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bay area restaurant for special occasion


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#1 Tamar G

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 08:04 PM

I need some dinner help. I need a restaurant in the Bay Area for a nice meal for my father's birthday this coming weekend. It needs to be either within about 30 minutes of Los Altos, or in SF proper. We've taken him to Manresa recently and he's been to most good restaurants in Palo Alto and Mountain View multiple times. Any suggestions? If you just want to point me to threads, that's fine too. It doesn't have to be particularly fancy, just not a hole-in-the-wall type place.

apologies for such a clueless Chowhound-type question!

#2 Max

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 07:05 PM

I gather you're seeking a special-occasion restaurant, Tamar. I can give you a good picture of those in the peninsula (i.e., from the Los Altos base), having dealt with most of them many times. Although I also have a lot of experience with SF proper, I don't consider it my area of expertise.

Six or eight established "gastronomic" or "destination" high-end restaurants exist from mid-peninsula to south bay. Besides what you mentioned, these include 231 Ellsworth (San Mateo), the Village Pub (Woodside), Marché (Menlo Park), Quattro (in the new Four Seasons Hotel off 101 and University, opened 2005 -- two visits so far, very encouraging), Chez TJ in downtown Mountain View near another Caltrain station (recently elevated from one star to two in 2008 Michelin under inspired new chef Chris Kostow, ex-Campton Place in SF, who took over, 2005), Parcel 104 (Santa Clara off 101, though it lost its star wine expert Randal Bertao MS), and the Papillon (San Jose) with its annex La Forêt -- I haven't been to those so can't comment. The venerable Plumed Horse (Saratoga) has capable new ownership and talent but just re-opened after big changes, so can't comment currently. Other unique restaurants around (I could name maybe 60 in the same subregion) have excellent kitchens, sometimes but not always less expensive. But those mentioned so far are highest on the food experts' and journalists' lists, most visited by other chefs, by traveling food fanatics, even hard-up students who go hungry for weeks so they can experience artistic cooking, who then say it was worth it (I kid you not one bit; and many years ago I was such a student too.) Some particulars --

231 Ellsworth in downtown San Mateo off 101 freeway (and near a Caltrain station), reorganized early this decade, includes veterans of other high-end restaurants in the region. Some people find this place notable for value among high-end "destination" options. Main dining room and smaller back room are convivial. (In common with many good contemporary high-end restaurants, the tone is relaxed enjoyment, not stiffness.) Lunch also has been available.

Village Pub (Woodside) has a following, even from well out of town. Kitchen turns out both edgy high-end cooking on demand (or by special order) and also, hamburgers and other pub food. You can get a solid unpretentious sandwich while at the same time, highly dressed people cluster at the elegant bar up front and visiting diplomats order rare wines from the very broad inventory.

Marche in downtown Menlo Park -- I characterize Howard Bulka's kitchen as elegant "comfort" food. Stress on simple fresh rustic ingredients.

Chez TJ began 1982 with chef T. J. McCombie, protégé of the small group of women in France that taught cooking and originally included Julia Child. After TJ's sudden death in 1994, the remaining owners (George and Jenny) operated the restaurant with a series of chefs culminating a couple of years ago in Chris Kostow, who brought a more edgy, modern-international style to the kitchen. I've been to more Chez TJ meals than most people (a few times a year for 17 years). About three years ago, one or two loyal longtime servers moved on, and most informed criticism I've heard since has concerned service, but that should only improve, given the place's new visibility.
"Nicht erst die New Yorker Yuppies entdecken die Sushi-Bars." -- Christoph Wagner's history of fast food (Campus, 1995, ISBN 3593353466). Photo shows Charlie Chaplin hanging out at one in the 1930s.

#3 Max

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 07:15 PM

PS: If you want a relaxed neighborhood simple French bistro* in the area, not especially hip or chattered about online, Le Petit Bistro (1405 West El Camino Real, in Mountain View just south of Palo Alto, between Shoreline and El Monte, 650 964 3321) has operated for years and is in the second generation of French family ownership. This low-profile, moderately priced locals' hangout (it has devoted regulars) does not focus on current international cuisine but homey traditional French "comfort food." Coq-au-vin (always offered I think), flat sole with lemon and vegetables, mussels steamed in a worldly sauce of wines and herbs, glorious onion soup, and vinaigrette salad (with vegetable garnishes) just like in all those family-run local places in France. Small, open dining room is vulnerable to the occasional loud boor but in ten or so visits that has happened only once.


*Most people here probably know this but "Bistros" started via Russian soldiers occupying Paris post-Napoleon. Cafés catered to them, claiming to serve food "bistro," quickly.
"Nicht erst die New Yorker Yuppies entdecken die Sushi-Bars." -- Christoph Wagner's history of fast food (Campus, 1995, ISBN 3593353466). Photo shows Charlie Chaplin hanging out at one in the 1930s.

#4 Max

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 07:17 PM

Actually, all of this belongs in the California forum where all related discussions are. Could someone kindly transplant it?
"Nicht erst die New Yorker Yuppies entdecken die Sushi-Bars." -- Christoph Wagner's history of fast food (Campus, 1995, ISBN 3593353466). Photo shows Charlie Chaplin hanging out at one in the 1930s.

#5 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 08:43 PM

Ugh. I wish I could be of more help in these "Bay Area" requests. I really need to get out of town more!

Anyway, it's been a good long while since my one meal there, but balex seemed to also enjoy Tamarine in Palo Alto back in June well enough.

But it looks like Max has provided some real information.
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#6 Cathy

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 10:10 PM

Tamar, I'd be happy to make you a reservation at Rubicon, which comes with guaranteed princess treatment. wink.gif The food is high end but the place is relaxed and casual.
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

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#7 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 10:37 PM

Oh, somehow I didn't see the "or in SF proper" part!

Off the top of my head, for a special occasion:

If you haven't been to Quince, that would be a perfect choice, I'd think.

Rubicon is also a good pick.

Ame

The Dining Room at the Ritz (always been good for me, but Carrie didn't like her recent dinner here).

Incanto's not particularly fancy, but the food is delicious.

Acquerello

Range

Fleur de Lys

One Market

Zuni?

Perbacco

Aziza

Jardiniere

Kokkari Estiatorio

La Folie

Scott Howard

It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#8 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 10:56 PM

Oh! Oh! Take him to Wild Game Week at the Big Four in the Huntington Hotel!

I try to go every year (note to self: make reservations). It's just grand. The room is quite elegant and "special-occasion-y" as well. Especially nice this time of year with a roaring fire in the lounge area. The chef is wonderful and what she does with the "wild game"* each year is really fun and delicious!

*Someone will be along to point out that most of the menu items are technically not "wild game". Take him anyway, I guarantee you and he will love it.

Edit: menu here
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#9 Max

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 02:17 AM

QUOTE(Squeat Mungry @ Nov 6 2007, 08:43 PM) View Post
Ugh. I wish I could be of more help in these "Bay Area" requests. I really need to get out of town more!

No, you don't: SF for its small size (49 sq. miles) has an extraordinary restaurant density and lively dining scene.

QUOTE
Anyway, it's been a good long while since my one meal there, but balex seemed to also enjoy Tamarine in Palo Alto back in June well enough.

That's one of the 60 I alluded to above. Only been there for one (big) meal which is far from enough to get a reliable feel for a restaurant. But for whatever it's worth that one meal was very fine. Tamarine set up as an elegant upscale Vietnamese restaurant in Palo Alto (as more recently Junoon, nearby, did for an Indian cuisine) with things like an à la carte selection of flavored rices. I thought at the time that some of the food would go very well with white wines with sweet-acid poise like European Rieslings and Grüner Veltliner -- note that at the time, neither type of wine was yet fashionable in the area, especially the second -- sure enough they had a good and insightful selection making for outstanding pairings. That's on the one hand. On the other, the small army of locals I regularly taste wine with includes some who've eaten more and/or sold wine to that restaurant; one summed up recently "it reads better than it consistently eats;" such a quotation is even less useful than a single visit, caveat lector. I've wanted to return there for a long time though.

"Nicht erst die New Yorker Yuppies entdecken die Sushi-Bars." -- Christoph Wagner's history of fast food (Campus, 1995, ISBN 3593353466). Photo shows Charlie Chaplin hanging out at one in the 1930s.

#10 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 04:24 AM

Looking back at my list, I think One Market and Perbacco may be inappropriate, for the same reason: both tend to be a little loud for a family birthday celebration, I'd think. (Unless, of course, you have a particularly loud family.)
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#11 Tamar G

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 07:58 PM

sorry- just so the moved thread. THANKS EVERYONE! This thread will actually be a great future resource for me as well, so I'm glad I asked. Some specific responses:

Chez TJs- my dad goes all the time and I went after the new chef took over- he thinks quality has gone way down hill and I wasn't so impressed by my meal. I can't speak to their service issues b/c it was great, but he has brought them a lot of business in the past so it really should be great for him.

Incanto - it's wonderful and we all adore it, but we've been too much for it to be good for this occassion.

Tamarine - I have a bad association with this place, but not for any good reason since I don't think I've ever been. I think my parents have been and didn't enjoy themselves. I'll give it a try at some point though. Relating to Max's comment we've been to Junoon and really enjoyed it.
ally good.

Le Petit Bistro
is lovely and they make a great bouillabaisse, but I don't think appropriate for what I'm looking for. Unless they've redone it, it's a little shabby inside.

Rubicon - there's a thought. I've never eaten there. Thanks for the option Cathy- let me check with me "people" (sister and bro-in-law) and get back to you.


What do you all think about Greens? I haven't been since I was 14 and they refused to serve me wine (creating a lot of ill will from my family). My parents went back once a few years ago and thought it was great, so I thought a repeat visit might be in order.

#12 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 08:22 PM

I've always liked Greens. bloviatrix, blovie and I had an enjoyable meal there about a year ago(?). I haven't been since then, however.
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#13 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 08:52 PM

I'm in the Greens detractor camp, having been twice in the past year and left with the sense that they are wanting to be what they were two decades ago but falling terribly short... pasty sauces, mediocre service, and limp vegetables which should be fresh and exciting.

I'd second Squeat's Aziza suggestion as I continue to take out-of-towners here to impress as it continues to be innovative and exciting (AND a lot of food for the money, if you get the 5-course meal for the table).

Otherwise my top choices for a party would be Coi, Ame, or Myth.

#14 Max

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 09:04 PM

QUOTE(Tamar G @ Nov 7 2007, 07:58 PM) View Post
Chez TJs- my dad goes all the time and I went after the new chef took over- he thinks quality has gone way down hill and I wasn't so impressed by my meal.

Sorry to hear the report and obviously it might not be your father's first choice at the moment. Maybe Chris Kostow's style isn't to his liking for some reason. But I urge you to visit the place a few more times when you can and then see what you think. (Guide Michelin dined there eight times before deciding on two stars this year and as I mentioned, I've dined there maybe 50 times including two or three in the last 12 months -- one of them a wine tasting with dinner in a small room. Despite anecdotal grumblings I hear -- in a few cases, such as Yelp, they are patently clueless -- to sum up, I agree with Michelin.)


Squeat, you didn't mention Masa's in SF -- the famous Masa's, the one that was very widely known in the US in the 80s before Masa was murdered. They lost iron chef Siegel to the Ritz-Carlton a couple years ago (I too have seen only good things at the Ritz incidentally) but I think I remember a wine-group dinner at Masa's since then and the standards remained high. They also have, at last check, one of the Bay Area's famous sommeliers, one of the younger ones, Allan Murray (?), MS, from Australia (I'm typing this under extreme time pressure, can't fact-check before posting as I normally do) whereas Rubicon lost their former high-profile somm, Larry Stone MS.

Acquerello we've used (and will continue to use) for wine-group dinners; I consider it one of the better values among high-end SF restaurants though (again) SF isn't my best-known restaurant subregion.

"Nicht erst die New Yorker Yuppies entdecken die Sushi-Bars." -- Christoph Wagner's history of fast food (Campus, 1995, ISBN 3593353466). Photo shows Charlie Chaplin hanging out at one in the 1930s.

#15 rancho_gordo

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 09:09 PM

QUOTE(Max @ Nov 7 2007, 01:04 PM) View Post
QUOTE(Tamar G @ Nov 7 2007, 07:58 PM) View Post
Chez TJs- my dad goes all the time and I went after the new chef took over- he thinks quality has gone way down hill and I wasn't so impressed by my meal.

Sorry to hear the report and obviously it might not be your father's first choice at the moment. Maybe Chris Kostow's style isn't to his liking for some reason. But I urge you to visit the place a few more times when you can and then see what you think.


I think you're very forgiving. At those prices, and with my free time being so rare, they have one shot, maybe two if there's a hint of something more wonderful to come.

"Gay people exist. There's nothing we can do in public policy that makes more of us exist, or less of us exist. And you guys have been arguing for a generation that public policy ought to essentially demean gay people as a way of expressing disapproval of the fact that we exist, but you don't make any less of us exist. You just are arguing in favor of more discrimination, and more discrimination doesn't make straight people's lives any better." -Rachel Maddow to Jim DeMint and Ralph Reed