Best Berkeley Bistro?
I'd agree with RL that Nizza is worth the trip. Their seafood pizza (wood burning oven) is superb. The French onion soup broth was so good, we were flabbergasted to learn it was vegetarian. Beats anything we've gotten from Chez Panisse Cafe and Gather, hands-down.
When they first opened, Riva Cucina was superb. The prosciutto quality was exquisite, served with figs and warmed goat cheese. But the prices were high, and locals wouldn't support that level especially as the economy turned down. Now the prosciutto is the same mid-quality that other good restaurants serve, no longer the fresh, soft, pink-fleshed delight that had been generously heaped on the platter, but the drier, darker prosciutto - good but not great. The food is still good, it's just not what it first promised to be - a regional Italian restaurant with the quality and focus (and cost, let's be honest) of a place like Oenotri/Napa.
We weren't impressed by B.Liaison when we tried it, but we didn't order the dishes for which they're most loved. They're on our list for a return someday, although that list is awfully long, LOL.
We enjoyed the food at La Note but the noise level, and general uncomfortableness of the interior, was so unpleasant we haven't returned. Loved the salad Nicoise, which is much better than the one Nizza serves.
Venus, when it's on, is very good and a little less uncomfortable than La Note. Noise is almost as bad but not quite as ear-splitting since it's smaller.
"Bistro" is kind of a loose term these days, so my definition might be different than yours. We're not price-sensitive so we see it more as style than cost. Our fav in Berkeley is FIVE at the Hotel Shattuck. We love Banks White's food and prefer the professional service and stylish atmosphere. It is open for lunch but I've found dinner is better.
In the East Bay our favorite bistro of all is Artisan in Lafayette. We think John Marquez is a genius and his food is amazing. We rank Marquez at the same level we rank Roland Passot/La Folie, David Barzigan/Fifth Floor, Andre Lemaire/Andre's Bouchee, and Mourad Lahlou/Aziza.
I think Nizza la Bella's worth the schlep to Albany.
Bistro Liaison's decent.
La Note's good but the menu's quite limited.
I haven't been to La Rose, which post-Vanessa has a very classic bistro menu.
Vanessa's Bistro is good but it's more Vietnamese fusion small plates than traditional French.