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Dec 18, 2012 10:47 AM

Oakland Business Casual Restaurant Options


I'm planning a business trip to Oakland for a group of approx 10 people for mid January, and am looking for business dining options. Here are the relevant details:

-mostly women from Canada, working in the not-for-profit and education sectors (mid 30s to 60s). Mid-range in price -- clean, comfortable, but nothing too flashy

-meetings in Grand Lake District (near the theatre), probably staying in City Centre area (Marriott) restaurants should be in either of those areas or in between

-"no noisy bars" is a key request (not my words)

Any ideas?



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  1. Perhaps Pican or Bocanova. Both are accessible on Oakland's free shuttle which stops more or less at the Marriott. Check out other spots at Jack London Square as well.

    10 Replies
    1. re: MagicMarkR

      Good recommendations. I would think Pican would be perfect, they have a large enough room, and maybe even have a private area. It's a somewhat dressy room, but not business, more like "dress up before a show".

      Chop House, but I bet you get a lot of meat in Canada.

      Flora tends to be a little loud and bar-ish, but should be on your list.

      If you want to go somewhere a little unusual, check out Legendary Palace. It's a big old chinatown institution not that far from the marriott. It's so huge you can have a big area to yourself.

      Yoshi's has a very nice semi-private room for about 10. It's not just sushi - all their japanese dishes, noodles, etc are quite good. You'd have the option of taking in the evening's show, or not. Very well known, so easy transport.

      On the tamer side, consider Scott's seafood. They have a bunch of big dining areas, and it's right on the water. Scott's doesn't get coverage here because it's not "cutting edge" but this outpost has always been one of the better ones and I've been at business casual events there that are quite pleasing. If you're from Alberta, the idea of an oakland seafood place on the water probably sounds good, unless people want something more "ethnic" and/or cutting edge (Pican is all that in a classy package).

      Luka's is too loud. Mua is great, and very local, but way too loud and bar like.

      Le Cheval would be an interesting choice. It's a white tablecloth viet place. I haven't been since the last time they redid their dining room, don't know how close the tables are or if they have a back room. You can certainly get some kind of prix fixe with them - banquet style. They are _right_ around the corner from the marriott.

      Grand Ave is heavy on the bar-ish places, like Sidebar, and I think Boot and Shoe would be small and noisy. Spettro I've always had a soft spot - red tablecloth southern italian - and Zza's - but it's way too casual. Milano is the only one that I'd really consider business class. For unusual, I'd recommend Jong Ga House, a Korean place (that general area is very good for Korean), although I've only been under the previous owners. There are some new places, like Cana, that I don't know. Keep your search around the marriott, other than Milano.

      1. re: bbulkow

        Sidebar would probably work.

        Boot & Shoe is way too noisy.

        When was Jong Ga House sold?

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Wow! Thanks so much everyone for all of these options. This certainly gives me lots to think about.

          Pican looks like a great option, for my taste, but I'm not sure about the group. They will be very work focused, and many will not be very interested in alcohol.

          I think Scott's Seafood and Le Cheval are all great options. For this group, I would not choose "cutting edge." The fact that we're not-for-profit/education is significant--we aren't interested in fancy or hip. I actually think that, given my employer's tastes, Spettro might be great for some of the "internal" meetings. Is it loud?

          1. re: Khadija

            I think I take back the remarks about Spettro, it does look too casual. But Milano looks perfect.

            1. re: Khadija

              I have to say if you are coming from out of town, don't go to Scott's Seafood. It's like a more expensive version of Red Lobster. I actually eat there regularly because my family likes the view over the water, and I find their food horrible every time. It will make your friends think less of Oakland.

              Try Haven right across from it, or Boca Nova, if you are in the Jack London Area.

              If you are from the not-for-profit/education sector, how about supporting some of the newer small local and sustainable restaurants, rather than a lowest-common-denominator corporate chain like Scott's? :)

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              I went to Jong Ga House as Sorabol well over a decade ago. Maybe closer to 15 years. Hard to say.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Jong Ga was quite good the couple of times I've been there in recent years. I'd go more often if I didn't have to drive past most of my other favorite Korean restaurants to get there.

            3. re: bbulkow

              Does Spettro take reservations? I think that would be a must for this group.

            4. re: MagicMarkR

              while I really enjoy the festive atmosphere and food at Bocanova, I also really think that it's noisy there.

              1. re: escargot3

                The outdoor area is much quieter.

            5. Any good reviews for the Lake Chalet place? It seems big enough but not too crowded so it wouldn't be too loud and would otherwise fit the request.

              6 Replies
              1. re: foodeye

                I haven't seen any good reviews of the food at Lake Chalet -- at best it seems to be a nice place for a drink and a snack.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  "Good reviews" - I have read thorough and thoughtful reviews - what I would call a "good review" - and none praised the food. They did praise the atmosphere, and disliked the prices and food quality.

                  Just pulling your leg, I knew what you meant.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Good burgers at Lake Chalet. Haven't ever ordered anything else so can't comment on that. The Oakland branch of my company (City Center) usually has their office functions there.

                  2. re: foodeye

                    Agreed that Bocanova can get loud, but I find it surprisingly good. The issue with Pican I think is the rather limited menu, more than the bar. They have a similar vibe though.

                    I was at Lake Chalet for a work holiday party last week. They can definitely accomodate groups --in fact the night I was there, there was an education non-profit having their holiday party at the same time. But I do not know the prices or as a place to go if you are "very work focused."

                    And just throwing out there: Breads of India is right around the corner from the Marriott (a block or so from Le Cheval). Or Peony, also in Oakland Chinatown.

                    1. re: MagicMarkR

                      Also at Jack London Square: Kincaid's and Il Pescatore, both of which might be suitable. I like the idea of something by the water for a group from out of town.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        More old-guard low quality Oakland places with nothing but a view monopoly. We need these restaurants to go belly up.

                  3. By the way, this link may be quite helpful. It gives ideas, but perhaps more helpfully, the route of the free shuttle, which goes by (or fairly near to) almost all of the places that have been suggested.


                    1 Reply
                    1. Kincaid's food is absolutely disgusting. Since they were bought by a faceless corp. holding company, they and Skates/Berkeley share the same menu and identical awful food (we went to both last year).

                      Scott's food is dated - nothing but lemon butter on seafood without any regard to sustainability - but they are okay. Lunch, interestingly, was much better than dinner, plus you can at least see something out the windows during these short winter days.

                      I don't know if Lake Chalet has solved its service issues. It was so bad we refuse to go back. The hostess was snotty, the waitstaff clueless, the food erratic. A shame, because it's a lovely place.

                      IF you can eat early, the Terrace Room at the Lake Merritt Hotel (which is now a seniors residence) is quiet with a magnificent 1930's dining room complete with murals of Lake Merritt. Food is decent, service is usually good although sometimes erratic. Of all the places around the Lake it is the most "old time classic." It's easy to tell it must have been a swinging night club back in the Big Band era! Street parking can be difficult, though.

                      Zza's can be reserved through OpenTable and was pretty good, we liked it better overall than Spettro's. Starters were especially good. Ask if you can be seated in the wine tasting area - I think it's probably quieter than the main DR. Service can be slow.

                      There is also a restaurant inside the Marriott, which I just found out about, but have not tried yet.

                      Another IF: reserve in advance (either call or use OpenTable) at Seison in the Hotel Washington. Do NOT confuse this with Saison/San Francisco, entirely separate. Also, the web menu is completely outdated; Seison long ago changed to a simpler bistro menu and is now dinner only, weekdays. You need to make an advance reservation because Seison is seriously understaffed: one person does everything, and I mean everything - the hotel bar is outside in the lobby, and the one waitperson makes drinks, waits and buses all the tables and bar, opens the wine, etc. etc.

                      With that large a party Seison will probably get an extra person in. Be aware that occasionally the kitchen (which is probably as understaffed as the dining room) gets orders a bit mixed up. So why go? Because the place is virtually empty - nobody seems to know about it. And the kitchen can actually cook! The food is always good, and every time we go, at least one dish and sometimes two or three, make it all the way up to the 4-star level. For a 2-star restaurant to do this every time we come - we've eaten there six times in 2-1/2 yrs - is really remarkable.

                      At our recent October dinner at Seison, the scallops were phenomenal - even better than a similar scallop dish at the much more expensive Passionfish/Pacific Grove a month later. And DON'T miss dessert - the fruit crisp and the bread pudding with bourbon sauce are amazing!

                      Oh, one last tip about Seison - ask for the bar menu in addition to the regular menu. It has the catfish nuggets and the crispy chicken wings on it. Both dishes are sized for ONE person, not to share - that's why they're only charging $4/plate. So to share for 10, you'd need 3 or 4 of each. Seison does a stunning job deep-frying these starters - I don't normally like catfish but these are sensational. This is one of the best bargain restaurants around, and a real hidden gem. In fact, if they forget to put the canned Muzak on, your voices will echo around the dining room, it's always so empty!

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: jaiko

                        Thanks for the info about the Terrace room. I was looking into it, but wasn't sure what to think. I think it has the right atmosphere for this group of women. Seison sounds like a really good option as well.

                        By work-focused, I mean that the meals will be "working" (not festive) events--my employer will probably consider the meals "meetings."

                        1. re: Khadija

                          I think Le Cheval won't work well for you. It probably fills up a little at lunch, if you want a real meeting. Also, forgive my prejudice, but my experience with women between 20 and 40 is they'll all want to know everything about all the food and will ask for things like sauce on the side and none of this and none of that. Le Cheval has the "7 courses of beef" and a lot of fish sauce. The more authentic asian places - I'd put Le Cheval in that category (barely) - will try but roll their eyes, and perhaps feign language issues.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Thanks for this tip about Le Cheval. That's helpful.

                            The group is more mid 30s to mid 60s. There will be some who will be picky about food, but more than that, many will be relatively conservative. Some might have one glass of wine with dinner, but that's about it. My employer always orders fish if it's on the menu, and she seems to really like old fashioned Italian places (tableclothes) and simple bistros.

                        2. re: jaiko

                          Can anyone recommend lunch places in the Grand Lake district?

                          1. re: Khadija

                            Many of the places already mentioned serve lunch. I'd suggest Sidebar or Boot & Shoe Service as good prospects. Milano used to serve lunch, but not sure about now--you should check if you think you want to try it.

                            I also want to mention another place for dinner--Borgo Italia. It's italian trattoria style food. The pastas and risotto are particularly good. I like the pizzas, but some don't like their specific style. It's in Old Oakland, right near the Marriot. If you decide on Borgo, I think it would be best to make a reservation and let them know about your party. I think if they know in advance about a party that size, you could expect a good time.

                            1. re: Rapini

                              I've seen parties around that size at Borgo Italia, but I'm not sure it's quiet enough for a working dinner.

                              1. re: Rapini

                                Sidebar is great for a lunch and it's very quiet and I might even call it "conservative" in some respects. When I was working for home as a freelancer I would often go there just to get out of the house and see some other people. They have a communal table on one side that will seat 8-10 people comfortably--just call to reserve it and they will happily do so. There's a nice view of the (well-run) open kitchen from that spot as well. For lunch they have a small but very good menu with one of the best burgers in Oakland and for your boss who likes fish there's a smoked trout salad that is perfect for a light lunch, and also a skate sandwich available. Usually mussels or clams as well and they are OK with requests for substitutions/picky eaters, etc.

                                There are always holiday lunch parties in there around this time of year and everyone always seems to be having a good time.

                                I am not an employee or affiliated with Sidebar, I just really love it. I have had many a great meal there. They are also known for their great cocktails and the bartenders are great at making fancy lemonades/limeades etc. for the non-drinkers.

                              2. re: Khadija

                                I've been to a Greek place on Grand called Ikaros a few times and its always been relatively quiet and the food has been pretty good. I think they could deal with a large group too.

                            2. If you stay at the Marriott, there's Old Oakland about a block away. Farmer's market on Friday morning. A couple of restaurants that might work like Borgo Italia, Tamarindo (Mexican) and even Pacific Coast Brewery (I've seen book clubs and other types meet there). Also a couple of nice casual places like Caffe 817 or Cosecha, Ratto's for sandwiches.

                              Oakland Chinatown is 2-3 blocks from the Marriott. There's a couple of safe picks like Peony, Legendary Palace. Otherwise, might be worth a side trip to just look around.

                              All are close enough to the hotel to check out pretty quickly.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ML8000

                                Battambang's right by the Marriott and very good, though not at all fancy.