Finicky Visitors to Berkeley
My parents are visiting from New England and I need a good place to take them to around the Berkeley/Oakland. Most of the ethnic food options that I love so well are out, and I am usually too poor to eat at the more conventional spots that they would like.
I was thinking of Spengers, but not sure about it, never been myself, and want something a little less boring, and quite a bit nicer than that -- heck I'm not buying. Chez Panisse might be too much -- too gourmet, too poser-ish for them to take. Besides, isn't 1/2 the cost of Chez Panisse just paying for the name these days?
They'd like some gourmet-light kind of place, Cezar??
I don't think the 'rents will find the Chez Panisse cafe too gourmet or poser-ish. The upstairs is casual and comfortable. The menu will feature a soup, several un-fussy salads, a pizza or two, a pasta, at least one meat and one fowl, and a fish. Here, for example, is last Friday's cafe menu:
Heirloom tomatoes with crème fraîche, mint, and sea salt, $9.50
Little Gems lettuces with anchovy, lemon, and herbs, $9.00
Local sand dab salad with fresh chickpeas and saffron, $11.00
Avocado toast with wild watercress and fennel salad, $10.00
Pizzetta with new potatoes and bottarga di muggine, $15.00
Pizzetta with prosciutto and greens, $14.00
Baked Sonoma goat cheese with garden lettuces, $9.50
Garden lettuce salad, $7.50
Corn and summer squash soup with basil oil, $7.50
Bucatini pasta with local albacore tuna and tomato confit, $19.00
Pan-fried California white sea bass with eggplant, cucumber, and onion salad, $26.00
Grilled garlic sausages with potato and sorrel gratin and romano beans, $20.00
Duck confit with sweet peppers and fried herbs, $22.00
Black-eyed pea and wild nettle ragoût with grilled polenta and stuffed tomato, $19.00
Artisan cheese selection: Manchego, Taleggio, and Evangeline, $15.00
Ram Das Orchards plum tart with ginger ice cream, $9.50
Bittersweet chocolate pavé with espresso cream, $9.00
Raspberry sherbet with summer berries and langues de chat, $8.00
Almond ice cream with peaches and almond biscotti, $8.50
A bowl of Raye Byrne's mulberries and Cannard Farm Santa Rosa plums, $8.00
On Wednesday, I had some very tasty buttermilk fried chicken upstairs. Nothing poser-ish about that. And I think they'll find the food at Chez Panisse a little more straight up and accessible than the food at Cesar.
If you cannot get a res. at Chez Panisse, Sea Salt is a fine option (and you should be able to get a table now that it has expanded). I would also recommend Wood Tavern--nothing weird about it at all. If they like Italian, Pizzaiolo is great, but they're more likely to find it quirky/funky/casual than the other places mentioned. I don't find Dopo less casual than Pizzaiolo, but its look and ambiance are a bit more normal. Another winner from Robert's list is Jojo.
I think Lalime is hugely overrated. The food is ok, but in the price range
I thought it came up short. And I dont think the service is warm at all.
I also feel the dining area is overly crowded.
Maybe it is a better and warmer experience if you are a regular or
Without getitng into "are they really in the same price range",
I'd go to CP Cafe, Rivoli, Pizzaiolo, Nizza la Bella, Bay Wolf, Cafe Rouge
first ... Cafe Rouge would probably my top rec given the OP's other
details. [I dont eat fancy much in the East Bay any more, so some of of this
might be dated ... however, I have been to Lalame at least 4-5 times.]
I would vote for Chez Panisse hands down - it is truly worth every penny and I didn't feel it was too upscale at all. No pretensions, very friendly and attentive service. I had lunch at the upstairs cafe and didnt want to leave, it was so so so good!
I think Cesar is nice, but on the loud side for a place to bring your parents. A Cote is also very nice on College. I absolutely love Dopo but its small and no reservations, so there is always a wait.
Chez Panisse is $50 bucks on Monday evenings for downstairs. I'd pick that or upstairs for no other reason then if it's a hit -- the parents can say they went to a Top 10 (in the U.S.) restaurant, tell all their friends and want to return. If it's not a hit...they'll tell you it's over-priced etc, etc....BUT you'll still get to eat there.
Re: Spengers...it's okay for lunch (i.e., price) for what you get but not for dinner. Yes, on the boring side. Sea Salt is definitely the better choice.
A bit "downstream" or more casual, and not mentioned, is Venus and very Berkeley (not sure in a good or bad way...or both as would be really Berkeley). I was there w/ my Dad and he got a steak I believe and things were fine.
What kind of food do they like (aside from not ethnic)? If you want seafood, take them to Sea Salt instead of Spengers: great seafood, nice atmosphere, very Berkeley in the good way. You can't make reservations at Cesar, but if you do take them there, go to the Piedmont Ave location in Oakland instead of the Berkeley location. Dopo, also on Piedmont Ave, would be a nice place for parents, but you also can't make reservations there.
2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702
4039 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
Chez Panisse is still one of the best restaurants in the area. There's nothing wildly gourmet about the upstairs menu, which a better choice for picky eaters.
What do you mean by "nicer than Spenger's"? Cesar certainly has better food but I'm not sure it's nicer in any other way.
The following are American / California / French / Italian and at least as nice as Cesar:
Riva Cucina (closes early)