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Oakland/Berkeley restaurant recommendations for my 28th birthday dinner with my mom?

We've gone to Rivoli for my birthday the past few years, and went to Chez Panisse Cafe for her birthday recently. Both restaurants are lovely, but I want to try a new/different spot for my birthday this year.

I think I've narrowed it down to Plum or Pizzaiolo, but I can't seem to make up my mind. I've never been to either restaurant before, so I'm just basing it off of online reviews. Does anybody have any thoughts or additional recommendations that could help sway me?

I'm just looking for delicious gourmet-ish food, a nice atmosphere, & good service. Something special for my birthday, but not over the top; something on par with Rivoli or Chez Panisse cafe wold be great.

Thanks in advance for any recommendations!

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  1. Pizzaiolo can be intolerably loud.

    More or less along the lines of Rivoli, A Cote (specify the back room when ordering) or Haven.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks for the tip; is it very loud even on weeknights?

      I'll look into Haven & A Cote.

      1. re: emmafoodie

        When Pizzaiolo is loud it's because they crank up the music, so it can be any time.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Maybe Haven in Jack London Square?

        9 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Haven's new chef as of this week is Charlie Parker. I loved his food when he was at Plum about three years back.

          The five-course tasting menu at Plum is a nice blow-out birthday meal option, but the room and atmosphere aren't exactly warm — for me, it's more of a place that's all about the food.

          http://www.plumoakland.com/tasting-menu/

          All that said, I'd probably go to Haven or Homestead (on Piedmont Ave.; similar, if slightly more adventurous, kind of food as Chez Panisse) myself.

          Or Box & Bells in Rockridge — but only if you and your mom both really love meat and rich/heavy food.

          1. re: abstractpoet

            Thanks for the recommendations! Neither of us are big meat eaters, so Box & Bells might not be the place for us, but I will definitely look into Haven and Homestead as possibilities. A few people have suggested Haven here, so there might be something to that.

            1. re: emmafoodie

              Haven is our favorite, although we have not been since Kim Alter transitioned over to Plum. I can't tell from their website whether they still do their tasting menu, but if so, it was insane (in a great way!) and would be a fun treat--we lost count of how many courses they brought, though it was somewhat meat-heavy. We've rarely been disappointed with anything on the regular menu either. I've only been to Homestead once and while it was good, it didn't compare to Haven.

              I would also consider Plum just because we loved Kim Alter's menus at Haven so much, and she's running the kitchen at Plum now. Plum and Haven both have excellent cocktails, too.

              Pizzaiolo is tasty but less exciting/special occasion-y than the other options. A Cote is my husband's long-time favorite, but has been a bit inconsistent in the last year or two. We may have just hit them on off nights, though.

              1. re: artemis78

                I go to A Cote regularly and have not noticed any inconsistency.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  That's good to hear--we're down to eating there a couple of times a year these days so it sounds like we must have just wound up there on off nights. We'll give them another try soon!

                  1. re: artemis78

                    I think there's been a change at A Cote. eg last 2 times I went, they dropped the classic steak/frites from the menu.

                    1. re: escargot3

                      I don't remember A Cote ever having steak-frites, or moules-frites, the frites were always a separate order. They used to have two sizes and they dropped the smaller one, but that was several years ago.

                      The menu changes weekly and I don't remember it ever not having a steak dish, which isn't a whole steak but some slices of usually hanger or flat-iron with varying seasonal sides.

              2. re: emmafoodie

                Haven's the closest place I can think of to Rivoli in terms of atmosphere.

                They stopped doing the chef's menu when Kim Alter moved to Plum.

              3. re: abstractpoet

                Thanks for the news about Parker taking over Haven. I enjoyed it under Alter but the succeeding chef's menus were somehow not as appealing.

            2. Many people overlook Revival; I'm not sure why. Nice looking room. Not as "special" as Rivoli or CP, but there's a lot going for it, otherwise. Like cocktails. It's as fancy as Pizzaiolo.

              And Commis, why wouldn't commis make the list?

              2 Replies
              1. re: bbulkow

                I took "not over the top ... on par with Rivoli or Chez Panisse Cafe" to exclude Commis and downstairs at Chez Panisse, the two most expensive restaurants in the East Bay.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Yeah, I've been to Commis before and it was an amazing meal, but it's pricier than I would want when my mom is treating.

              2. I would vote for Plum over Pizzaiolo. The latter seems like good, everyday fare but not special occasion. Plum at least has the possibility of surprising. What about Camino or Duende?

                12 Replies
                1. re: rubadubgdub

                  I agree, Camino would be a great choice!

                  1. re: rubadubgdub

                    Mark Bittman lavishly praised Camino recently, although noting that the atmosphere is quite casual (like Plum, bench seating):
                    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/mag...

                    1. re: dordogne

                      Plum dumped the benches and now has chairs. Also fewer covers.

                      Camino doesn't have benches. Some of the seating is old church pews with backs that seat two? three? Most is chairs of similar design with hymnal pockets on the back.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Nice to hear about Plum. Many of the "hip" new places, with their bench seating, high ceilings and hard surfaces everywhere, appear determined to discourage geezer dining. Would be nice to have an audible conversation in a comfortable chair (doesn't have to be padded, just not backless) over great food.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Camino did have long benches (possibly old pews--they had slanted backs) at the community tables in the middle when they first opened. Sounds like maybe they don't anymore? I haven't been in a couple of years and can't remember much about seating the last time we were there.

                          1. re: artemis78

                            I went recently and sat at a two-top in the window -- banquette on one side and chair on the other. You could request one of these tables when making a reservation. Of course, you're not close to the hearth to watch any cooking action, but you can see bar action and people watch anyone entering the restaurant.

                            I agree it's casual (no white tablecloths), but it's stylish and service is good. I've been very happy with the food, which tends to be pretty clean, each time I've been. Last time I had a duo of pork with roasted loin and a milk braised shoulder. Both aspects delectable, and they managed to crisp the loin in an utterly delicious way.

                            1. re: Torina

                              You can reserve a bar table and order dinner there? They're kind of small.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I didn't actually reserve, I walked in. It's not a bar height table ... so I didn't think of it as a "bar table", although since it's near the bar you could construe it as such.

                                I was just thinking that it would afford a bit more privacy if OP doesn't care to sit at a communal table, and at least one side has a chair which might be more comfy for her mom.

                                1. re: Torina

                                  There were a number of couples having dinner at these tables.

                                  1. re: Torina

                                    Except at special events, parties at the long tables are seated about as far apart as parties at the other tables, and for a party of two there's always at least one chair.

                                2. re: Torina

                                  Yep, found the newer photos online and I do like this setup better. I never minded the benches as far as comfort, but they were a little tight when the tables were also together.

                                  Both Camino and Duende do seem like good spots to add to the OP's list (with the caveat that I've only been to Duende once--but it was quite good).

                                3. re: artemis78

                                  Camino's super-long communal tables are on both sides and have chairs. The tables in the middle have chairs on one side and pews on the other. They all have slanted backs.