all the responses, but did you post this to the Knot Bay Area forum as well? they were so helpful, even though i ended up using Farallon for food and locale. by the way, if you want to go off the traditional path, i HIGHLY recommend looking into using a restaurants private space. the food we had at Farallon was amazing and they work with your tastes. yes, it gets pricy but we looked at other restaurants as well. Le Colonial had a steal of a menu and no rental fee for their upstairs.

                                              1. restaurants indeed can be less expensive than a high end caterer .... they often have separate facilities and staff to deal with the catering and it is highly profitable for them. the real reason to go with a caterer is that you can have a more specialized affair - many events are done in private homes where it can be more personable and you can linger as long as you like ( or can afford ) - much of the costs for catering is in the labor - have the restaurant do something off site and you'll see their costs rise rapidly as they attempt to bring their show on the road ....

                                                1. dunno if he's within your budget, but Hugh Groman Catering is full service and the food is unique and amazing (also a big menu to pick from). he's right on Dwight and MLK so he's nearby. They also have a platter catering service called Green Leaf that's supposed to be good too if you don't want or need the staff service.