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Birthday dinner in East Bay ... something that is not Chez Panisse or Commis

Hi, friends of ours volunteered to baby sit our toddler on my wife's 44th birthday so we're going to have a rare night out. Initially I'd considered Commis, as I'd really like to try it out, but fancy/arty tasting menus aren't my wife's preference. For reference, we both enjoy Chez Panisse but would like to try something else. Also I tend to cook that kind of Cal/Ital/French food a lot myself so would like to try something else. The rough criteria are:

Must be within a 30 minute drive of Albany/Berkeley, and not over a bridge.
Should have a good beer selection, as my wife's not into wine.
Price per person, including tax, tip, and drinks ~$100/person, hopefully less (so Commis would be a stretch anyway).
Not ear splittingly loud (i.e. not at the volume of A16 in Rockridge).

Right now I'm thinking Duende but would love some other options. Ideas?

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  1. Have you already looked at Gather?

    1 Reply
    1. re: goldangl95

      Yes but we've been there three times already. Would like to try something new to us.

      1. re: kilakila

        Thanks! Looks like a possibility.

        1. re: kilakila

          Townhouse is a convivial bar and grill and the food's above the low average for that kind of place, but it's couple of steps down from Chez Panisse or Commis. It doesn't seem like a special-occasion place to me.

        2. À Côté. Quiet, romantic atmosphere (provided you specify the back room when you reserve), great food, great selections of both wine by the glass and beer.

          http://acoteweb.wpengine.com/menus/

          Duende is as noisy as A16, noisier when there's music upstairs.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Thanks for the sound feedback on Duende. I've been to À Côté and liked it. A good option. What do you make of Townhouse?

            1. re: vulber

              I was going to agree with you -- but no beer.

            2. Here is a list of places that i have tried and enjoyed, or places i want to try:
              Boot and Shoe Service (GrandLake)
              Wood Tavern (Rockridge)
              Oliveto (Rockridge)
              A Cote (but that was already suggested)
              Haven (Jack London Square)

              Have fun! and Happy Birthday!

              4 Replies
              1. re: jupiter

                Boot and Shoe blasts loud music.

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6744...

                Haven has been one of my favorites but it just got a new chef who has changed up the menu a lot so previous reports on the food are out of date. Beer selection is very limited.

                1. re: jupiter

                  I really like Wood Tavern and Duende but they are both noisy. Haven and Townhouse are not special occasion places in my opinion. I think À Côté is a good option.

                  1. re: jupiter

                    Isn't the chef who made Oliveto great now at Duende? Or do I have that mixed up? We've had Pizzaiolo pizza, which I gather is similar to Boot & Shoe. Wood Tavern I like but I find it far too loud for comfortable conversation (I know, I'm showing my age).

                    1. re: michaelw

                      The chef who put Oliveto on the map was Paul Bertolli, who left in 2005 to start the Fra'Mani salumi company.

                      He was succeeded by Paul Canales, who I thought brought the level of service up to the level of the food. Canales left in 2010 and it took him a few years to get Duende open.

                      The menus at Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe are very similar, same chef-owner.