tre2012's Profile

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Safeway Organic (O) dairy

Safeway - prior to being bought by Albertson's, anyway - has done quite a remarkable job developing their private brands as well as improving their sources of local produce. One of my friends worked in the Supply Chain Mgmt/Purchasing division when they started to ramp up the local produce suppliers. I have found I actually prefer their produce to almost any other big market.

We get their organic heavy whipping cream. It's terrific stuff. Occasionally, not often but it's happened three times now: I'll open up the pint carton and the cream is so thick, it won't even pour. I have to spoon it out, the way it's done on a farm (my mother's best friend owns half of Port Angeles WA and has a historic designation as the last organic self-sustaining farm in the county)! Wish it was like that all the time but in general it's a pouring cream -- but thicker and richer than the other brands I've tried. Excellent stuff!

I can't compare the heavy organic whppg cream to Strauss' as I don't have any reason to go out of my way just to purchase one item elsewhere, but it's outclassed every other big brand, store brand, and organic brand that I have been able to try.


Thanks for that old link, Robert. I printed it out to put inside the cover of my United Glass Co. artbook. Despite the hopeful tone of the article, I don't believe Shimmon ever did display any of the stained glass he bought.

A quick Googling brought up no results. I seem to vaguely recall that Shimmon passed away and the stained glass was sold to various collectors.

So far as I remember, nothing except the few Bardelli pieces (a skylight or two, and some sconces, I seem to recall) that went to Maxwell's Plum/Ghirardelli Sq. and then off to NYC, have ever been seen again. A real shame.

If anyone ever finds out anything about where the peacock panel ended up, do post a link. One of my friends lived in a Julia Morgan home in Alameda and had a similar peacock panel, also by UGC, on the staircase landing. I don't know why I never took a photo of it (thumps head on desk) - dumb, dumb, dumb.

On the good side, if the Mid-Market revival continues, the old Hibernia Bank building with its beautiful UGC skylights may finally reopen to the public. These are straightforward, yellow-and-white geometric panels, similar to what is in the Palace Hotel.

The Hibernia bldg was still functioning and open when I first came to SF. I was stunned by how beautiful an interior it was. Ranks close with the One Montgomery St. First Nat'l/Crocker/Wells Fargo bank interior!

Chowdown Report: Halal Easter @ Café Zitouna (SF)

We went to Zitouna for lunch back in 2009. The merguez was dry, the egg overcooked, but the miaoui, a fried Moroccan flatbread drizzled with honey, was a charming discovery. Loved the bastilla, one of my DH's fav dishes. A substantial 8" round was $12 back in those days, a bargain price for something so well-executed.

Never went back, though. Parking was impossible. We ended up paying $20 (almost more than lunch!) just to park the car for a few hours. Ah, for the days when we lived in SF and walked/Muni'ed everywhere.

Best Lobster Roll in the Bay Area?

We haven't gone to the others, but we enjoyed NE Lobster Co. as Melanie did. Good lobster-corn chowder (not as good as Seattle's Pike Place Chowder, but tasty stuff). Crab melt was on thin fresh sourdough, all crabmeat not the idiotic crab salad so often found. Lobster cocktail (NOT lobster claws, which is different) have a great spicy non-horseradish sauce we loved. Lobster roll very good but be careful, the lobster is generously piled on top and falls on the floor easily! A lot of Asians go there for the raw oysters as well; there were 3 different kinds when we were there.

Order at the back counter, receive a number, they'll bring the food to you. If you're a first-timer, scoot up to the counter to get the printed paper menu that is by the cash register, and take it off to the side to read. It has a fuller explanation of some dishes than the wall menu everybody's craning their necks to read, so your ordering will go much faster.

We bought a whole bunch of frozen seafood at the market counter on the left as you walk in. The Dungeness crabmeat was superb, almost no cartilage bits, exquisitely fresh upon defrosting. We've bought bulk Dungeness crabmeat all over the Bay Area from specialty markets as well as direct seafood vendors at farmers mkts, and this was the best quality we've ever gotten, at a very good price too.

The market sells lobster in all ways: whole raw, whole cooked, raw and cooked tails, frozen lobster meat, as well as the all-important lobster butter and lobster oil, if you're making your own Thermidor or bisque!

Embassy Suites Napa in May

It narrows it by an infinitesimal amount, but not much, LOL. Anyway, here goes, all these are within a mile's walk:

Oxbow Market, 610 & 644 1st St, Napa CA 94559 - We love Ca'Momi, altho noisy and cramped (the market is one big building and very popular). But fabulous authentic Italian cuisine, and divine pastries.

There are also other food vendors at Oxbow, and as long as you get there before 11:45a or after 2p, you'll avoid the biggest crowds: Hog Island Oyster, Kitchen Door (comfort food), Model Bakery, Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen (Venezuelan).

Zuzu tapas, 829 Main St, Napa, CA - Spanish tapas

Oenotri, 1425 1st St, Napa, CA - Not our fav any longer but some folks still like their pizzas and Italian food; their housemade charcuterie is excellent.

Angele, 540 Main St, Napa - French bistro

If at all possible, MAKE RESERVATIONS. 7 million people visit Napa Valley every year and locals will swear that 3/4 of them arrive May-September!

Mother's Day brunch - Oakland/East Bay

Scotts makes 2, and only 2, dishes well:
- their burger at lunch, surprisingly good
- popcorn shrimp in Creole red sauce, a little over-buttered but tasty in an artery-clogging way.

If you select something very very simple, such as the crab-avocado salad, it is at least innocuously pleasing if not remarkable.

The bread, which is extremely fresh Boudin sourdough, will be the best thing on your table.

Otherwise they are stuck in the lemon-butter sauce 1980's. Back then they were groundbreaking and people lined up to get into the original SF locations. We held a lot of office parties at the Embarcadero Center location back then.

We now go VERY occasionally for one reason only: they have a great view of the Xmas Lighted Boat Parade in December, on the estuary.

Service is always perfunctory and rushed; although these guys are pros, it's clear they don't care any longer.

Embassy Suites Napa in May

....and how many meals (bkfst, lunch, dinner?) are we talking about?

3 nights in Napa (foodie trip first wine secondary)

If you're around Calistoga, Solbar is an excellent restaurant - their spa menu is as good or better than their regular menu, not your typical rabbit food at all.

Seeking food touring partners

I'd be surprised if Dutch crunch bread is a local thing. I grew up eating it in Chicago in the 1950's. All the supermarkets carried a commercial version of it: Krogers, A&P, Delmonico, Jewel.

San Fran/Napa in April 2013

Napa's not really a budget area for hotels. Although distances are shorter than in Sonoma Cty, it's still better to know what city you're staying in, and concentrate on working that area thoroughly, with side trips further out as you have time.

Also true of SF. Where you stay has a HUGE impact on how much you can accomplish in a day.

Cafe Eritrea vs Red Sea: head to head comparison [Oakland]

I wrote this up for the "Moving to Oakland. Where to eat?" thread. But it was so long, I thought it might be better split off separately. We've been eating Ethiopian/Eritrean food since it first appeared in the Bay Area, and Asmara was our stand-by when we moved to the East Bay. Regrettably, Asmara changed hands and the food slipped drastically downwards. So we're working our way slowly around some of the other Eth/Erit restaurants, although we still have half a dozen more to go!

These were the specific differences between Cafe Eritrea and Red Sea my spouse and I saw in our meals (two at Eritrea, one at Red Sea).

Eritrea pros/cons:
- Generous with the meat but skimpy with the veggies, which is very odd
- Shiro, chickpea puree, is sensational
- Zigne, beef stew, also wonderful
- Doro alicha, chicken curry, excellent
- Wonderful honey-milk-fruit smoothes to drink
- "Queen of Sheba" meat platter – skip it. No seasoning, no sauce, grossly overcooked. My meat-loving spouse was very unhappy.
- They DO NOT seem to 'dumb down' their chile levels for newcomers. We appreciate that, because we like it seriously hot.

Red Sea pros/cons:
- Service is sslllllllooooowwwww. At least during lunchtime! If you want to get out in 1/2 hr, do the buffet.
- The buffet is a bargain at $6.99. But you won't know what you're eating, because there's no signs and the waitress will just tell you, "Oh, that's chicken (or lamb, or beef)." The trick is, ask her what number it is on the menu. THEN you'll know.
- Bamiya, the okra-potato in a mild red pepper sauce, is great for okra lovers like us. We so rarely find okra anywhere except soul food restaurants, it's a real treat.
- Tumtumo: yellow lentils in turmeric sauce with garlic and ginger – very good, better than the Birsin Yemisir Wot: stewed red lentils.
- Hamli Gomen: braised collard greens. I liked Red Sea's version better than Eritrea's.
- Alitcha Dinish: potatoes sautéed in turmeric sauce. Terrible. Bland and boring. One of the worst renditions of this dish I've ever had - and normally it's one of my favorites.
- Sebhi Dorho, a hot curry with a chicken drumstick. Sensational! The chile oil saturated the injera it sat on, and was yummy. The sauce had the tang of honey wine vinegar.
- Lamb alicha, a mild curry with the meat in small dice. Spouse liked Red Sea's lamb alicha much better than Eritrea's chicken version. You can't go wrong with either, though.
- Zigne, a spicy beef stew. Good, but Eritrea does this better. Red Sea's Sebhi Dorho was spicier and much better.
- two small mixed green salads with sliced tomatoes, no dressing. Minus for Red Sea. Eritrea's standard salad of shredded romaine with a tart vinaigrette goes much better with the spiced braises and injera.

Summary: Eritrea's better overall, a little less greasy. But certain dishes Red Sea does very well, and at lunchtime, that buffet is remarkable. You are getting the same food that we paid twice as much for, ordering off the menu.

Moving to Oakland. Where to eat?

Yes, Rumbo's bar gets a workout. But we don't drink, so we focus strictly on the food.

We ate at both Eritrea and Red Sea recently (Eritrea twice, in fact). I drafted up a comparison, but it's rather long and perhaps it would be better if I put it on a separate thread.

Another Oakland/Rockridge suggestion no one mentioned, or at least if someone did, I missed it: Guest Chef. It isn't for kids, though, having only a few seats, extremely tight quarters, and a nasty noise level. But for a couple's date night out it can be fun to look forward to (the menu changes every two weeks with each guest chef, and reservations well in advance are recommended. Descriptions are on the website).

Traveling to San Francisco & Wine Country - IDEAS please!

Yes, we need an idea of where you will be staying in SF - it's not easy to make your way across town and back again. Go to TripAdvisor or hotels.com and check rates/read reviews. No matter where you stay, there will be a nearby neighborhood of amazing restaurants to try. It's usually not productive to ask locals where to stay; none of us ever use hotels here so we're more into location-specific recommendations on food/wine.

Sonoma Cty is very large, so it's one thing to visit for a day and entirely different if you were willing to stay overnight, say in Petaluma or Sebastopol or Geyserville, where hotels aren't quite so expensive.

Moving to Oakland. Where to eat?

Our fav breakfast in the entire East Bay is Mama's Royal in Oakland. I go for the corned beef hash, spouse goes for the Bennie. Lunch is not as good but they serve breakfast all day.

I urge you to try Marica, on College near Broadway, a very nice little bistro with some excellent seafood, run by Asians.

We go to three Montclair Village places:
1) Crogan's - yes, Crogan's, for ONLY 2 dishes: the batter-fried fish tacos, which I request with lettuce, not cabbage, and extra Choluca cream. And the 8-oz sirloin steak is amazing - better than anything we've gotten at Ruth's Chris or Fleming's, both in Walnut Creek. A cup of the vegetarian black bean chili is a nice way to start. Everything else at Crogan's is a waste of time.

2) Italian Colors, which is just outside the main village. Dinner is far better than lunch. James Syhabout, owner/chef of the Michelin-starred Commis, is partnering his new restaurant with Alan Carlson of Italian Colors. IC's rather Modernist beet salad is very good, and the soups are often unusual and delicious. My recent cauliflower bisque with Manchego cheese, toasted sliced almonds, and red bell pepper swirl, was extraordinarily good - frankly, far better than anything I've gotten at Gather. You will see a lot of kids at IC, and it's one of the few places that has some very simple menu items just for the kids, while the adults can take advantage of the more sophisticated dishes.

3) We second on El Agavero IF you go for Happy Hour. You can get the full-sized cheese quesadilla with carnitas added for less than $6. It's a substantial meal for one and as an appetizer you could split it four ways. The rest of the food is okay, but we normally go elsewhere (below).

Outside the village, there is Phnom Penh in Jack London Sq. with its sibling Cambodia House in the Laurel. In the Grand Lake area we have soured on Mezze, which gave us an awful dinner last week (sigh...they used to be very good) but we enjoy Lin Jia, which contrary to what some Yelpers believe, is more Vietnamese than Chinese. Their 'contemporary Asian' food can be very good at times - the shrimp rolls (not the Hakka, but the 'cigar' shrimp rolls), hot-and-sour soup, and Changsha beef (which is also used in the "Hunan Hottie" sandwich) are terrific.

In the Temescal we love Barlatta and Genova Delicatessen (boudin noir – love it!), loathe Tanjia and Dona Tomas (DT seems to have gone seriously downhill). And we have fallen in love with La Calaca Loco taqueria – their flour tortillas are made with lard and wonderfully flaky.

A shrimp flour quesadilla at La Calaca is a thing of beauty, and if you eat in-house (recommended) you get your choice of three great salsas to slather on in enormous quantities – each in giant squeeze bottles! My spouse squirts the jalapeno on every single bite. Their carne asada is excellent, and I like their nachos, which is a much lighter and cleaner-tasting version with whole beans and less grease. They use a good queso fresco crumbled over it instead of cheap shredded cheddar. They also make the best burger in town – the telera bun is superb, what hamburger buns should always be, and the pickled jalapenos make your mouth zing. My spouse doesn't like burgers, but he thinks La Calaca's is amazing.

On Park Blvd. I would never recommend Blackberry Bistro to ANYONE any longer. The new owners have cheapened the ingredients and ruined the place. The food is awful now – the menu still lists Hobb's bacon, but what we got what a petrified slice of fake turkey bacon…ick.

We felt Rumbo was like its sib A Cote, same strengths (service, a few dishes) but same flaws (erratic sizing, many dishes just weren't that interesting). Bellanico's a level below Riva Cucina/Berkeley, but always seems to be trying hard, which is good.

The Korean restaurants all have different strengths and weaknesses, so you'll have to try them to see which one has the food you like best.

The Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants in Oakland are generally excellent. Again, you need to try a few to see which ones you enjoy the most. Each one's a little different from the others, but overall Café Colucci, Café Eritrea, Red Sea, Enssaro, and Abesha rank higher with diners than the others.

And welcome to Oakland!

Petaluma Market's food truck - anyone try it?

We were on our last trip of the year to Sonoma Cty in August, and while passing by Petaluma Market in the downtown -- very nice deli section, from the looks of it -- we saw a food truck (with their name, if I recall correctly) in their parking lot serving grilled meat plates and sandwiches.

Unfortunately we had just finished lunch and were about to leave for the coast, so no way to try anything on the spot or carry it for takeout.

Has anyone ever tried it? It certainly all smelled scrumptious! Would assume it's probably only in the summer months?

Five in Berkeley

Oh, I agree - Five is our fav in Berkeley. Great service, especially from Dwight, who is terrific, a real professional.

We haven't gone back to Revival in a while - the food was a bit erratic. A great sauce on the rack of lamb but some dishes were just messy. And the service was terrible - one of those big empty dining rooms so all the waiters decided it would be more entertaining to chat in the back, near the kitchen, instead of paying attention to the half-dozen tables in the front that were occupied. But we do enjoy Venus, though not as much as Five, so maybe we'll give Revival another shot soon.

Our last meal at Five back in May this year (our eighth visit since late 2009) was the best ever. The flatbread with duck sausage, and the grilled prawns with chickpeas, were amazing! We really like Chef White's cooking.

Pican in Oakland: Review

Good update, bbulkow - Pican had a new chef, Sophina Uong, taking over May 31, 2012. We have it on our list to return, just wanted the kitchen to settle down for a couple of months before trying them out.

We enjoyed the food at Pican on our first visit in late 2010, but have to disagree about the fried chicken. SR24's Josh Woodall made even better fried chicken! But Pican's mac'n'cheese, and the rib eye filet, were fabulous. We also loved the chicken livers, which we adore anyway (and I even snagged the only chicken heart in the bunch, woohoo!).

Oakland Airport Area?

If you've never been to Montclair Bistro, why are you dissing it?

Campo Fina in Healdsburg: Lunch + Bocce

Sounds luscious! So many places to try next.....sigh! But that's a GOOD problem!

Sonoma Plaza restaurant rec?

We're fond of La Salette but the food is on the heavy side when the temps are soaring. Last year we had a superb summer lunch outside on the back patio at Depot Hotel Restaurant, the pork tenderloin salad was new to the menu and absolutely amazing, perfect for a nice day. The fried mozzarella was so fresh it squished when I broke through the greaseless breading, and the housemade dried fruit compote served with the duck liver pate was a brilliant pairing.

Sonoma: Favorite Purveyors?

Variability of the Greek chili's spiciness is probably because when it's freshly made, it doesn't taste that hot. By the end of the day, it's getting much better chile heat - and like I said, if you keep it, by the fourth day it's as hot as the hottest Thai food!

We stop in a day before, put in an order and pick everything up to take home. They make a single pot of chili - 12 qts - and that's it. Like the sausages, when it's gone, you've gotta wait for a new day.

Guest Chef - Oakland

Thank goodness, I was beginning to think we were the only people who didn't care much for Camino, LOL.

I should have added in my review - we don't drink. I will rarely have an after dinner liqueur or cognac. Because of this, restaurants such as Oliveto/Oakland and Chevalier/Lafayette leave us cold, because we aren't eating the food alongside something with enough acidity to bring the food to life.

Not drinking, BTW, also makes us even more sensitive to salt. We did like how the Hung's cooking at the Marco Polo stint was very tasty, but not oversalted. But all in all - we'd rather go elsewhere. We're not counter-seat people. Spouse has worked in a kitchen, being a graduate of City College's 2-yr program, and could care less about watching other people cook. Me, I cook enough (and my mother was a cookware shop owner and teacher) that I don't get a thrill out of watching it either. We're all about the finished product, LOL.

How will Rouas' death affect Fleur?

Wonder what happens to Fleur de Lys – does it remain in partnership or will Keller buy out the Rouas share? Brother Claude owns Angele/Napa, which we liked a little but not in love with. Angele is almost exactly what Fleur de Lys was before Keller, in fact.

I loved Fleur for decades, but in 2011 we had a terrible meal there. Exquisite ingredients but miniscule portions, over-elaborate flourishes, extreme butterfat, and tasteless desserts. In comparison we had eaten the week previous at La Folie (the first of four dinners there in 13 months), whose food wiped the floor with Fleur, to use a bad alliteration.

Mentioning this to some foodie friends, they said they still love Fleur (it's their anniversary restaurant) but had noticed the cooking was much better when Keller was in the kitchen, which of course with his growing conglomerate, he isn't always around. Similar to Michael Mina and Ken Franks, where we've also seen some issues of food that was very pricy for poor execution.

Aunt Mary's Cafe- Temescal [Oakland]

We must be the only people in Oakland who don't like this place. We prefer Mama's Royal/Oakland or Royal Cafe/Albany. If we go Southern (rarely) we go to Brown Sugar Kitchen although their service is iffy (waitresses with attitudes can ruin a good breakfast in more ways than one).

Our take on AMC last year:
I ordered the Hangtown fry-tatta, fried oysters atop eggs scrambled with bacon and spinach, along with a side order of cornbread. Spouse ordered the Po' boyster sandwich, fried oysters in a bread roll, which comes with onion rings. He also got a side order of mac'n'cheese.

Sadly, we didn't like their batter on either the onion rings – a thick heavy flour batter – or the oysters, which had a too-crunchy, too hard cornmeal batter. Both lacked salt, making them relatively tasteless. The roll itself was tasty, but we felt there was too much of it, and the slaw was very coarsely shredded, so everything fell apart when he tried to eat it open-faced.

The mac'n'cheese was creamy but not particularly cheesy, with grated cheddar sprinkled on top and then grilled for a little bit of crustiness. Some diced vegetables and a dollop of cooked collard greens topped the bowl off. It's adequate, but not to the level of Pican/Oakland or the late Levende East.

The Hangtown fry-tatta was one of the more indigestible egg creations I've encountered. The same too crunchy-oysters along with strips (not rings) of onions in the same crunchy batter topped a large solid mass of cheap salty bacon, tasteless spinach, and unsalted eggs fried hard and brown. I don't approve of eggs with a brown crust – it means they've been cooked at too high heat – so the generous serving was wasted on me; I left at least a third of it. It was cooked dry, and that's not how I like my eggs.

The cornbread was the unsweetened kind – traditional in the South, reviled in the North – served with honey and the saltiest butter I've had in a while. It was clearly housemade and would have been all right if they hadn't burned the crust, which had gone from desirable golden brown too far into brownish-black. The coffee, both regular and decaf, was strong and a decent quality.

We go out for breakfast quite often (we're retired, foodies, and have a lot of discretionary income) and even now, we can list the places that do a great breakfast on one hand. Aunt Mary's isn't one of them.

Our opinion is clearly in the minority; the dining room was crowded and as we left at 1p, there were at least half a dozen names on the wait list as people milled around waiting for a seat. But overall, we found the food was a little too sloppy in execution and too dull-tasting to deserve a return visit. Spouse said the food here reminded him of Army food, and that was not intended as a compliment, LOL.

Sonoma: Favorite Purveyors?

If you're anywhere near Penngrove (5 min east of Hwy 101, between Santa Rosa and Petaluma, there's the tiny shop of Yanni's Sausage Grill and the Full Circle Baking Co. (the latter open only until 1p, but they sell at a few places around the area). John was written up in the SFChronicle recently, which of course got a couple of things wrong - John's in the photo misidentified as James, and the "lamb gyro" eaten by the celeb isn't a traditional gyro. It's John's "Gyro in a link" lamb sausage. His other sausages are chicken based and very lean, very good.

John used to work at Columbo Bakery, then retired and opened his own little - very little! - storefront. You can get the sausages (only 7 kinds, all ones he invented) fresh or frozen, open only Wed-Sat. When they run out of something, that's it until he can make some more!

The bread was so good I asked John where he got it, and was directed to Full Circle, a block down the street (towards 101). It's perfect bread for pressing - divine the way John brushes it with lots of EVOO, presses it down on the grill, serves it with grilled sausages and our preferred toppings - grilled onions and that super-hot Greek chili he makes! (which BTW, just keeps getting hotter and hotter every day you keep it). Yoghurt dip and Greek salad are excellent, as well.

John and Francesca are delightful people. Even though you can buy everything and grill up those sausages yourself, take the time to try one of his sausage sandwiches, and you'll understand why Yanni's is one of the very, very few unanimous 5-star companies on Yelp:

Just Back From Napa

Sounds like a great trip! I've been meaning to try Meadowood but haven't made it yet. We enjoyed Solbar a lot, although I haven't heard if Solage Resort has solved its financial problems yet. It is a beautiful serene spot, but that remoteness works against it in attracting off-season business.

We always feel so lucky to live in CA. Others ask us why we spend so much of our time just traveling around Northern CA, and I tell them that other people come from all over the world to visit here. They feel lucky to spend a week here, while we can go to our favorites any time we wish!

Wine is Fine, but Where's the Good Food (Napa)?!

Bottega does an amazing job on food, service, and plain old consistency when you consider that they handle literally thousands of tourists who have never heard of the French Laundry but could recognize Michael Chiarello from three blocks away. It's also one of the least expensive places to eat in Yountville.

We adored Jeanty's roasted marrow bones, but everything else was a level below. And the food is really, really heavy when temps soar into the 90's.

Can't personally speak to ethnic since we have so many amazing places locally, it's never high on my list when we travel around.

I will say that the best meal on our May 2012 trip was at Brix, where Chris Jones moved from Sonoma's Girl & The Fig and Estate restaurants. The clam-prosciutto croquettes were hands-down the finest seafood fritters we've had in four decades of dining out, starting with La Bourgogne/SF in the '70's up through Cyrus, La Folie, La Toque, Boulevard, and Fifth Floor over the past year.

La Toque is infuriatingly erratic. When they are "on", it is one of the finest restaurants we have ever been to. When they are "off", it's insultingly overpriced, oversalted, and underserved.

I second Auberge, but it's their patio that makes them perfect. There's only four tables available, and the view is spectacular. The food's great, the service superb -- but when you add that panoramic view across the entire Valley on a beautiful day, it's one of those rare moments when you know that life just doesn't get any better than this.

Sonoma Birthday dinner need help

From the restaurants you've picked as possibilities, you are clearly looking only at the Square. So your choices are quite limited.

We've not eaten at your #2 or #3. Girl & Fig is a lovely place for a lunch on the patio. There's a charm about it that transcends the food, and I don't say that easily because I normally avoid eating outside, picnics not being my favorite childhood memories.

From a food standpoint I'd say La Haye or La Salette beat G&F. La Haye is not very memorable inside however, although service is good. La Salette makes many things very well, and has a charming location just off the Square along a short row of shops. It's a pleasant place both for inside and outside seating, which isn't true of every Sonoma restaurant.

I do have two issues with La Salette: the seafood stew has always been loaded down too many red bells in the broth, and they serve food on plates that are too hot. Several times I've gotten dishes that were cooked perfectly, but the plates were so hot the food continued to cook and meats dried out, becoming chewy and overdone. On the good side, the bacalhau fritters are sublime, the soups are always superb, the feijoda is excellent, desserts are outstanding. The cappuccino is excellent and if you like sherry, get the 15 year-old Verdelho Madeira from Henrique & Henrique's if there's any left I didn't drink. It's a sublimely perfect ending to an enjoyable dinner.

We didn't enjoy Estate enough to go back, and Chris Jones, the excellent chef at Estate and Girl & Fig (they're sibling restaurants) left at the end of summer 2011 to jump to Brix/Napa, where we had an absolutely fabulous lunch from his kitchen in May 2012. Carneros was disgusting, the worst meal we have had in two years and nine multi-day trips to Sonoma Cty.

Another place we liked very much for lunch last summer, but have not yet tried for dinner is Depot Hotel Restaurant, by the Sonoma Bike Trail. But like G&F, dining is better OUTSIDE than inside. We ate on the back patio, where a small swimming pool was turned into a simple fountain with tables around it. Full of charm, and the lunch was terrific. The menu sounds ordinary, but the food was beautifully executed with great quality ingredients.

We had:
• Fried mozzarella – super fresh, it squirted when I cut into it!
• Duck pate with duck liver torchon – yummy, with a housemade fruit compote that was dynamite with it
• Penne carbonara – very good although we prefer this dish with fettuchine
• Pork tenderloin salad – this was so good, I sent my compliments to chef-owner, Michael Ghilarducci, something I rarely do.
• Tiramisu – housemade, very nice if not our definitive version.
• Barking Dog coffees, regular and decaf – local brand, we love this.

Have a great time, Sonoma's one of our favorite places.

Where to get beignets in San Mateo or near by?

The closest thing to beignets is served at: Mayflower Chinese (dim sum), 51 Millbrae Ave. @El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA. Unfortunately it's almost impossible to get them hot, but even cold, these eggy little dougnuts are yummy. I don't know the Chinese name for them, but usually they're called "sweet egg puffs" or "sweet doughnuts".

My MIL's favorite dessert, and we have tried them at every dim sum house we have gone to. Mayflower's is the hands-down best version. If only we could get them warm....sigh.

Casa Orinda - i keep hearing both sides, any recent reports?

We've gone several times to Casa Orinda as it's a fav with our friends. Fried chicken plate is massive but all 4 pieces are cooked together, so breast meat always comes out a trifle overdone. Nice and crispy but a bit salty, and the gravy on the side is WAY oversalted. You can order all dark if you like.

The other entrees are on the level of De La Torres/Pleasanton. Traditional, but not as good as others we've tried which are listed below.

CO advertises prime rib but frankly we think the prime rib at Townhouse Bar & Grill/Emeryville is superior, in fact Townhouse is superior (for dinner, not the lunch menu) all the way around. Note that the prime rib is ONLY served at Townhouse Wed-Sat, and they only make 2 small-end roasts - when they run out, that's it. Sub the potato au gratin for mashed, they make a great au gratin version.

Also good at Townhouse: grilled jalapeno prawn starter, really spicy! The crab-artichoke dip is amazingly good. The Thai beef salad (main dish salad) has a superb lime-cilantro dressing that really rocks.

If you prefer Contra Costa, I would go to Duck Club @Lafayette Park Hotel. Far superior to Casa Orinda, with a traditional menu that is much better executed with a lot of creative touches that will surprise you. Be sure to ask about chile-heat, sometimes their soups are surprisingly spicy (which we like, but not everyone does). Lovely quiet DR, excellent service, parking underneath the hotel. Not a lot of spaces, though, so sometimes it fills up and you have to park on the street.

We rate Duck Club as highly as we rate Artisan Bistro, which we consider THE BEST CA bistro in the East Bay, bar none.