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Moderately priced bistro in Berkeley?

I'm taking a friend to dinner for her bday on Sunday in Berkeley. She likes French food but we're both grad students, so I'm looking for something with reasonably priced wine and entrees topping out in the teens. I don't get over to the East Bay that often and the places I have on my list are Pizzaiolo, Cesar, Kirala, Bakesale Betty's, and stuff in the Chez Panisse (too expensive) range. I haven't been to A Cote or La Note, but they both seem like they might be in the right price range, any comment on the food? I also sent her menus for Pizzaiolo and Cesar. I tried searching but my searches are less than successful on this board. Thanks for any advice.

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  1. Gregoire. It's uber casual - no table service, and it's easier to score a seat at Piedmont than Berkeley. The prices are a great deal, and they serve the most delicious food in your price range. byo means no wine mark-ups. I rarely spend more than $20/person all inclusive for dinner at Gregoire - and there are very few tasty French places in the East Bay where that can be done.

    A Cote is a small plates restaurants. Be prepared to drop $30-$50 per person or go home hungry. Same goes for Cesar. Great food, but those small plates add up.

    If you require table service, you can consider La Note and (shudder) Bistro Liaison, but I think both places sacrifice food quality to maintain a low price point. In terms of deliciousness, Gregoire is superior.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Morton the Mousse

      Gregoire was on my list too, but I wasn't clear if they actually had tables you could sit at, or if it was only to go. Could 4 people sit at one table comfortably there? Thanks, C-

      1. re: Candice

        $20+/person at Gregoire is about right, but you eat out of a brown cardboard box with crinkly parchment paper, sitting on stools facing a wall or the part-time cook who boxes stuff up for the takeout customers. Where is a truly moderately priced bistro in the EBay? Unfortunately, reasonable interesting food at that level is not found in the french/euro mode. But there's really great stuff in SE Asian restaurants (Champa, Jakarta, etc.) Interesting thread. Hope you find something...

        1. re: Candice

          Gregoire Berkeley has outdoor tables that will seat 4 - though this time of year it's too cold to be comfortable. Gregoire Piedmont has indoor counter seating that will easily accomodate 4 people.

          Like I said, it's no frills but the food is great. And if the chef is a talker, the ambiance can be a lot of fun.

      2. I offer two recommendations, with a caveat...Jojo on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland has wonderful French country food in a small and comfortable space...in Berkeley, La Rose Bistro also serves French food [but not of the calibre of Jojo]...

        The caveat: these places are slightly above your suggested price point...La Rose = upper $10's and low $20's; Jojo = one entree below $20, the rest in the low $20's...

        If you can manage those prices, I'd highly recommend Jojo...

        3 Replies
        1. re: Rapini

          I went to dinner at La Rose Bistro on a hot September evening with a visitor from Japan. The air conditioning was not working. The waiter brought the menus and winelist, and I ordered a bottle of wine to go with steak and with a lamb dish that I ordered. The wine arrived, but bread never made it to our table. Neither did water. The waiter must have been having trouble with the rush of three tables that came in over a 30 minute period. The steak arrived, and although I don't like plates that have spent more time getting decorated than the food on them spent being prepared, a brown/tan hunk of steak thrown on top of liquidy tan potatoes au gratin was not inspiring. My dish was not much better in appearance, and it tasted as good as it looked. Overall, I found La Rose Bistro to be a very disappointing place. Perhaps I caught them on a bad day, but I certainly wouldn't send someone there.

          1. re: tutti_a_tavola

            Don't know if you got them on a bad day, or I got them on a good day, but yours reads like an objectively bad experience...past comments about Rose on this board have been moderately positive; my limited experience has been satisfactory...in any event, Jojo is the better choice...

            1. re: tutti_a_tavola

              Just a note that La Rose recently got a new chef and a positive review by the Contra Costa TImes. Link to review on Place record.

              Too late for the OP, but maybe things are better there now.

          2. Vanessa's Bistro on Solano, more of a Viet-French menu got a mention on this years Michelin list for meals under $30. It's quaint, relaxed but not too casual, has seating for 4 but definitely needs a reservation on weekends.

            1. The food at Gregoire is good, but the only tables are either outside (at the Berkeley location) or in the Oakland location inside at a counter, and in absolutely freezing temperatures, I shiver while waiting for takeout there. I would not take someone there in this weather and for their birthday. I love the food at A Cote, and while it is small plates, I find their plate sizes pretty substantial, and two people can easily share four plates for a meal. You can't make a reservation, but the bar is pretty pleasant, with great drinks. Pizzaiolo isn't open on Sunday, fyi. I like Cesar a lot too, but I always end up spending more money at Cesar than at A Cote. If you go to Cesar, go to the Oakland location. Jojo is also a great suggestion, good food and service, and really nice cosy atmosphere.

              1. You're setting a tough price-point for "French": once you tack that word on, prices seem to go up $5-10. For an interesting out-of-way quiet place you might try the Inn Kensington: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46240

                Call up, make sure they are serving dinner, and ask for the prices and specials. Jojo is great but should cost you a bit more. But really not too much considering the quality. Just limit her to an entree and a dessert. Or get yourself an app for an entree!

                4 Replies
                1. re: lintygmom

                  I think you're thinking of the Kensington Bistro. (Inn Kensington doesn't offer dinner).
                  The Bistro turns into Post Meridian Wed-Sun. eves and highlights a 3 course prix fixe for $34.
                  Reviews have been positive. I plan to go this week or next. See weekly menu online.


                  1. re: bunnysitter

                    I think I read somewhere recently that the chef who runs Post Meridian is in the process of buying out the other owners and Post Meridian will take over fulltime for lunch & dinner in the future.

                    1. re: bunnysitter

                      When did Inn Kensington stop serving dinner? It did last year: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46240

                      I JUST CALLED: they serve dinner every night but Sunday. Shame for the OP that it's closed tonight since when I last has their lamb it was an incredible bargain.

                      1. re: lintygmom

                        sorry, my bad. I'm a big fan of their breakfasts (homemade biscuits). I'll try their dinner too.

                  2. Nizza La Bella is one of my favorite places in Berkeley. Good food within your price range. I think they do reservations also.

                    Nizza La Bella
                    827 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: berkeleyite

                      I would second Nizza La Bella. It's actually in Albany as the place marker notes. Depending on what you order, it's definitely possibly to get out under $25 pp, esp if you avoid the cocktails (I think their supremely talented long-time bartender moved away, but the last time I went they were still solid, if not exhibiting quite the same flair).

                      Pizzas are excellent, especially with the house-made sausage. The French onion soup is killer, as is the Salade Lyonnaise. I have not had luck with the steak frites, sadly, although when other people order it it looks good to me. A pleasant atmosphere to boot. Gregoire on Piedmont would not be very social at all for more than two people; it's definitely counter only seating, and I would not consider it to have any kind of atmosphere.

                      If you haven't been to Pizzaiolo, I would definitely try to swing it, though it's Italian. It would be hard to get out for less than $30 each even skipping booze (my estimates are including tax+tip). I frequently spend $40-60 pp depending on booze/dessert. But I've never felt like it was way too much, unlike certain other expensive/good places.

                      1. re: twocents

                        I read French onion soup and rushed to the website. Alas, none was listed. Is it always offered and not listed?

                        1. re: lintygmom

                          I've never gone there and wanted it and not been able to order it. It must be on the "specials" part of the menu- on the back of the menu shown on the website there has always been several additional items both appetizer and entree, as well as 1 or 2 special pizzas.

                          I actually haven't been for two or three months, but I have been maybe 8-10 times in the preceding 18-20 months.

                        2. re: twocents

                          Their longtime bartender Sam is still there (but not always as he has to have some days off) We were just there last night and the onion soup was on the menu. I always get the skirt steak with fries as it's one of my favorite things. Last nights dinner was as good as ever.

                      2. Another vote for A Cote - I love the food, there are a lot of wines by the glass as well as excellent cocktails, great seasonal fruit-based desserts, and the atmosphere is warm and conducive to celebrating a birthday. If I limit myself to ordering only as much food as I can eat, and a glass or two of wine, I end up spending around $35-40 after tax and tip. Usually I order too much, and they frequently have interesting and appealing (but pricier) wine flights, so I'll end up spending closer to $60, but you can have a really good meal for less.

                        I just checked Opentable, and they have 6 pm and 9 pm reservations open now (they leave the prime dinner spots open for walk-ins), so you could avoid a wait, if you're willing to eat early or late.