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Oct 6, 2008 09:37 PM

6 Bay Area Classics - have u been to them all?

These are the 6 Bauer's wrote about:

Swan Oyster Depot, SF
Duarte's Tavern, Pescadero
Tadich Grill, SF
House of Prime Rib, SF
Casa Orinda, Orinda
Fentons Creamery, Oakland

Article here:

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  1. Swan Oyster- yes and yes
    Duarte's- not yet
    Tadich- yes and surprised that I liked it so much
    House of Prime Rib- yes and embarrassed I liked it so much
    Casa Orinda- yes and, um, ok I guess
    Fenton's- yes and is he joking?

    7 Replies
    1. re: 5am

      HOPR- To me this is what a true classic is. A restaurant that specializes in something and does it better than most anywhere else and has not changed in years. If you like prime rib then it is a must visit.

      Duarte's: Went there recently. Fish entrees were good but not outstanding. The artichoke and green chili soups are classic. Fried calamari was very mediocre. Pie is good, but not worth driving to Pescadero for. Not sure I would include this as a classic.

      Casa Orinda: Are you kidding me??? Only been once 2 years ago. Had the famous fried chicken. A huge disappointment. Would rather eat fried chicken from Safeway.

      Fentons: Had to consider this place a classic when the real Fentons burned down years ago. The new place does not have the same feel. Many other places I would put above Fentons in this spot.

      Tadich grill: Also a great classic, but havent been in a long time.
      Swan Oyster Depot: not been, probably should check it out.

      1. re: slipson

        I haven't been back to Fentons since the fire, but it is in the same location and looks the same to me when I drive by. How does it feel different?

        1. re: Glencora

          There's a 2nd room now and it just doesn't have that old school ice cream parlor feel anymore.

          1. re: Glencora

            On the plus side, it doesn't smell like pee anymore and the kids love the enclosed but visible ice cream making area. The food hasn't changed (still Wonder bread and Kraft singles grilled cheese, etc.), but it definitely has lost the old feel, like those wrought metal-backed chairs. So 50's.

            It's a short walk from my place up the hill, so I do pop in on occasion for a pint of Swiss Milk Chocolate.

          2. re: slipson

            The old Fentons didn't burn down. There was a fire, but the exterior and most of the interior is the same, they just did a lot of updating and renovation. It looks pretty much the same as it always did, just a lot shinier.

            1. re: slipson

              I don't think HOPR really came into prominence until Joe Betz took it over. If he handn't let the Hoffman Grill sink to jump ship to the HOPR, he'd have a REAL classic on his hands, IMHO.

            2. re: 5am

              There is no shame in liking House of Prime Rib.

            3. Swan is one of my favorites. Bring a book to read in line.

              Casa Orinda, not so much. If you are driving by and need to eat, great, but not at all worth going out of your way. If you want that old school vibe, try Hotel Mac in Richmond.

              Fenton's - I never really cared for it. Many places have better quality ice cream, including Breyers at the supermarket.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Marat

                Is it okay to complain that the "new" fentons is too clean and shiny?

                I would say the "old" fentons was a classic, in that it was in the same place, doing the same thing (I assume they have halways had huge Sundae's) for a long time. It was all about lots of ice cream for cheap.

                Now it isn't as cheap, and I guess I've grown up too, but I keep thinking why would I want to pay all that money for huge bowls of mediocre ice cream?

                1. re: Marat

                  Fenton's is a sentimental thing for those of us who grew up with it; though I will admit that when my kids were small and used to beg to go there I'd try and get out of it (even though I loved it when I was a kid, which probably makes me a less than perfect Mom. I remember one time I suggested we go to Safeway instead and get sundae ingredients and make them at home: my daughter was horrified..)....Anyway, Fentons was never about the room. It was always about the giant sundaes, and about seeing if the cute boy from your class showed up too (Fentons was the classic place to go after a school event).

                  I have had some good meals at Casa Orinda, and find it a nice place to meet meat and potatoes non-adventurous type of people....and I do really like HOPR, but Bauer is right that reservations can be hard to get, which always has kept me from going there. Last time hubby tried to get a reservation there on short notice (for a weeknight) they literally laughed at him! (a turnoff in and of itself).

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Funny, my experience with Fenton's is similar. We used to go there after school plays in our stage make up. It was a huge part of my childhood, up through middle school. And yet, I've only taken my son there once. I guess I don't want to see him eat all that sugar, even though I used to love it.

                    Of the other places: my father used to take me to Swan's when I was in high school and he worked in the city. I've never gone back on my own.

                    I recently had lunch at Duarte's for the first time. I love the maze-like space and the old photographs. The food was only so-so. And that pie is expensive! If I'm in the area in the future I'm more likely to go to the Mexican place across the street,

                    1. re: Glencora

                      Ha, I also have the same experience with Fentons. I went there after lots of school events (it's one of the few places that kids can go that is open late), and I went to a lot of birthday parties there.

                      1. re: Glencora

                        Swan is still excellent but I get it to go.

                        Recently went to Duarte's again (tried a few bites of taco from gas station across the street -- way too salty) --I don't know how Duarte's gets away with charging so much. The cioppino was $29 (I never order this) - I got the cold crab in shell for $20, only ok. What I do love here is the soup and pie. That's what I think I'll get from now on.

                        1. re: walker

                          At Duarte's Mom & I share the crab melt sandwich and soup (1/2 artichoke & 1/2 green chile so we have room for pie.

                          Casa Orinda's fried chicken didn't seem very special.

                          Lar & I got completely soused on martinis at HOPR's bar during the 1-hour wait for our reservation to be honored and had to stay overnight with friends! Had arrived hungry and lost track of the time & martini count during the wait. Funny how getting the remains in the shaker can overtake one.

                          Tadich is across from my office and we frequently enjoy the sand dabs or liver.

                          Post-arson Fenton's ice cream doesn't seem to be the same as what I had recalled from years before, but that could just be my standard has evolved since those good ole days.

                  2. You have to have lived in the Bay Area for many years to appreciate Duarte's and what it represents. To out of towners (non Americans ie) their mileage will vary.

                    HOPR has always surpassed clones that offered similar product like the Peninsula places Charlie Brown (gone), Gullivers (evolved to blah), Broadway Prime (an alternative for down there but not close).

                    I've had the pleasure of eating at Fenton's in 97-98. Very enjoyable, I think a better atmosphere than Ghiradelli Chocolate and ice cream place.

                    SOD I hope to eat someday, but with so many other seafood options I might never end up there.

                    1. Honestly, classic can be a double edged sword. Some dishes are great...but many are made the same way they were made 60 years ago...and that's not always good.

                      Any way, been to every place except Casa Orinda....most quite a long time ago. Maybe it's time to catch up again.

                      Use to get take-out from Swans for my Grandmother in the 70s and 80s...haven't been since 1999. Haven't been to Fentons since college and I don't have a reason to go back...the ice cream is 70% air...but it did have a creepy charm (pre-fire). I like Duarte's for some seafood items but ...some stuff was great, other stuff that's not noted...not so much. HOPR in the late '80's...that might be worth another trip. Almost went to Casa Orinda this past summer but didn't make it.

                      1. Swan - LOVE it, visit regularly.
                        Duarte's - LOVE it, visit whenever I am down there.
                        Tadich - really liked it, far exceeded my expectations, want to return.
                        House of Prime Rib - really liked it, far exceeded my expectations, want to return.
                        Casa Orinda - never even heard of it until now, after 15 yrs in the bay area!
                        Fentons Creamery - never even heard of it until now, after 15 yrs in the bay area!

                        I guess I am not surprised about the last two, as they seem quite controversial...?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Kenois

                          As far as I know, the only reason to go to Fentons is for the ice cream and even then, maybe not. A while back, I had a BLT that was like something my grandmother would have recognized...white toasted bread, pallid tomato, browning lettuce, decent bacon (after all, it's bacon), all held together with those toothpick thingies.

                          Does anyone know if the food has changed or improved lately? Bauer seems to think it's okay.

                          1. re: Glencora

                            I've had to go to Fenton's a few times in the last 3 years (friends with kids) and I always get the grilled egg and olive sandwich. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure. The bread is white but it seems thicker, more like Texas toast than Wonder.

                            I wouldn't recommend Fenton's unless you need a place to bring children who may or may not be well-behaved.