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Seattle (former L.A.) Chowhound needs advice

Tom Armitage Sep 8, 2010 01:09 AM

I need some advice. I’m bringing my wife down to the Bay Area for a birthday weekend this coming Thursday through Sunday. We will arrive in Oakland around 7:30 pm this coming Thursday and are planning to eat dinner in the East Bay before driving over to a friend’s house in Mill Valley. The last time we were down, we had a fabulous dinner at Oliveto, and we’re tempted to go back there. But I’ve also heard some good things about Comis and Camino. Any thoughts or recommendations? Are there places other than Oliveto, Comis, and Camino I should be considering?

Friday and Saturday we will be eating in San Francisco. On Friday night, there will just be a party of four, so that leaves lots of options, except for the lateness of my planning and the difficulty of getting a reservation. On Saturday night, I’m hosting a birthday dinner for my wife that will include 7 adults and 3 children, so finding a place that can accommodate this large a group will probably be a little more challenging.

Friday night possibilities include one old favorite, Zuni, plus a bunch of places that I’ve never been to, including SPQR, Zero Zero, Nombe, Don Pisto’s, Prospect, RN74, and Frances. So much good food, so little time! Since I’m late in making the arrangements for this trip, I may not be able to get into some of these places. But, that aside, any recommendations?

The Saturday night dinner has a mix of palates, from very adventureous (my Hunanese friend, Jensen, from Fremont) to very unadventurous. Jensen suggested going to a Cantonese restaurant for a birthday banquet, since the food would not be too challenging (e.g., spicy) and we could all fit around a large table. He suggested Great Eastern. I know there was a Chowhound dinner there a while back, organized by Melanie Wong. What do you think? Is Great Eastern still good? Is there better Cantonese banquet food to be had in the greater S.F. area? How about Superior Palace on Balboa St.? Any other suggestions – including non-Cantonese options – for a group of 10 with 3 children and a wide range of adventurousness of the palates?

Your help will be greatly appreciated.

  1. Melanie Wong Sep 8, 2010 01:23 AM

    This year I had one of my birthday parties at Hakka Restaurant.
    http://www.chow.com/restaurants/91453...
    Haven't posted all the details, but if you click on that link, you'll find many reports. Be sure to order the whole stuffed duck.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      Tom Armitage Sep 8, 2010 12:02 PM

      Thanks for the great recommendation, Melanie. I've spent more than an hour reading all the Chowhound posts, and the only problem is going to be how to decide what to order given all the wonderful dishes to choose from at Hakka. That's a "happy problem." I’ll call them today for a Saturday night reservation.

      So that hopefully takes care of Saturday night's birthday dinner, and leaves me with the choice of restaurants for Thursday in East Bay and Friday in S.F. I’ve added a couple of additional places to my East Bay list: Bocanova and Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana. However, I’m leaning towards a choice between Oliveto and Camino. For Friday’s S.F. dinner, I've also added a couple more candidates, Delfina and Bar Tartine.

      1. re: Tom Armitage
        Ruth Lafler Sep 8, 2010 12:27 PM

        The restaurant scene in Oakland is booming. A couple of well-regarded new comers are Hibiscus and Pican.

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        Pican Restaurant
        2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

        1. re: Ruth Lafler
          Tom Armitage Sep 8, 2010 02:17 PM

          Thanks, Ruth. I’ve already read the Chowhound posts on Pican. It sounds great. Benton’s bacon – wow – one of my faves.

    2. bbulkow Sep 8, 2010 10:07 AM

      Thursday - looks like you really want fine dining, so I'd consider adding Rivoli to the list, although you'll probably decide no. Commis, unlikely you'll get a reservation. There's the recent rash of italian places, like Boot & Shoe and Locanda de Eva, but sounds like that's not what you want. I hear Camino fits the bill but haven't been myself.

      -----
      Rivoli Restaurant
      1539 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

      Commis
      3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

      1 Reply
      1. re: bbulkow
        Tom Armitage Sep 8, 2010 12:04 PM

        Thanks. Rivoli wasn't on my radar, but I'll definitely put it on the list and check it out.

      2. s
        Steve Drucker Sep 9, 2010 03:30 AM

        Tom, good to see your timely inquiry and erstwhile responses from old Chow friends.

        Please continue to drop breadcrumbs and reports as we too have an upcoming long work/play weekend in downtown SFO. Already I'm plotting a safari from the financial district out to Hakka (40 min by bus, oy). Although isn't that what getting away is very much about--disrupting the time lines and kicking back?

        3 Replies
        1. re: Steve Drucker
          Tom Armitage Sep 9, 2010 10:02 AM

          Thanks, Steve. After spending more than an hour reading the existing Chowhound posts on Hakka, mine would probably not add much. But I'll defintely post about all my experiences over the extended weekend. My guess is that Hakka will be worth your 40-minute bus ride, but I'll let you know.

          1. re: Tom Armitage
            Tom Armitage Sep 13, 2010 02:38 PM

            Here’s a brief run down and some bread crumbs for Steve Drucker.

            My wife and I arrived in and departed from Oakland (hence the Thursday and Sunday night dinners in Oakland), and stayed with friends in Mill Valley Thursday and Friday nights (hence the Friday breakfast and Saturday lunch in Mill Valley).

            Thursday dinner: Camino (Oakland). Bbulkow was right. We couldn’t get a reservation at Commis, and should have taken the recommendation to go to Rivoli. Instead, we went to Camino, based largely on the concept and Russell Moore’s pedigree, and it was a disappointment. I suppose the tip off should have been the ability to get a last minute reservation and, upon arriving, noticing the large number of empty tables. But, by then, it was too late in the game to go elsewhere. Most flavors were restrained to the point of blandness. Most, but not all, textures were fine. A couple of dishes scored reasonably high (e.g., sardine toast), but most were simply not memorable. Very spare room. Wine list needs a lot of help. Service was excellent. Bottom line: I wouldn’t return here.

            Friday breakfast: Dipsea Cafe (Mill Valley). I had remembered the corned beef hash with poached eggs as being pretty good here, but either I was wrong, or it wasn’t as good as last time. Why can’t a restaurant make a corned beef hash that actually tastes like good corned beef? Is there such a restaurant in the Bay Area? I understand that Dipsea makes good pancakes, but I didn’t order them. The potatoes and the biscuits were good. Otherwise, very unremarkable stuff. I like the funky old-fashioned vibe though, including the fountain by the entrance with a faucet running water over dishes in a sink.

            Friday dinner: Commonwealth (San Francisco). Truly extraordinary in every aspect, most notably value. One of best meals I’ve had this year. I’ll post separately on this amazing place.

            Saturday lunch: Dish (Mill Valley). Mediocre to poor on food quality, and terrible service from all the pretty young girls waiting tables, who spent a lot of time chatting with each other and ignoring the customers. A missed opportunity for this relatively new place, since Mill Valley could sure use a decent restaurant.

            Saturday dinner: Hakka (San Francisco). Totally lived up to the volumes of praise heaped on this wonderful restaurant in the many previous Chowhound posts. Adding my own detailed comments wouldn’t add anything new. Thanks to Melanie for the wonderful recommendation. Definitely worth a 40-minute bus ride, Steve.

            Sunday dinner: Picán (Oakland). I really enjoyed this place. Thanks for the recommendation, Ruth. We had to leave at 6:40 pm to catch our plane back to Seattle, and, because of horrible traffic getting out of San Francisco, missed our 5:00 pm reservation and didn’t arrive at the restaurant until 5:35 pm. Our very professional and competent waiter did a heroic job of getting our food to us with amazing speed, and we had time to sample a large number of appetizers and mains (my wife and I were part of a group of 6 adults and 3 children). The pork ribs weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were pretty darn good and falling-of-the-bone tender. The peanut-jalapeño coleslaw was fantastic, as were the beef-braised collards. Mac ‘n cheese was pretty good, with a very creamy texture, but I would have added a touch of cayenne to amp up the cheese flavor and add a touch of heat. The pork belly was great. Overall, I’d be happy to come back here again.

            Thanks to all for the good advice. If your travels every take you to Seattle, I’ll be happy to return the favor.

            1. re: Tom Armitage
              s
              Steve Drucker Sep 14, 2010 03:32 AM

              Thanks Tom. In amongst our three nights are intermingled some work, some family and a dress up night.

              As molecular gastronomy leaves me cold (sic)--we'll probably say a prayer and aim for La Ciccia.

              Hakka--I'm hopeful. The problem is possible push back after walk-about dim sum earlier that day. In truth--SFO is like the most charming dime a dance girl willing to endlessly twirl me around, then leave me gasping on the sideline as she waltzes off for more. Maybe that's why I keep coming back.

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              La Ciccia
              291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

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