HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Discussion

Annual birthday dinner dilemma

  • 112
  • Share

The annual saga of Ruth's birthday dinner began yesterday when my mother called to ask what I wanted to do. For all my years reading this board religiously and making suggestions for others, I'm often perplexed by the task of finding a place that's

(1) interesting and preferably new to me,
(2) suitable for my parents (not too noisy and a decent value, i.e., not cheap, but not so expensive it shocks my raised-during-the-Depression Dad's sensibilities),
(3) has a menu that will please both more and less adventurous diners (and not too seafood heavy),
(4) has delicious desserts,
(5) isn't insanely hard to get a reservation for a party of five and/or inaccessible to the East Bay (Aziza proved to be a nightmarish trek one Saturday evening).

As an example, in 2007 we went to Perbacco and it was almost perfect (too noisy, but everything was so good it made the noise tolerable). A place that I would love to go back to but that miserably fails #5 is La Ciccia, where you can get a reservation for five but you'll probably be uncomfortable, and which I got miserably lost trying to find (and I never get lost).

I should also mention that my birthday dinner is cursed. Perbacco seems to have survived, but the restaurants where we had my 2008 and 2009 birthday dinners both closed (the latter just a couple of days after we ate there!). Last year I picked Lalime's since I wanted to check it out under Morrone and it seemed to be curse-proof, but the curse struck again when Morrone left shortly thereafter. Other birthday dinners have been plagued with memorably bad service (my 40th at Fleur de Lys being the worst).

Some of the new places in Oakland look good, but they mostly seem a bit more casual than I would like (especially since they tend to be very noisy). My father (who is, after all, paying the bill) would hate Commis and Plum.

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

Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Lalime's
1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
Cancel
  1. How about Zero Zero in SF on Folsom near 4th? It is festive and not too loud or expensive and is easy to find/BARTable. The build your own soft serve sundae is a fun dessert. But, I am not sure if there's an elevator - can your folks handle one flight of stairs to where the larger tables are located? Or, have you tried Pican in Oakland?

    -----
    Pican Restaurant
    2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

    Zero Zero
    826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

    1. Quince.
      Happy birthday!

      1. Is the East Bay not an option? I had a great meal at Hibiscus recently and I think it might hit most if not all of your points.

        -----
        Hibiscus
        1745 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

        4 Replies
        1. re: davina

          The East Bay is definitely an option and Hibiscus is on my radar.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Hibiscus has good food, and I think it will be quiet enough for your parents (especially if you get the right table) the only issue is that the service can be very slow and a little confused (I've had this experience myself and heard it from quite a few people), so that might be one thing to keep in mind.

          2. re: davina

            I thought the food at Hibiscus was just meh. Not bad, but kind of boring, even though I generally like Carribbean food. I thought the stuff at Hibiscus was Californiafied in a way that watered down the flavors. But we only went once, many months ago, and might have ordered the wrong things. It might also be overly casual for what you're looking for.

            If it were me, I would rather go to Pican. The only criteria it might not meet is the price point, which I find to be on the high side, but if you were considering Camino, I don't think it's any more expensive than that. The food is delicious.

            -----
            Pican Restaurant
            2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

            1. re: abstractpoet

              The food is great at Pican (and there are good desserts) but it can be kind of loud in there (and I don't know if the expensive fried chicken will be a turnoff for the parents). But in the side room, it might work.

              -----
              Pican Restaurant
              2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

          3. Are you going on a weekend?

            La Ciccia can indeed be very noisy (though less so if you dine early and/or can get one of the window tables; I've been there with my father who is in his mid-eighties and he loved it)....regardless, in defense of one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, and to avoid discouraging others, I am not sure why you got hopelessly lost but it isn't at all hard to find. (corner of 30th St and Church: take the 101 S, to Cesar Chavez exit West; take CC west to Church, turn left on Church, keep going until Church ends at 30th and La Ciccia will be right in front of you. or you can take the J Church Muni, or just follow it to 30th and Church :-))

            If you do decide to go there again, last time I dined there I had a semifreddo that was out of this world!

            By the way, if you follow the directions I mention above, you drive right by Incanto. Have you ever considered it? Incanto can be adventurous, but doesn't necessarily have to be, and it is bigger and perhaps quieter than La Ciccia. (though I'd prefer Perbacco or La Ciccia, myself).

            Is Ame too pricey or seafood centric? oh, and what were the also-rans that came close last year? (I know you posted, tried to search, couldn't find it). Are any of those possibilities?

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

            Perbacco
            230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

            1 Reply
            1. re: susancinsf

              Not sure why I'm trolling the SF board (I guess I'm ready to return), but figure I'll just put in my 2 cents worth while I'm here. We went to both La Ciccia and Incanto last spring while visiting and I found La Ciccia much better. I'm a very (emphasis on very) adventurous eater so Incanto's menu was more of an attraction, but I found the food somewhat mediocre. If I lived there, I'd go back to see if it was only a bad night, but the one meal 4 of us ate just wasnt all that. La Ciccia, on the other hand, would be a regular spot for us, as it hit on all cylindars. A young Sardinian couple just opened a small, informal place in our Brooklyn neighborhood and I've spoken to them about it, probably too much. Everything we ate (and we ate a lot) was excellent. If the pipes didnt break a couple of nights later, we would have eaten there again. At any rate, I wouldnt hesitate to go there for my b-day. And, as stated by susancinsf, when you hit 30th, Church ends and it's right in front of you. Just sayin'. I'm going back to my home boards now.

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

            2. Have you already tried Camino, or is that not fancy enough for a festive night? We loved our meal - it's a rustic room but nice, and three of us chatted for hours (we were the last ones there) so i don't remember it being too noisy.

              http://www.caminorestaurant.com/menu....

              3 Replies
              1. re: mariacarmen

                I haven't been to Camino, but I thought it had communal tables (just some?) and benches? (edited: I thought the benches were backless, but now I remember that I've heard them described as 'church pews', so perhaps they have backs, but might be uncomfortable for Ruth's group?).

                1. re: mariacarmen

                  I don't think Camino would work -- the menu is very limited, and I don't think that would work for Ruth's perimeters, and the seating is not comfortable. Granted, I am one of the Camino detractors on this board, but I think those issues would be a problem regardless.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    Yup. I looked at Camino and those were exactly the issues.

                2. How about Riva Cucina?

                  -----
                  Riva Cucina
                  800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Interesting! There's a place that wasn't on my radar at all! Pictures show high ceilings, brick walls (geez, what restaurant these days doesn't have high ceilings and brick walls), big windows and no table clothes -- what's the noise level like?

                    ETA: never mind, saw the side area with the big curtains -- should be quiet enough.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      It's a pretty cozy, low-key place. Not loud at all. Fairly casual, though (waiters in jeans, classic rock playing in the background), and I don't think the menu is particularly adventurous. Probably less so than some of the other Italian options that have been mentioned.

                      1. re: abstractpoet

                        Yeah, but they have porchetta. ;-)

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          And the antipasta miso is very good.

                          1. re: wolfe

                            I hope that's misto and not miso.

                            1. re: pauliface

                              Why? What's a "t" between friends.
                              http://don-alfredos.co.uk/?p=620

                              1. re: wolfe

                                If it were WD-50 I wouldn't be surprised I suppose....

                        2. re: abstractpoet

                          Agreed. Food there is good but Riva Cucina is more of a casual night out spot than a place to celebrate your birthday.

                          -----
                          Riva Cucina
                          800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

                        3. re: Ruth Lafler

                          then how about Sociale? It's beautiful, parent-worthy, completely delicious, quiet, reasonable for the quality of food.... http://www.caffesociale.com/

                          -----
                          Sociale
                          3665 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94118

                          1. re: mariacarmen

                            Looks delicious. I'm concerned about the location, though (see comments about Aziza, above).

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Parking in that neighborhood is actually pretty easy in the evenings. Most of the shops around there close by 6 or 7, and after the UCSF Laurel Heights campus clears out, everything opens up.

                              Sociale is lovely, and the ambiance is great,

                              -----
                              Sociale
                              3665 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94118

                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                            It's quiet even when pretty full. Chron rating is one bell.

                        4. How about Five in Berkeley. The reports say it's quiet and the food is good...but perhaps not to the level you want.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ML8000

                            Interesting suggestion, thanks!

                            1. re: ML8000

                              The one time I went to Five it was so loud (coming from the bar area) that my husband and I walked out. We have NEVER done that due to noise in the past.

                            2. What about Gather in Berkeley? We took my in laws and they seemed to like it

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: skwid

                                My parents went to Gather a couple of months ago and were very vocal about how much they hated it. I don't think they liked anything about it!

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Around the same area in Berkeley there's also Trattoria Corso and eVe. I like Corso, but not sure about the noise level for your parents. eVe has that fixed menu but nice elegant settings for a special occasion, but not sure if the food might be filling enough i.e. a value.

                                  For noise level, I do think Quince is a nice environment. Prices are steep, but that's why it's a good place for special occasion dinners. ;-)

                                  Have you considered Bay Wolf? Bauer seems to think the food has gotten a new life after recent rumors of the owner selling but actually no longer selling.

                                  -----
                                  Bay Wolf Restaurant
                                  3853 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                              2. How about Chapeau in SF? Friendly chef, nuage de noix for dessert--a traditional bistro, so almost 70 yr olds like me are pretty happy there.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: lihsiawang

                                  One of the memorably bad birthday dinners -- both food and service -- was at Chapeau! (in the original location). Since everyone loves the place we must have caught them on an off night, but there are no second chances on birthday dinners: we'd rather give another restaurant a chance to buck the Ruth's Birthday Dinner curse! Besides, no way could I get my Dad to go back: he has no tolerance for people/restaurants who don't do their jobs well.

                                  A French restaurant is not a bad idea, though. My parents have always loved Fringale (actually had a good birthday dinner there one year), but somehow it's never quite done it for me. I'm thinking maybe Piperade: I haven't been there for years, the food is good and interesting, and I don't remember it being overly noisy.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    the food isn't necessarily adventurous or interesting, and it will be a bit hard to reach from the east bay (you'll need to take the N from BART), L'Ardoise is still one of my favorite French restaurants in the city, if not the Bay Area. It's all the traditional bistro classics executed almost perfectly.

                                    Very small place, but not excessively noisy and incredible' attentive service. Best creme
                                    brulee in the city.

                                    Again though, don't go there looking for terribly adventurous food.

                                    -----
                                    L'Ardoise
                                    151 Noe Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      That's too bad about Chapeau! I've always had wonderful food there. Was at Piperade recently; leaves me cold for some reason. Might be the room.

                                      But if French is an option, what about La Folie?

                                      Have you considered Baker and Banker? Or Heirloom Cafe, although I'm not sure if that would feel fancy enough?

                                      -----
                                      La Folie
                                      2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                                      Piperade
                                      1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                                  2. Any recent reports on Murray Circle?

                                    -----
                                    Murray Circle
                                    601 Murray Circle, Sausalito, CA 94965

                                    1. Perhaps Prospect? I went for dinner over the holidays and had a really great meal. Yes it's a little expensive, but portions were good (no you've-got-to-be-kidding-me sized plates), and aside from waiting a little for our reservation, service was excellent. The room is large and spacious with lots of room between tables- it felt luxurious compared to most other places. I think I remember some booths and round tables that would fit a party of five. And I don't remember it being noisy. And even though it was the holidays and still very popular, I had no trouble getting a reservation on Open Table. Also, my boyfriend is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and he really enjoyed his meal. Their menu is large enough to suit different tastes, very creative and tasty. Everyone in my party was impressed with the food. As for desserts, I thought they were interesting and well-executed. I'm a pastry chef so I'm kind particular and they weren't really my 'thing', but definitely worth tasting, beautiful, and nicely-sized. And for your final question, it's at the foot of the Bay Bridge- we drove over easily and parked down the street (on a weekday night) and would've BARTed if it hadn't been so cold (it's 3 blocks away). Good luck!

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: kmah

                                        I keep looking at Prospect -- the menu really does appeal to me. I guess I had assumed it was too noisy, but maybe there are some quieter areas (it seems to me that restaurants would be smart to plan to have some areas of the restaurant that were more quiet, even if the general atmosphere is more "lively"). Maybe I'll poke my head in one night this week (since it's near the new temporary transbay terminal where I catch the bus home anyway) and see for myself.

                                        As a pastry chef, who do you think is doing great desserts right now?

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          Frankly I don't get out much, and often don't order dessert (I'm too full or it doesn't interest me). That said, I always love the desserts at Range. I love the caramel pudding with perfect cookies at Flora. I've historically had really nice desserts at A Cote, although their cheese plate often distracts me. Had some lovely profiteroles at Sidebar. (I'm East Bay.) I'd love your dessert suggestions as well. On my short list of desserts to try are Aziza's, one of Emily Lucetti's restaurants, and Plum's (I believe both opening and current pastry chefs looked interesting).

                                          -----
                                          A Cote
                                          5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                                          1. re: kmah

                                            A Cote would meet all the requirements, provided you reserve for the back room. The warm sour cherry pie with crème fraîche ice cream we had recently was one of the best pies I've had in a restaurant.

                                            http://acoterestaurant.com/menus/dess...

                                            -----
                                            A Cote
                                            5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                                            1. re: kmah

                                              Speaking of Emily Luchetti: her desserts at Farallon are wonderful. I haven't been there in a while, and the entrees can be a bit uneven, but there isn't a lovelier, more celebratory room than the back room, except for the Palace Hotel...

                                              Happy B'day, Ruth!

                                              -----
                                              Farallon
                                              450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                              Palace Hotel
                                              2 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA

                                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              I don't think that Prospect is very loud -- I went for happy hour once, and it was quiet enough in the bar area for four of us to chat easily, and I walked through the restaurant to go to the bathroom, and it seemed like a pretty serene place.

                                          2. I'd go for Quince. With the new location they are much easier to get to from the East Bay and they've added an a la carte menu which brings the prices down a bit. Food is outstanding, atmosphere is lovely and not at all noisy, and they do some nice flourishes for your birthday. Great desserts as well.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                              Quince's a la carte prices are pretty steep:

                                              http://www.quincerestaurant.com/uploa...
                                              http://www.quincerestaurant.com/uploa...

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Yup. Steep and somehow I'm not thrilled by the menu.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  Agree. Quince to me is like Spruce: impeccable/unobjectionable, but for all that money, I want to be dazzled by the food not just the atmosphere. I like the chef to take some chances.

                                            2. To me, you have just described Rivoli. Possibly Bay Wolf. Also Oliveto. But for the noise, Wood Tavern. But for the communal tables, the back room at A Cote. But for the fact that it's closed, Locanda da Eva.

                                              -----
                                              A Cote
                                              5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                                              Wood Tavern
                                              6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                                              Rivoli Restaurant
                                              1539 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                                              Bay Wolf Restaurant
                                              3853 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                              Oliveto Cafe
                                              5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: lexdevil

                                                And how could I forget, Chez Panisse Cafe is our default setting for exactly this sort of event.

                                                -----
                                                Chez Panisse
                                                1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                                1. re: lexdevil

                                                  Yup. Definitely on the "possibles" list.

                                                2. re: lexdevil

                                                  Been there, done that at Rivoli, Bay Wolf and Oliveto (had bad service and unmemorable food at Oliveto, although it was my sister's birthday, not mine, another "my Dad won't go back" -- actually, we barely managed to keep him from walking out when they kept us standing dripping at the host station for 20 minutes past our reservation -- maybe it's unreasonable for me to hold a grudge against a restaurant that doesn't have a place to hang your coats on a cold, wet December evening, but if so, so be it).

                                                  Considering back room at A Cote.

                                                  I know I seem to be inordinately hard to please, but actually I was happy with my last four birthday dinners (even though out of the four, two have closed and one had a chef change).

                                                  -----
                                                  A Cote
                                                  5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                                                  Rivoli Restaurant
                                                  1539 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                                                  Bay Wolf Restaurant
                                                  3853 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                                  Oliveto Cafe
                                                  5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    I just had a fantastic, yet simple, b'day dinner this past weekend at Cotogna on Sat, which is the less-costly sister restaurant to Quince. I'm not a resident of your wonderful city and am already dreaming of returning, when I will make a beeline for Cotogna. Had the grilled asparagus with buratta antipasti and gnocchi with dungeness crab and peas in a light lemony cream sauce. Hubby had the simple chicken baked in the wood burning oven. Dessert was bombolini with little slices of candied kumquats and ricotta, again in a lemony sauce. Everything was really perfect, albeit simple...not your typical fancy celebration b'day dinner, but was just what I wanted and it exceeded expectations. I just loved it. They have several nice tables for four along the wall towards the far side of the restaurant, where it would probably be most quiet. Cozy, warm atmosphere with cheerful bar along dining area and wood-burning oven at one end. Service was outstanding - very pleasant, knowledgeable, attentive and professional. Not too loud but not a quiet place either. It was perfect for my husband and me, and made for a really special, memorable b'day. Enjoy and happy bday!

                                                    -----
                                                    Cotogna
                                                    490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                    1. re: carli

                                                      Love Cotogna, but may be a little loud - if her dad is anything like my stepdad.

                                                      Have you considered One Market? I've had a couple of very good meals there in the past month. The beef tongue salad is really impressive.

                                                      -----
                                                      One Market Restaurant
                                                      1 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

                                                      Cotogna
                                                      490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                      1. re: carli

                                                        Cotogna seemed quite noisy to me when I stuck my head in. Chron gives it four bells.

                                                        -----
                                                        Cotogna
                                                        490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          We sat at a table for two along the window on Fri night and it seemed fine. Granted, our res was early (6pm) but by the time we left, the place was packed, but the noise level was still okay, and I'm sensitive to it. Definitely jovial and lively, but not too loud to my ears. Might be not as tolerable if our table was in the middle of the room.

                                                  2. I might be remembering incorrectly, but you live in or around Alameda, yes?

                                                    My family loves to go to Asena in Alameda. Wonderful salads and appetizers, very suitable for parents of a not too price-y, semi-fussy nature, excellent desserts (and I'm picky there!), reservations and access no problem. Small, cozy and not noisy. Oh, and it's Alameda. Flat with mostly grid streets. Not possible to get lost.

                                                    But...please don't curse it.

                                                    -----
                                                    Asena Restaurant
                                                    2508 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda, CA 94501

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: MollyGee

                                                      LOL! Asena is walking distance from my house, but I haven't been there in years. Maybe time to check it out again.

                                                      -----
                                                      Asena Restaurant
                                                      2508 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda, CA 94501

                                                      1. re: MollyGee

                                                        http://www.asenarestaurant.com/

                                                      2. I'm just gonna trhow this out there....
                                                        I have not eaten there yet, but the old Mecca space (market near church) is now Podung, a chinese place with the old kitchen crew from Shanghai 1930, which I used to love.
                                                        Menu is more limited, and I don't know if it's what you'd want on your birthdayy, but the space is so lovely, and with low sound levels, and not too expensive, seems a great place to go with parents too.

                                                        But as I say, I have not tried it.
                                                        I took a takeout menu when I recently stopped by, and I should warn you the desserts are not particularly unusual -- Chocolate mousse, ginger creme brulee, trio of sorbets, trio of ice creams.

                                                        But if you liked Shanghai 1930's food, and you liked Mecca's ambience, you might consider it.
                                                        I bet you could even call ahead and order a special meal ahead, the Chef has talents beyond that menu so he might be into it...

                                                        1. How about Range? Food is appealing and interesting, and their pastry chef is quite good. I think for 5 it might work, but the back room is still a bit tight. It was lively but not annoyingly noisy both times I've been there. Prices are reasonable for what you get.

                                                          Parking might be a bit of a hassle, depending on the day and time, but I've never had to spend more than 10 minutes looking.

                                                          -----
                                                          Range
                                                          842 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                          1. How about Firefly? It is pretty close to the freeway and it is quiet and elegant without being overly formal. Really great food also. Just a thought.

                                                            28 Replies
                                                            1. re: budnball

                                                              Parking around Firefly can be really rough.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                This is true. my only problem with Firefly is finding parking. I love the Prix -Fix option.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  i've actually had pretty good luck in my experiences since it's so much further west than the rest of the 24th street commercial district (assuming one is willing to walk up/down a hill for 1-2 blocks, that is)

                                                                2. re: budnball

                                                                  I thought about Firefly. I can't remember why it didn't make the list (location, probably).

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                    Wow, are you this hard to shop for? LOL Happy B-Day by the way !

                                                                    1. re: budnball

                                                                      LOL. Yes and no. I'm happy with whatever people choose for me, but I hate making a decision, so I will search compulsively for something that is undeniably the best choice. This is why my friends and family ask me to make their travel plans for them.

                                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      I don't think parking at Firefly is a problem (walk up hill a block or two), but it doesn't really rise to the level of special occasion.

                                                                      It's a neighborhood restaurant with American cooking done consistently. In Noe Valley, that makes it stand out, but I wouldn't cross a bridge for it.

                                                                      1. re: Windy

                                                                        i would also agree

                                                                        1. re: vulber

                                                                          Firefly has a relatively new chef with a nice pedigree and the food seems a bit more interesting and refined
                                                                          http://www.fireflyrestaurant.com/menu...

                                                                        2. re: Windy

                                                                          Yes, well, these days "American cooking done consistently" is remarkably difficult to find. For example, I sort of arbitrarily decided that if the restaurant featured pizza, it wasn't right for the occasion. Well, not arbitrarily exactly, just that they whole "mid-range restaurant with pizza" trend just wasn't what I thought of when I thought "special occasion." Really, is a tablecloth too much to ask for these days?

                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                            I would describe Nopa as American done consistently--and I find it uninteresting (aside from the cocktails) for exactly that reason. Although lots of people love it.

                                                                            -----
                                                                            Nopa
                                                                            560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                                                            1. re: Windy

                                                                              "American" doesn't have to mean "boring" -- although as I've noted, it seems harder and harder to find a restaurant that seemed to be fairly common a few years ago: a "nice" new-American restaurant that's doing interesting food. Now it's all either upscale pizza or expensive/experimental food served in ultra-casual settings.

                                                                              Where is the Myth equivalent?

                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                Baker and Banker
                                                                                http://www.bakerandbanker.com/index.p...

                                                                                I'd consider Range American; not a huge fan, except the cocktails, but still. Commonwealth.

                                                                                1. re: Windy

                                                                                  Commonwealth is a single prix-fixe menu. Baker and Banker is on the casual side atmospherically, if not the food. Range -- I considered but reports on the noise level are not promising.

                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                    Commonwealth has a regular menu.

                                                                                    And I wasn't necessarily suggesting Range or Commonwealth, except to include the menus as New American. I don't think it's a rare dining category.

                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                      Ruth, Range can be really noisy, but there is a small area located between the front area and the back room, where you could hold a pleasant conversation. We request that area because of the noise level, and that works out for us. Happy birthday.

                                                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                Tablecloths are very un-green, so places that are into sourcing the best ingredients often eschew tablecloths for similar motives. The savings on linen services are also significant, especially when a restaurant is competing with places that don't have them.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  I'm sure cost is a factor. Sourcing local ingredients isn't necessarily a "green" decision -- I'm guessing it's more of an aesthetic decision and a desire to be more connected to the food and producers than to try to save food miles.

                                                                                  But regardless, if you're going to charge $30 for an entree, I don't want you to skimp on the table cloth!

                                                                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                  Pican is American, clever and delicious variations on classic dishes though not wacky-experimental, great desserts. No tablecloths but manages to be elegant anyway.

                                                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6214...

                                                                                  -----
                                                                                  Pican Restaurant
                                                                                  2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    Pican is definitely one I've considered. But honestly, the food all sounds heavy and/or sweet -- not really my preferred flavor palate (and now I *know* I'm being picky!) and not very seasonal. I really *like* the seasonal flavors around my birthday (spring veggies and citrus) -- I still think the most perfect dish I've ever had on my birthday was an asparagus risotto topped with a dollop of Meyer lemon herb mascarpone (at the late, lamented Roux).

                                                                                    -----
                                                                                    Pican Restaurant
                                                                                    2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                      I generally hate sweet food, but I liked everything at Pican. It's lighter than traditional Southern but still a long way from asparagus risotto territory.

                                                                                      -----
                                                                                      Pican Restaurant
                                                                                      2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                        I know what you mean about really high prices for a casual experience, especially for a special occasion. So given the trend for new places to go in that direction, older places might be a better fit.

                                                                                        Asparagus risotto made me think of our Italian choices again. Have you tried Acquerello? Or maybe even a (gasp) return visit to Perbacco, with a table upstairs where it's less noisy. I don't know if I've had dessert at either place, though.

                                                                                        Michael

                                                                                        -----
                                                                                        Perbacco
                                                                                        230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                                                                        Acquerello Restaurant
                                                                                        1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                      re: tablecloths: haven't been in a long time, but if memory serves I am fairly certain there are no tablecloths at Firefly. But then, I agree it doesn't rise to the level of special occasion. (even if a new chef is bringing some refinement it still had a long way to go, IMO).

                                                                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                        Funny, I always thought of Firefly as a special-occasion-only place.

                                                                                        1. re: pauliface

                                                                                          If you haven’t been yet go to Oenotri in Napa for your B-day dinner

                                                                                          -----
                                                                                          Oenotri
                                                                                          1425 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

                                                                                          1. re: pauliface

                                                                                            That was my idea also. Quiet, romantic, a great wine list and wonderful desserts. Not special occasion only but special occasion worthy.

                                                                                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                          Spruce?

                                                                                          Much as I love Commonwealth, and service is top notch, I don't think your parents would like it.

                                                                                          -----
                                                                                          Spruce
                                                                                          3640 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                                                                          Commonwealth
                                                                                          2224 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                            No, I'm pretty sure my parents wouldn't like Commonwealth.

                                                                                            Spruce is definitely the style of restaurant I'm looking for, although it's a tad on the expensive side and the location isn't incredibly convenient from the East/South Bay.

                                                                                            After a visit to check out the noise level for myself I made a reservation at Prospect. I'm still open to convincing that another restaurant would be a better choice, though.

                                                                                  2. Thank you all for your help. It turned out that everyone was available earlier in the day on Saturday, so we decided to check out some of the places on the Sonoma cheese trail map (ack! just realized that's the same day as the Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma -- hope that isn't a problem!) and finish up with dinner at the Vineyards Inn in Kenwood (which also means my 5-year-old niece can come along).

                                                                                    -----
                                                                                    Vineyards Inn
                                                                                    8445 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

                                                                                    11 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                      Sorry, didn't read this long thread. How many people? I think if there are 12 you can arrange for the special Basque dinner. They might even do it if you were close to that number.

                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                        Nope. Just six of us (and one of is only 5, although she often eats enough to count as an adult). That reminds me I was thinking of holding a chowdown there, though.

                                                                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                        Happy Birthday, Ruth :^)

                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                          How nice. I'd expect all the most knowledgeable staffers, cheesemakers and owners to be attending the seminars and manning the tasting tables at the event. So it depends on what you want to get out of your cheese tasting time.

                                                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                            I think I mostly want to taste some cheese and visit baby goats with my niece!

                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                              In that case, you might want to make a stop in Petaluma on the way at Green String Farm. They have adorable animals that you can feed and a lot of great looking chickens; the kids I went with were in heaven.
                                                                                              http://www.greenstringfarm.com/

                                                                                              Also fresh produce, eggs, olive oil, and beef. Thanks to RW for mentioning this place.

                                                                                              -----
                                                                                              Green String Farm
                                                                                              3571 Old Adobe Rd, Petaluma, CA 94954

                                                                                              1. re: Windy

                                                                                                and have you ever been to Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero? Not for this trip, but I bet your niece would enjoy watching how the cheese is made and fully interactive goat action! I love this place.

                                                                                                http://www.harleyfarms.com/

                                                                                                -----
                                                                                                Harley Farms
                                                                                                205 North St, Pescadero, CA

                                                                                                1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                                                  We haven't -- we never seem to get out act together early enough to make reservations.

                                                                                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                                                    Harley Farms is great for the goat tour...and free samples in the shop.

                                                                                                    -----
                                                                                                    Harley Farms
                                                                                                    205 North St, Pescadero, CA

                                                                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                      their goat cheese feta is fantastic and they don't sell it anywhere but there. such a great place. they also do these beautiful seasonal dinners in their gorgeous barn loft. It's just a wonderful place to spend the day.

                                                                                                  2. re: Windy

                                                                                                    Great suggestion, thanks!

                                                                                            2. I s'pose I'm a bit late to the party, but I'll tell you where I go for my birthday, since it seems to meet most of your requirements: Bocanova, Jack London Square. I don't do dessert, so I won't vouch for that. But I found it easy on the wallet, interesting menu - Latin American and then some - friendly/comfortable. Service is solid and the setting is great.

                                                                                              Belated best.

                                                                                              -----
                                                                                              Jack London Square
                                                                                              70 Washington St # 207, Oakland, CA

                                                                                              Bocanova
                                                                                              55 Webster Street, Oakland, CA 94607

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Unk

                                                                                                I can't remember the desserts I've tasted at Boacanova, but I do remember that the people I was with (who have bigger sweet teeth than I do) were highly enthusiastic.

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  Then they probably had the chocolate bread pudding. It's super yummy.

                                                                                                2. re: Unk

                                                                                                  So I finally made it to BocaNova, and I have to give credit to this suggestion. It would actually be quite suitable: good food, reasonable prices, nice enough to feel special (three tables near us were celebrating special occasions). It was lively but not unbearably noisy. Desserts were appealing and the churros with chocolate sauce I ended up ordering were excellent.

                                                                                                3. You know, I really hate it when people ask for help, get all kinds of thoughtful advice, and then don't take any of it!

                                                                                                  So let me confess ... after all that, we ended up at the new incarnation of Le Cheval, called LCX. We had cancelled Prospect in favor of Sonoma, which allowed my five-year-old niece to be included. But then it rained, and my Mom had a cold, and all the cheesemakers were busy with the Artisan Cheese event, so I decided just to have a nice, family-friendly birthday close to home: Chabot Science Center with my sister, BIL and niece, dinner including parents at LCX (suggested by my sister because my niece has recently become enamored with pho), and cake and presents at home.

                                                                                                  LCX at least satisfied my wish for being not insanely expensive and having table cloths (even if they are under glass). It was, however, a little on the noisy side.

                                                                                                  Service was very kid friendly. When we told the waiter my niece liked pho he offered to have the kitchen make it for her, even though they don't normally serve it after 4 p.m., and he brought it right away, so she had something to slurp on while the rest of us ordered drinks and appetizers. He also told us he would be sure to let us know if a dish had peanuts, since my niece is allergic.

                                                                                                  The Imperial rolls were one of the best versions I've had; the spicy chicken wings were good, too, and a generous portion. Everyone seemed happy with their food. I had the crab in ginger scallion sauce, which was tasty, if more than a little messy. We had a reasonably priced bottle of Thomas Fogerty gewurztraminer that paired well with the food, and I also had a ginger drop cocktail, which was delicious.

                                                                                                  Dessert certainly met the "good dessert" criterion: an excellent "Chocolate Heaven" cake (chocolate chiffon with chocolate ganache filling, finished with chocolate french buttercream and poured chocolate ganache, decorated with some molded chocolate leaved and flowers and two chocolate dipped strawberries and garnished with a few more assorted berries) from Palo Alto Baking Co. Tangelo and pink-peppercorn almond sorbets from Scream rounded out dessert.

                                                                                                  Thanks again for your patience and advice. Quite a few of your suggestions have gone on my short list for next time someone says "where do you want to go for dinner"?

                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                    They serve Scream sorbet?

                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      No, we had dessert at home -- my sister brought the cake and stopped at Scream on the way to my house from the restaurant.

                                                                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      All's well that ends with good dessert.

                                                                                                      And glad to hear that Le Cheval has successfully reinvented itself. I remember the service as being a cut above, but that was years ago.

                                                                                                      -----
                                                                                                      Le Cheval
                                                                                                      2600 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                                                                                      1. re: Windy

                                                                                                        I think the service, and the wine list, are what make Americanized versions of ethic restaurants legitimate alternatives for certain occasions. It was reassuring to know that our server spoke fluent English and understood the peanut issue, for example. After trying to eat at my favorite dim sum place with a friend who doesn't eat red meat, I saw the value of a place like Yank Sing, where it's easy to find out if an otherwise vegetarian-sounding dumpling might have a little bit of pork.

                                                                                                        -----
                                                                                                        Yank Sing
                                                                                                        49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

                                                                                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                        I am not surprised that the ginger drop was delicious; I had a great one once at the old Le Cheval, where I always thought the cocktails were the highlight. Sorry to hear that it was noisy, however, since that was one of the aspects of it that I didn't like, back in the day when it was one of my (then) boss' favorite lunch spots...(so I went there more often than I otherwise would have done for lunch. Unfortunately, drinking ginger drops at lunch with the boss wasn't on the agenda :-))

                                                                                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                          I should note, btw, that in the era of the over-$10 cocktail, the ginger drop was only $7. Since the appetizers were the strength of the food, it seems that LCX would be a good spot for after-work drinks and snacks.