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In search of restaurant recs for relatives arriving - 3 nights in peninsula please...

So I have some rather picky and pretentious foodie relatives arriving from EU to stay and I am hoping to wow them with the food around here :)

I am looking for recs for:
1. A great weeknight dinner (party of 10 people- no kids but some who act like brats), hoping for impressive and exotic cuisine (thinking of dim sum or thai- Amarin Thai or Fu Lam Mum, Hong KongSaigon in sunnyvale?)or the best dim sum around. also thought of the korean buffet on el camino...

2. a nice unique but not too pricey restaurant for a birthday dinner (10 again). I was thinking of Cascal in Mountain View, or perhaps another tapas like place? Open to ANY suggestions

3, Best ribs/BBQ around?

I am in Palo Alto and prefer to be as close as possible but willing to drive a bit for a great destination (just tough to fit everyone in cars)


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  1. 1. Chef Zhao. That's my answer and I'm sticking to it. You'll have to go, yourself, in advance, and eat there a couple times and even pick out a menu. If you are welcomed by the chef and it's a good meal (which it will be), that'll be impressive.

    Amarin (even though it's my "default thai") barely ranks as thai food. Depending on day and whim, it can go anywhere from very pleasant and plausible (when I get firm with them about spice levels and they're not too busy), to barely edible americanized swill. It's never impressive.

    Fu Lam Mum I only recommend after 9pm. Then, the thrill of cheap dependable dim sum in a very convivial HK-style atmosphere is a winner - but, again, not impressive, despite the fact that I have it in regular rotation. For me, it's like comfort food.

    Dim sum? For dinner? On a weeknight? What are you talking about anyway?

    These places are only OK if you REALLY play them down. Like "oh, this is just down the peninsula, we don't have any decent food down here, let's just go to one of the local places, perhaps it will amuse you, it's not that far away." and have them tell you it's really pretty good.

    2. I would go for mexican or keep on with the asian.

    Taking an actual European to Cascal will ruin your reputation. Not that cascal is _bad_, I've had some pleasant evenings swilling sangria, but it's a far cry from an actual spanish place, and they present themselves as an actual spanish place. Your guests won't even complain, they will simply grimace in horror.

    Nami Nami - it's a good place, it has a bunch of unusual dishes, you'll have to learn up on their sake list, and it might be expensive for you. It's also not sushi.

    Korean - I don't think this works. I would have suggested K-Pop ( again, they'll have no frame of reference ), but it closed. Jang Tu and Jang Su Jang and a couple of others down in Sunnyvale way, there's a long thread on this stuff. I think they'll be horrified. Some of those places are dirty. Only take people somewhere you've been yourself.

    Mayfield Bakery - it'll be hard to get a table for 10, maybe outside, and I don't know if it'll fit your budget, but it's a real californian place. Short menus (europeans love that) and a decent wine menu. Enough nods to europe that they will feel flattered.

    Back to Mexican - Quinto Sol in RWC. Very nice design, some very decent dishes, I think the prices there are reasonable. Backup would be Reposado, where I think the kitchen is underrated - they're doing good mole - and I don't know if the noise level is a plus or minus. Kind of expensive.

    Bogadita Del Medio - I haven't been in years, since the Mastitas got dumbed down, but the drinks are stiff (you might need them if they're picky and/or bratty), the atmosphere is plausible, the food can be decent.

    I'll throw in Vesta in RWC. Again, it'll be flattering to them, but it's also very american (Good american beers like fresh Green Flash), sausage honey pepper pizza. Decent wine, and not that expensive. You should probably get a table out back.

    3. Ribs / BBQ --- ha ha ha ha.

    Let's try a few:
    Mack's - haven't actually been there. Looks a little twee, slightly north of your requested range. Would look for other reports.
    Andy's (Santa Clara) - this at least has Real American Atmosphere, but no one really thinks the ribs & bbq is great. You'll certainly get a jaw-dropping plate of meat by european standards, which might be worth it.
    Smoking Pig - it's a little run down, at least they know the difference between the fatty and the lean, but it's not exactly what I'd call impressive.

    On to what you should consider for "American" -

    Palo Alto Creamery - good burgers, good things like meat loaf, and a by-the-glass list good enough that you can say, "oh, these are just some everyday california wines, nothing fancy" and not get spit apon by europeans. Cheap.

    [ You can also soften them up at Vino Locale, which has actual local wine flights they would appreciate. ]

    Sundance - this is the best steak outside of Alexanders (I suspect, I've only been to the SF alexanders on an expense account and the steak was better), but it's in a real decent atmosphere. If you can afford it, it's a very plausible spot.

    Look, you're fighting against the immutable problem that:
    1) The food's not that good on the peninsula
    2) The peninsula's expensive

    Honestly, they're your relatives. This is a fight you can't win (not without going to SF and/or spending a lot). Places that would impress are Station 1 and Village Pub and Madera and maybe Evvia and the back room at Tamerine. If you drive a bit, that sets it up as "special", then you're setting up for failure. Go somewhere local that's plausible, and don't fight.

    1. 1. I'd go Indian: Amber India Mountain View (order the frontier kebab - is awesome); Korean: Jang su Jang. If they are really into Thai: Rama V is decent.

      2. Cascal is fun but the if they are really into Spanish tapas they may sneer at the food. Agree with bbulkow that sometimes you just won't win. Tamarine would probably work better.

      3. Ha!

      1 Reply
      1. re: goldangl95

        3. Instead of BBQ maybe a gastropub type place? There's Steins or for super casual - Steakout.

      2. I have vast experience around Mtn View restaurants -- even possibly more than bbulkow (about 2500 meals, with notes on most of them) -- and some for adjacent towns. From that perspective:

        - Strongly endorse goldangl's suggestion of a gastropub over BBQ. Since Uncle Frank's departed, the immediate area has had nothing in its league.

        - For gastropubs, the young Steins is a good hip spot. Recently installed ceiling baffles to mute initial excruciating acoustics. Do not try to go at crowded times -- do midweek lunch or dinner -- with a big crowd, else you tax the abilities of this young, rapidly maturing restaurant (like all those people did who early rushed to go there Fri or Sat nights, then whined online re startup quirks now largely past). Chef Colby Reade incidentally is currently doing classic German dishes as weekly specials preparatory to upcoming Oktoberfest menu.

        - Cascal is an exasperating phenomenon, I'd steer you away from there with out-of-town guests. Nice patio space, sometimes good fresh specials. But hardly a real tapas restaurant (Palo Alto's Joya much more the thing, with range and delicacy; unlike Cascal after six visits, I can actually remember most of what I ate there) but my Joya experience isn't recent. Save Cascal until you have a business lunch with a Fenwick & West lawyer (its basic reason for being).

        - Of six or so Thai restaurants around MV I best prefer Shana, a bit chaotic but more elegant than Amarin; or newcomer Bangkok Bistro, off Rengstorff -- smaller, but fastidious cooking. Amarin is sometimes disparaged online, yet in about 80 meals there, I've found it pretty reliable, the menu has range others don't, and order service is amazingly, consistently quick, even when busy.

        - Chef Zhao yes; very genuine, Sichuanese, and almost entirely Chinese clientele when I was last there for lunch, Friday. bb is right that you will need preliminary experience -- it is not a restaurant that flatters mainstream US preconceptions. VERY good for an exotic distant cuisine if they like spicy food, AND if, unlike many US diners, you listen to server tips rather than complacently ordering just dishes you know from general US Chinese restaurants.

        - An exceptional, authentic Chinese restaurant though very modest looking -- inexpensive -- Michelin-recommended -- and a very short drive from PA, is Bamboo Garden, mainly Shanghainese, and with good dumpling selection too, some of them exotic -- could very well meet your dim dum concept though not actually a HK dimsum restaurant. Best XLB I've encountered in immediate area (they are the restaurant's #1 selling item). Beware of things selling out for lunch incidentally. Considerable past discussion of Bamboo Garden here on Chowhound -- where I first heard of the place (10 visits ago), from Melanie Wong.

        - I agree with bb that Sundance in PA is a very good local independent steakhouse (and unlike bb, I have been to all its competition including five meals at the original Alexanders in Cupertino -- peculiar business situation there incidentally, both the founding chef and founding manager it's named for were laid off by business partners after it became successful, acc. to SF Chronicle -- as well as to Forbes Mill a few times, and all the steakhouses around SJ). Sundance is a family-run restaurant that sticks to a relatively short menu and good sources -- as good a mainstream steakhouse as any in this region, which has fewer of them than some other parts of the US.

        1. thanks all for your suggestions (and the hilarity). It is challenging and nervewracking to make everyone happy without breaking the bank or anyone' heads...

          So, let me rephrase the questions as follows:
          1. weeknight dinner- will do one of those suggested, perhaps amber india or even the passage buffet? bangkok bistro is a little too casual and small... and am i to assume that dim sum is not on the rec list? maybe on saturday lunch- i thought a really authentic- carts clanging- experience might be good.

          2. birthday dinner- not cascal, joya? doesnt have to be thai, but a good eating and dining experience for large group, preferably exotic/asian but not essential, and preferably great dining experience. still undecided.

          3. ok, BBQ is too much to ask i guess (Henry's HiLife?) but they usually ask for 'meat' as they associate US with huge slabs of steaks (i was thinking pampas ironically but its too expensive for 10...). sundance is a bit old school for them, think contemporary exciting snobby. dont know any gastropubs around here, or is there something else i can get them into that will distract them from 'meat'...? i dont mind driving a bit for the right experience.

          thanks again for your comments... i appreciate having people to 'noodle over' with :)

          2 Replies
          1. re: laterible

            Hope you saw my long recent reply. I can answer detailed questions re many of these restaurants. (I have files of menus and business cards and often, names of key personnel.)

            Other notable Peninsula gastropubs, though more casual and limited-menu than Steins they feature massive housemade-pastrami sandwiches, are The Refuge in San Carlos and now also in Menlo Park, but I have NOT tried the MP location. (Perhaps bb has: Menlo Park is his home turf, as Mountain View is mine.)

            Fu Lam Mum does use carts for bustling midday WEEKEND dim-sum service, which is always crowded. That is the only time to go there for dim dum, you will get the proper experience -- but arrive early, or wait in line.

            Afterthought -- scarcely mentioned here yet, and convenient by Caltrain to downtown MV, is the large upscale modern American comfort-food eatery Scratch, opposite Cascal for 2+ years. One of Rob Fischer's successful independent restaurant concepts and very good for meats and regional shellfish (selection changes daily, displayed on monitor screen over the ice table). Stylish, several types of seating including large tables, very capable basically high-end kitchen (I've had some 60 meals there, albeit the greatest number were "happy-hour" dining in the large bar area, 4-6 PM weekdays, a truly phenomenal value with a large menu and all by-glass wines offered at half price).

            1. re: laterible

              I think you've already made your choices but I just have to laugh when you've brought up Henry's Hi Life. I used to go there a lot. And it truly is one of the more iconic places in downtown San Jose. It's definitely not a true BBQ place. But it's quirky enough where your relatives may enjoy its super Americana-ness, ironically.

            2. Lots of great recommendations so far, but I have some alternate viewpoints.

              First, don't do Thai. I don't know where in the EU they are coming from, but there isn't any Thai in the Peninsula that's better than (or even as good as) what you can get in Germany, for instance.

              For exotic food, Indian is much better here and Amber India would be my choice for this situation. Don't do a buffet; the food is much better ordering off a menu. For Korean you could try Sudam in Los Altos - very clean and bright, lots of Korean customers, and solid food that's much closer to Palo Alto than the Santa Clara places. It's much less expensive than Amber too. Chef Zhao is indeed good for Sichuan as well as Nami Nami for exotic Japanese. Good Mexican is hard to find in Europe; Reposado in downtown Palo Alto or Estrellita in Los Altos will do well there.

              For California cuisine, Scratch and Mayfield Bakery are both fine choices, though they may be pricier than what you're looking for.

              Smoking Pig is as good a barbecue place as I've ever been to in the Bay Area, including Uncle Frank's. Go on Friday night with the live blues band playing and have a real red meat experience! It's not Texas or Kansas City, but it's not anything they'll find at home. There are a couple new barbecue places that I haven't been to yet. None of these are remotely fancy, they're very down home. If you need something fancier, a gastropub like Stein's or Martins West could do well.

              Good luck and enjoy!


              12 Replies
              1. re: mdg

                Kappo Nami Nami! GOOD call. I completely forgot. Capable of one of the more elegant, as well as authentic, Asian repasts on the entire peninsula.

                Estrellita has been a venerable regional Mexican place for many years, I would have suggested it 10 years ago; but fallen off the last few times in my and others' experience. Reposado might do very well. Not much cheaper than Scratch, of course (same maverick owner -- also as Gravity Wine Bar).

                Sad to hear about local vs German Thai restaurants, considering that the Bay Area had them before most of the US or Europe. When I was going to Germany on business 20 years ago I don't think I ever saw one. 10 years ago they were starting to show up.

                1. re: eatzalot

                  Reposado is a good idea, especially if guests would enjoy "exciting, contemporary, snobby"...decent food & good margaritas, it will make for a fun evening.

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    I agree about Kapo Nami Nami, that's why it was my first rec in the #2 section. The main problem with Kapo Nami Nami is a visitor might stick to sushi - and the price. I think the OP doesn't like the Japanese angle.

                    I'm starting to think of recommending Xahn, because it has that glitz factor requested. I've become disenchanted by the food (to the point of wondering what lurid fantasy caused me to ever be enchanted), and it must be the decor, like the rinestone Xahn belt buckles. If they like that glitz thing, with interesting viet-fusion, Xahn is full on where you want to go.

                    Regarding best BBQ in the bay area, mdg, have you been to Trail Dust? Or is Morgan Hill not quite in the bay area (I think it's marginal myself)?

                    Regarding the Refuge, although I like the pastrami and I like the beer, and I love the pastrami / burger combo, I don't like the atmosphere of either location. Way too loud, no outdoor option, just not pleasant, oppressively small, maybe it's an air flow issue - but at both joints? At the MP location, tables were turning very quickly, no lingering - the feng shui is just unpleasant. In San Carlos, when I'm in the mood for the Refuge, I might end up at The Office instead with its sub-par food simply because of the pleasant outdoor seating. In Menlo Park, we end up at Barrone and Left Bank and LB Steak simply because of the pleasant bar seating.

                    I would take Joya over Cascal any day of the week. My business was in 444 Castro for 6 months and we'd do company sangria lunches now and again at Cascal, there's nothing wrong with it on a warm day. The other Tapas in this area is Ibera, which is a complicated love/hate kind of place, but actually spanish, and you should probably stay away unless you know it.

                    Amber dinner over P2I buffet, as well, not even close. Amber feels somewhat staid over other Sunnyvale indian spots, but everything is well executed and tasty, there are some real gems on the menu.

                    If you're not going to consider Sundance - and it's a shame not to, for all the reasons eatzalot says - your next slab of meat is likely LB Steak in MP. The decor is up-to-date, the meat is thick. I dislike the place because it's so generic - I could be in Greenwich or a million other off-track moneyed areas. I come in and get a bavette or burger at the bar now and then, and don't eat enough steak to appreciate the fine points, and rather miss the old Marche, but it is exactly what you're requesting for Slab Of Beef with Updated Decor.

                    You really want to go up to SF and do HOPR. Maybe you should just go for that, take them to see the Bay Lights and if it's clear go up to the Marin Headlands or Twin Peaks.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      bb: "I've become disenchanted by [Xanh's] food (to the point of wondering what lurid fantasy caused me to ever be enchanted), and it must be the decor..."

                      I don't know how long your history with Xanh is, bb, but the current location is the glitzy "new" Xanh. Xanh started across the street, and established itself with truly elegant food. We had several memorable lunches especially, where beautiful presentation complemented very classy modern-Vietnamese cooking.

                      After it moved to new slick quarters, Xanh went to a buffet lunch format, a gastronomic letdown but lower price, and they do brisk trade. I've only been there a few times for lunch in the new format. But found very interesting short bar menu during "happy hour;" that, and one dinner, have shown much of the old spark. Latest visit several months ago, happy-hour.

                      Incidentally Xanh is on maybe the richest restaurant block in that district near MV Caltrain -- along with Agave (just mentioned below) and classy newcomer La Fontaine, the restaurant of the brilliant old-world chef who brought in many regulars since 2005 at Vaso Azzuro nearby (though maybe less interesting to a group from the old world themselves); and across the street, Fu Lam Mum.

                      ETA: For any newcomers, the people at Xanh pronounce it like "sun."

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I think I ate only once at Xahn in the location across the street, and I don't remember that meal well. I've had dinner there maybe half a dozen times and the buffet about the same. Also threw a company event there (bar buyout industry event). Last two dinners were just.... kind of blah. Maybe it's Me not Them.

                        Speaking of that block and that space, I didn't see you weigh in on Ephesus. I haven't been ... comments?

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Ephesus -- many good lunches there. Favorite of the half dozen Middle-Eastern restaurants on that street among peninsula foodies I join for lunch regularly. Very gastronomic family owners with Turkish and Greek roots. I've written enthusiastic notes on it, but not sure if here on CH.

                          Some months ago the family also opened one of the few Bay Area Turkish bakeries, a few doors away as Olympus. It has become a magnet for all Anatolian expats, who get maudlin over the savory and sweet pastries. While I'm not an Anatolian expat, I think they are pretty good, too! Rather classy cakes, profiteroles, etc. too. It seems papa from Ephesus was a master baker in the old country, and can now flex his real skills.

                          I don't know if either place would suit the OP unless seeking a good Turkish dinner. Very casual Turkish restaurants and fast-food places pervade Europe.

                          BTW: "My business was in 444 Castro" -- isn't that the "dog house," downtown MV's only highrise? You were RIGHT in the center of that neighborhood's 100 restaurants!

                          (Quick quiz for bbulkow only: Without looking it up, do you know that building's original name?)

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Thanks for the Ephesus report. I will be able to report cogently to my sister, who now lives about 4 blocks away and I see regularly.

                            I don't know the original name of the 444 castro building. I got a nice sublet there for about 6 months, there's a lot of new commercial space coming online and anyone with a commercial presence in MV seems poised for growth.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              It was originally the International Environmental Dynamics (IED) building, fruit of a 1960s fashion for highrises that also produced the World Trade Ctr. Nick Perry's _first_ local photo history of the local area (ISBN 0-7385-3136-7, not the sequel that came out recently; both likely available at Books Inc. not far from that very building) shows it under construction from top down (around central columns) in 1970. It had more stops and starts than even Highway 85 did, and was completed in 1981, whereupon it sat vacant. Dogs were set loose in it to discourage break-ins, whence local nicknames like dog city.

                    2. re: eatzalot

                      Estrellita's is far from faded. They did have a couple rough months after the ownership change, but that is long behind them. The food is as good as ever and the drink menu is much improved.

                      Trail Dust is good for what it does, but they don't do my favorite type of barbecue (Texas-style brisket), and they are so far away that I have only been there for lunch. If they have enjoyed good barbecue before, they should have no problem with Smoking Pig's low rent decor.

                      Please don't do Thai on the peninsula. In addition to the great Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean choices, consider Kabul in Sunnyvale for Afghan food.


                      1. re: mdg

                        Thanks for the info, mdg. My characterization of Estrellita reflected the last one or two meals there which were lackluster, and consensus of local friends who have been among the most steady customers there (for 20-some years through various personnel changes).

                        About Afghan restaurants: In case anyone doesn't know this, a small group of them on the peninsula, which includes the Sunnyvale Kabul, are run by relatives. I became a fan of Kabul 20+ years back and have had around 20 meals there. In the middle 90s, a fastidious mature cousin of Kabul's owner opened the competing Afghani House at the other end of Sunnyvale's stretch of El Camino. Afghani House was a slightly more elegant concept with a slightly wider menu and some devilishly good specialties. Subsequently I had maybe 40 meals at Afghani House and esteemed it the better of the two, though both were certainly good. This view was shared by most people I knew who had tried both places several tines and gotten to know them well.

                        Haven't dined at either for a couple years though. (And there was some publucity a while back about Kabul's owner being seriously ill, I don'know the upshot of that issue.)

                    3. re: mdg

                      Reposado reads trendy when you walk in the door. I think the food is much better and interesting at Agave (Mountain View) - but Agave is more casual and the service is pretty relaxed/can get spotty.

                      I'm not sure about the Thai comment, but yes if they eat good Thai all the time there's nothing stand out in the Penninsula. I will reiterate, though, that I have been very happy with the flavors at Rama V - definitely leaps and bounds better than Amarin.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        Yes -- Agave -- VERY good, very real regional and native Mexican cooking, a bit upscale, and not your typical US Mexican restaurant at all. (And run by a successful restaurateur family from Mexico, vs. Reposado, one of diverse brainchildren of a successful unMexican restaurant-group entrepreneur.)

                        In several visits I've noticed the service sometimes indeed not quite to the level of the kitchen, but never really a problem. Was just there again recently.

                        Agave offers specialties using cuitlacoche (so-called corn truffle). "Tinga" chicken from Oaxaca. Yucatecan cochinita pibil, among the more subtle pork dishes I've ever had in a restaurant. Was written up in Sunset this year for grandma's mole sauce. And in the unlikely event that you should want some dish spiced up, request the housemade Habanero sauce.

                        Fills some of the role of the late Oaxacan Kitchen in PA and faded Estrellita in Los Altos, but a larger restaurant, with more geographically diverse Mexican menu. Becoming a regional "destination" draw, as people really get to know it. It's also right near the Caltrain station, should the next paragraph appeal:

                        It may not matter to these guests, but Agave got a reader-poll award for best margaritas in the county. At Agave, "margarita" cocktail isn't something blendered from cheap tequila and bar sour mix, but a menu with scores of classy tequila-specific margaritas, quite distinct (I've tried some), with agave syrup, all good-sized.

                    4. I want to confirm some suggestions you've had so far. I would stick to Asian, Indian or Mexican. I cannot recommend any BBQ in the peninsula.

                      If you don't like the idea of of going to a steakhouse for #2, I'd suggest Pampas. It's pricey but not super pricey and I think people from EU would love that place. Tacolicious might be a good choice for your pretentious foodie relatives. I like Joya and La Bodaguita too.

                      I cannot recommend Amarin Thai or Fu Lam Mum. Yuk. FLM used to be ok, but not anymore. For Thai, Shana Thai is not bad and for dim sum, Saigon Seafood Harbor.

                      Other places I would not recommend: Cascal, Scratch, Kappo Nami Nami for reasons already mentioned. For Japanese, maybe Bushido or Shabuway. I love Sushi Tomi, but they will not get it.

                      I'm on the fence about Xanh. And sorry about the being the spelling police here but there's no word in the Vietnamese language that's spelled *ahn, e.g. "bahn" mi. It's good if you order the right dishes. It's probably great for pretentious foodies.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: KathyM

                        Greetings KathyM. I'm with you on much of this, but am curious why you don't recommend Scratch (or were you referring there to something upthread as with Nami Nami?)

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          I've experienced inconsistent service issues with Scratch, both at the bar and in the dining area. Also, their oysters are not super fresh. In regards to Nami Nami, I really like the place but the cuisine is specific.

                          1. re: KathyM

                            For what this is worth, KathyM, in several dozen visits to Scratch since it opened, I have noticed some service issues, especially at the start and with the regrettable personnel turnover at the bar; but on the whole, I don't find that those factors characterize Scratch very much. Compared to the generally excellent standards of the kitchen, the conscientious service usually seen, and that truly exceptional happy-hour dining deal (which successfully usurped the prominence of some other places, like Cantankerous aka Scott's Seafood, among many of us locals as a leading food value to be found on that street, IF you can make the limited hours.)

                            Several downtown-MV restaurants are now routinely busy with local residents, workers and families -- who often recognize and greet each other -- making full use of bar-dining deals where you can eat remarkably for around $10-15 per person.

                      2. OK. Fantastically helpful feedback thanks so much@

                        I have narrowed to the following:

                        1. weeknight dinner: either Amber India or Reposado (will ask their cuisine preference)
                        2 weekend dim sum at either Saigon HK or Fu Lam Mum
                        2. Birthday dinner- maybe sundance and combine the BBQ theme, though the birthday person prefers 'asian'
                        3. BBQ- will look at Smoking Pig (never been) and if all else fails, Sundance. If not that, then HOPR in SF... hope they take reservations for the same week...

                        I will also look at shanghai dumpling place (never been) and agree completely about Xanh. the first few times it was very satisfying but the last 3 times left me wondering why and trying to recapture the feeling...

                        thanks again to all!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: laterible

                          It would help if we knew exactly where your relatives are coming from. For example, I wouldn't bother taking my cousins from Manchester to an Indian place!

                          I think you're right to buck the nay-sayers and go for BBQ. There's nothing remotely resembling American BBQ in EU, so the fact that it's not top notch won't be apparent to them, and it is quintessentially American.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I would say yea go for the BBQ if there was decent BBQ in the Penninsula area - but there isn't that as far as I know (though I haven't been to Back a Yard or Big Tharman's recommended below - will have to try and report back). And at some point mediocre meat preparation is mediocre meat preparation regardless of cuisine exposure.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              If I was going to do BBQ to that crowd I would reiterate Andy's Santa Clara. The atmosphere is real honest road house, the place predates a lot of silicon valley (not the Ampex days though). The plates of food are HUGE. The BBQ is better at Smoking Pig, but SP is a poorly converted diner. It sounds like atmosphere is everything for this crowd.

                              Maybe you had to visit the old Wagon Wheel on Whisman to get it (the bar next to Fairchild where Intel was conceived), but Dave's is the real deal. (Too bad their BBQ is dry.)

                              Regarding price - when I was there I split a 3-way combo platter and the two of us couldn't eat half of it.

                          2. I've had great large party dinners at Tamarine and Village Pub...to me Station One is a little more special than either, but probably hard to do with a party of 10.

                            How about Joya in Palo Alto for unique, not TOO pricey (it's far from cheap). It's miles ahead of Cascal. Or maybe reserve the private room at La Bodeguita del Medio, a Cuban spot on California Ave.?

                            BBQ-- hmm. Back a Yard for Jamaican bbq in Menlo Park? There's a great new bbq stand outside the J&G Liquor Store in Redwood City called Big Tharman's who does excellent spare ribs. They don't do dinner though...MacArthur Park's and Armadillo Willy's are the deafult bbq places around.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: pats38sox

                              How's the food at MacArthur Park? The landmark building's a plus and if they haven't had barbecue an average rendition would probably still be a lot of fun.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I haven't had the barbecue there, but the regular food was forgettable, old school, dull and a little pompous. Odd combination of white tablecloths and butter in little foil packets. That was last year, but I doubt it's changed.

                              2. re: pats38sox

                                Could you please tell us more about Big Tharman's? Are the ribs grilled or smoked?

                                Big Tharman's in J&G Liquor
                                1402 Main St.
                                Redwood City, CA
                                (650) 669-0054

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Yes, they're smoked pork ribs. I'm no expert on the variations of regional BBQ, but I was told this is St. Louis style-- sort of a hybrid of sauce and spice rub.

                                  There's no brisket on the menu, only ribs and sausages are grilled. Then fried chicken and the usual sides and cornbread. It's not open Mondays, only 11-6 Tuesday-Sunday.

                                2. re: pats38sox

                                  I haven't been to MacArthur Park's in at least 4 years. But besides the spectacular Julia Morgan setting, what I remember is the ribs were actually pretty special (very sauce heavy, so you can't be a plain or spice rubbed ribs fan) and everything else was fine, though not noteworthy.
                                  Rumors earlier this year were swirling that the restaurant was going to move and Theatreworks was going to turn the building into a permanent home for them. Not sure if that's still the case anymore.

                                  1. re: pats38sox

                                    I heard that they were going to move the building and put up a much larger new one in its place. The space would actually work better as a theater than a restaurant. Good location, too.

                                3. Regarding the discussion of BBQ: I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Jon Jon's (i.e. Bethesda Church Community Enterprises) on Oakland Road. A true foodie would appreciate that they're housed in a former gas station, serve their ribs in a styrofoam tray with slices of white bread, and offer sweet potato pie. It's American, no doubt.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. Well I think I will sop by and check out Back-a yard since it could fulfill the BBQ and exotic together. been to coconuts in PA and that was decently good. Also will check out Agave and SuDam (nearby and convenient)- better than tofu house? Don't mind casual but I do want some sort of ambiance and not cafeteria vibe.
                                    Scratch sounds interesting and what is Village Pub or Station one? never heard of either- would they be good for bday dinners?
                                    I will take them to HK Saigon on Saturday for dim sum. and perhaps the first night to green elephant for burmese... (walking distance).
                                    So I think I am set except for the birthday place. the birthday girl (my mother) likes Thai so I was going for easy- Amarin. but I mostly want a good ambiance and good experience.
                                    P.S> Ruth- relatives are from Tel Aviv :)
                                    Thanks again for the wonderful feedback!

                                    19 Replies
                                    1. re: laterible

                                      1. I am not fond of Back-a-yard because of the very small size and that they close at 8. Coconuts has a broader menu and alcohol and is a more "normal restaurant".

                                      2. SuDam is better than Tofu House, sort of. My problem with Tofu house is the very poor cell reception, which isn't their problem, and the lighting, which is their problem, but has nothing to do with the food, which is very plausible. My GF won't eat Korean because of the large portions, so I eat there alone, and I get bored alone if I don't have my cell phone. Still, I like SuDam better - I go there for lunch and the spicy pork is very toothsome, the panchan are probably slightly better.

                                      3. Village Pub is an amazing institution in Woodside. It's the secret place near the police station with no sign and a lot of REALLY expensive cars parked outside. Michelin 1 star, short ingredient driven menu, amazing wine TOME, hard to get out for less than $100/pp. Station one is very near by, all tasting menu, not quite as "money" and more "cool", better food. Search for 'em.

                                      4. You've been told over and over again that Amarin is not even the best thai within 200 yards of castro street. Go ahead, ignore us.

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        I agree with most of what bbulkow said here. Amarin's pretty meh. Back a yard's is really a take out place, not great for groups. Village Pub is iconic in Silicon Valley lore, but pricey. This is where all the VC's go to make the magic happens. I've only been there a couple of times. The last time I was there was about 1.5 yr ago, I had the charcuterie plate and duck confit salad. It was pretty good, but not earth shattering. However, conversations overheard, priceless.

                                        1. re: KathyM

                                          A little more about "the Pub." This is a restaurant I've used periodically since the previous ownership had it in a different part of the same building in 1990. It is a flagship of a regionally important restaurant group that Melanie recently cited in another context. Unusual format combines high-end restaurant with casual pub food, so you can get a pretty good sandwich or snack plate -- or organize a fancy dinner in a smaller room to host a leading winemaker from the Côte d'Or. I've been to a number of dinners of both types. I find the high-end part very capable (especially with things like custom menus to complement unusual wines), if not necessarily the place for avant-garde or innovative cooking.

                                          It IS the sort of restaurant you want to be familiar with from some experience, IMO, in order to know what to expect, and what it does well, before bringing people there for a special event.

                                          I guess I feel a need too to defend Amarin. I have a Very Great Deal of experience there, more than most people you'll hear from on CH, like every month or two for 15 years, starting when it was two separate restaurants a short distance apart.

                                          I did suggest Shana as an alternative. Yet, barring true connoisseurs of Thai food (and to repeat an expatriate Thai cooking expert I know, whom some of you probably heard of by other channels, there is "no" serious Thai cooking anyway in US restaurants -- she regards all comparisons among them as mere quibbles) for most purposes and especially sizeable dinners, I've found Amarin quite solid and reliable. The menu evolves over time, and maintains some unusual range, well beyond your standard Bay-Area Thai restaurant clichés. I judge it not by any particular dish, but rather an ensemble of many experiences ranging all over the menu.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            Speaking of steaks, I had a decent one at Palo Alto Grill last night. This is the old Miyake space now inherited by the ex lavande people. They're doing strong business, the space is kind of loud, prices are fairly high, there's a nice blend to the menu. Regrettably only a few touches of Croatia, a little croatian wine, and cevapcicic which was very tasty and well grilled. I guess I'm getting old that the noise was too loud, the place raised its estimation for us, especially sitting at the bar. (We were aiming for Nola but the entire bar was full, I love their burger at the bar).

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              bbulkow: You say you love their burger, it's the peppercorn burger on brioche, right? Menu doesn't really say much about how it's dressed - can you fill me in on this? Tks...

                                              1. re: RWCFoodie

                                                I like the Clover burger at Nola. I don't pay a lot of attention to the dressing.

                                                At Palo Alto Grill, GF had the burger and LOVED it. It was gone so fast I didn't get even a look at it. My memory was peppercorn grilled/encrusted, brioche, stack of veg by the side, cup of fries standing vertical. GF said the juiciness and meaty flavor was sublime. We added the Brussels sprouts, which were quite good.

                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                  Tks bbulkow, the PAG burger sounds like something I must have soon!!! When & if, will post on the DOM thread for Sept...

                                                  1. re: RWCFoodie

                                                    One final note: there may have been an aoli involved in the standard dressing. GF hates mayonnaise in all its forms, including the aoli form, and ordered without. And, I think she added cheese - a well aged cheddar, perhaps?

                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                      Hi Bbulkow, sorry to pester you again- but I was just looking at Terrone reviews and their little video and it sounds like a nice authentic place with good ambiance (out on the patio) and good food and drinks. Someone said the owner even serenades with guitar... so do you think it might work for the birthday dinner event instead of Joya? (I promise no more questions after tomorrow as it will be too late :)

                                                      thanks again for your help

                                                      1. re: laterible

                                                        Here's bbulkow's comment re: Terrone in your pizza request thread.

                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                          thanks, yea i was looking at that and now i am wavering again... leaning back towards joya. i just want them to have a great dining experience with fun and lively atmosphere and impress them with peninsula eats (and drinks.. :)

                                          2. re: KathyM

                                            I'll say one thing about Amarin: when they get the cashew chicken right, it's a solid dish. They have those nicely roasted peppers (unlike that newer cambodian / thai place on ECR, Tommy) so you get a solid smokey hot taste. There's just a few dishes like that, and it's uneven, but it's nostalgic for me.... I don't recommend Amarin to others. Shana is almost certainly better.

                                            What Thai places do we have? Thaiphoon - ew. I had a co-worker who liked it, so I finally found one of their noodle specials and started getting it "really spicy". Bangkok Cuisine - closest take-out to our house, mediocre. Siam Royale - mediocre but slightly above the competition. Siam Orchid - this is probably the best in Palo Alto, and is marginally fancy, should be considered by OP. Tommy Thai - single visit by me showed real promise in the Cambodian side and lackluster Thai, could have promise. Bangkok Bistrot - one visit, had some promise, my visit was in the first week (still installing taps). Shana - a cut above many but still so dumbed down. Bangkok Spoon - for some reason, have never been. Thai Spoons - if it's the place I'm thinking of, much beloved by friends and average but nothing more. Bangkok bay - average. Erawan - average. Karakade - the place that used to be in this spot (woodside thai spot) was very good, atmosphere funky, older guy who made the food his way and f u if you can't take it, love that, haven't tried the new place, need to put it on the list. Thaibodia - not tried. Thai House - not tried. Thai Time - sentimenal favorite, especially the german husband at the bar and the thai wife in the kitchen, but it's pretty dumbed down. There are very few thai places in San Mateo and I haven't tried any of them.

                                            I remember one thai place near a collegue's house, in a very indian part of sunnyvale, and the kitchen responded well to "SPICY!", I got some inedible noodles that were much like thailand. There seem to be a decent list of thai places in Sunnyvale / Santa Clara, few of which I've tried.

                                            Ok, with all those reminders, I would suggest trying Tommy Thai and seeing what you think. But Thai Orchid is probably your best stop - classy, clean tastes.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Bangkok Spoon is MV's original Thai restaurant, one of the Bay Area's oldest (1980: contemporary with the East Bay's Siam Cuisine or Plearn). I would have sent people there 10 years ago, but the most recent 2-3 experiences (of 10 or so) were disappointing, even to one problem I won't repeat here since it's badly unappetizing and I, for one, read these threads to peak, not discourage, my appetite!

                                              4 visits to Tommy Thai so far. Real strength I see so far is the Cambodian specialties, which are pretty unfamiliar to most of the Bay Area. (Cambodia has a quite ancient culture -- Thailand is an upstart by comparison.) Some details overlap Indonesian cooking. Mostly, we saw exuberant stir-fries with cornucopiae of bright fresh vegetables, often with seafood such as salmon or shrimp. VERY unassuming-looking place (it was once a fast-food restaurant) but very agreeable so far, and moderately priced.

                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                I would urge you both to try Rama V if you are ever in that area. It's honestly the best standard Thai I've had in the Bay Area apart from Lers Ros (e.g. not destination worthy but pretty satisfying).

                                                Honorable mention to Tommy Thai for their Cambodian dishes dishes that have very well balanced interesting flavors - and their Thai side which is better than average.

                                                1. re: goldangl95

                                                  Thanks for the tip, goldangl. I plan to try Rama V. (Incidentally it's very near the venerable Afghani House, which I mentioned elsewhere in the thread.)

                                        2. re: laterible

                                          See, that's very helpful -- no point in recommending Middle Eastern/Turkish food!

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Definitely not :) can't beat what can be gotten there for any ME food, which is a shame because I miss it myself...

                                            So I just have to get consensus on cuisine types when they arrive and make a plan (mexican, thai, chinese, indian, korean, burmese- and possibly cambodian (tommy thai). I have been to tommy twice for lunch and liked it, just not ultra blown away.

                                            As far as steaks, I am revisiting Sundance as an option that could combine the bday dinner, i was only there once, years ago- I have a recollection of dark stuffy and oh so predictable sides (spinach, mash potato etc). But perhaps that works for them if there are large slabs of USDA prime... is there any place to get prime rib besides HOPR? Barring that, I guess its Coconuts since back-a yard sounds too small for 10...

                                            1. re: laterible

                                              You can get prime rib at MacArthur Park (Fridays & Sundays), Mayfield (Saturdays), Fleming's (Sundays), or Sundance.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Believe it or not, after finally settling on Flemings as the best option they are closed the exact week my relatives are in town... what a shame. back to the drawing board.

                                        3. In your position, assuming I had a budget of at least $35 pp, not including drinks, I'd go over to Tai Pan at 560 Waverley and make arrangements with Jeanie Lee, one of the owners who has been running the place for years. They have a semi-private room which works very well for groups.

                                          You could order the dim sum sampler as an appetizer, even for dinner. They also do a very good version of minced chicken in lettuce cups. The Shanghai style crab, sans egg yolk, is a perennial favorite of my family, as are the spicy fried green beans. The steamed surf clam, if available, is also excellent. For the rest, Jeannie can help you make up a good set menu in advance. If she's not around, there's a very experienced staffer who used to work at Joy Luck who can give you good recommendations.

                                          Tai Pan is not cheap, as Cantonese restaurants go, and not everything on the menu is good. But choose carefully and you will have a fairly impressive "exotic" dinner for a reasonable sum.

                                          Best of luck!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: pilinut

                                            This is a pretty good idea. Tai Pan is about the only restaurant around here (greater palo alto) who will do that and has private rooms. I pesonally don't like Tai Pan because the atmosphere is very quiet and boring, and the food is what some would call delicate and I call bland (I hear in japanese, "Bland-o" is a compliment, it implies you can taste every small nuance).