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Annual birthday dinner dilemma

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.

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

Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Lalime's
1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

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  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?

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    Pican Restaurant
    2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

    Zero Zero
    826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

      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.

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        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.

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            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.

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              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?

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            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.

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              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.