Thank you for all your replies.
I realize in my posting that I wasn't specific as to whether I was looking for upscale food, upscale decor or both. I was looking for something with slightly upscale decor more than the food - and from looking at the pictures probably Khana Peena or Swad could have met that criteria - "white tablecloths and decent lighting" - I think was basic criteria.
However, we decided to go for the gusto - and try Ajanta as I had heard about this place for some time.
It was a good choice - the food was a very elegant and refined take on Indian food. The decor was MORE than slightly upscale as was the food. It was upscale but with a tranquil quality (unlike the dreaded Amber India SF).They specifically asked us how spicy we wanted the dishes - our dining companions were concerned to go too spicy so we asked for the dishes to be a mix of mild-medium and medium-medium and I thought we got what we asked for by and large and the compromise worked for all. I also must add that the service was really very good - very helpful and informative and just the right mix of friendliness and formality.
I have to say that their homemade Kulfi was amazing - the best I have ever had - I am still thinking of it!!
However, I would have to designate this restaurant as a "special occasion" indian restaurant because it was $160 for four people: four curries "dinners" (dinners just means a little spinach, rice and some "pickles" for each person) four desserts and 4 beers and 2 glasses of wine and some pappadum. Portions were not large.
So if you want a "special occasion" indian restaurant Ajanta will not disappoint.
It looks like a good option and I have heard good things about it. So this is a good possibility.
I am wondering if there is anything on the 24/680 corridor (Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, San Ramon) as that is where my friends live...
Something like Breads of India in WC (never been here but have been to the closed original and one in Oakland sometime ago) would be ideal but their recent reviews on Yelp have me a bit scared to try it. Any recent experiences with them? Taking friends so I don't want a disaster on my hands!!
Looking for something a little nicer than the average Indian but definitely looking to avoid anything like Amber India in San Francisco in terms of price and "scene". Any regional speciality would be fine but not an all vegetarian place... Thanks
Looking for a restaurant that feels a little christmassy (not over the top, but with some winterish, warm atmosphere) to dine Xmas Eve. Not looking for asian food - but any kind of american or european would do.
Preferably in East Bay, but might travel further for the right choice.... Thanks.
We also have "jewish christmas" at China Village every year - maybe we've seen you there! But I am very bullish on Sichuan Fortune House in Pleasanton Hill - we have already been there twice to check it out in case CV did not open on time. I am going to copy my review of my first meal there (emailed to a friend) - which is a side by side comparison of dishes between CV and SFH - take out of three dishes:
Dry cooked green beans: These often are overcooked when you get them as take-out as they steam in the container. I asked them to "undercook" them a tiny bit to eliminate the problem (something that China Village couldn't always get right when I got them as take-out !) They were done PERFECTLY - I was quite pleased. In terms of the flavor - I would say they may have been slightly less seasoned than CV - I personally thought SFH had the edge on this dish. We also ordered this again when we dined in there - and it was spot-on - perfect once again...
Cold Noodles with SesamePaste ($8.50): Interestingly they did not dress the noodles for takeout. They had the sauce in one container, cucumber in another and noodles/meat separate. I put them in a big bowl to dress - seemed to me the portion was quite large. The texture was pretty good - slightly less chewy than CV but still good. The flavor of the sauce was more peanutty - so it tasted different - still good but not the same. ..I thought the flavor was as good as CV - but different - but either way is delicious. CV might have a very slight edge here because of the extra chewiness of the noodle and sauce. Had this one again when we dined in and consensus was CV was better....
Cumin Lamb: (12.00) This dish seemed a little skimpy in portion size compared to CV but flavor-wise tasted exactly the same. It had red and green bell pepper and onion and the dried red hot pepper- same as CV but did not have those really hot little jalapeno pepper slices in the dish (which I actually like). I would give CV edge on this due to portion size and the jalapeno slices which I love.
The restaurant is physically smaller than CV but rather attractive - a little nicer than the old CV.
Some caveats - if you want the sesame bread - you have to call them up and order it the day before - its on their menu but not available without special order.
After this I went with 6 people and we dined in - had a great meal - unfortunately I don't have the menu in front of me (and it isn't on line) so I can't tell you what other things we had - but the impression of all of us is that it was very good - though the CV fanboys of the group would not concede that it was as good as CV (tho I think it is!) We all agreed that SFH was acceptable if CV was not opened by Xmas. I called and they are open for Xmas day noon to 8pm.
I am very interested in trying YiPing in San Ramon - to compare before Xmas... Yelpers loved it Chowhound appears divided.... see below
I will check it out and post my experience.
Thank you all for your recommendations. I used some of Kathryn's links which linked me to an interesting exchange with Berkeley Hounds going to NYC. In the exchange they mentioned China Village on Solano Ave in Berkeley as a reference point for great Szechuan food. I am a big fan of China Village myself so that got my attention immediately and I saw Kathryn's recommendation for Szechuan Gourmet which is mere blocks away from where we are staying in Manhattan!! So of course we went there tonight for dinner!!
We loved it!! Thank you so much for the recommendation. While there were quite a number of same menu items on Szechuan Gourmet and China Village menus - as I was looking for new experiences - we tried dishes which are not ones which I have noticed on CV's menu (doesn't mean they are not on the menu as CV's menu is HUGE)...
Unfortunately my friend is not a great fan of "hot" food - so we were careful not to order any dish more than "2 peppers" on the menu which meant that I could NOT order the Ma Po tofu (4 peppers!!) which I would have loved to try. However, we ordered Dan Dan Noodles, Pan Seared Pork Dumplings (rather than the Szechuan style Dumplings) Shitake Mushrooms with Bok Choy (and Garlic) and Double Cooked Pork Belly with Leeks.
The food was wonderful and actually I think we ordered a selection which balanced each other quite well... Turns out that even two peppers was too much for my friend - which left me to eat the Dan Dan Noodles on my own (no problem for me!!). Even though I would have been happier having a somewhat "hotter" selection - I was actually delighted by our choices. The Pork Belly was luscious and very rich - I loved this dish but must admit felt quite guilty in my blatant disregard of my cholesterol numbers!! I loved it but probably would not order it very often!! The pork dumplings were delightfully delicious fabulous texture and flavor. The Baby Bok Choy was listed on the menu as either "with garlic" or "with Shitake Mushrooms" - we asked for it to be prepared with BOTH which was an excellent idea because the combination of the three was fabulous - and a great contrast of flavors against the Pork Belly.
Now on the Dan Dan Noodles - oddly I have never had this dish before though I gather from reading - it is quite common. I loved the sauce but I must say I was NOT in love with the texture of the noodles themselves. I really prefer very, very chewy noodles and these were not - they were kind of "spaghetti like" and not extremely "al dente". Was this a mistake on the part of the restaurant OR is this the way they are normally made? What are the noodles made of?
At CV we always order the Cold Noodles in Sesame Chili sauce and those noodles are fabulously FAT and CHEWY! Don't know enough about what kind of noodles they are but LOVE them....
Anyway, all in all LOVED SG and if I get a chance I may run over there for takeout "Ma PO Tofu" just to try it!
In the interests of full disclosure - I spent a few days visiting family in the New York area so I have already had my fill of New York pizza, bagels and deli in my hometown - which is why I am skipping over your thoughtful recommendations on those subjects.
BTW, I agree with you on John's Pizza - have had it before and its GREAT. Also, lived many years on East 21st Street and Ess-a-Bagel was on the corner - ate there many times a week - boy was I spoiled when I think how hard it is to get a decent bagel in the Bay Area!
I am going to pour through rest of your links and keep you posted with our experiences.
My friend wants to go to Momofuku Noodle Bar tomorrow - what are the MUST HAVE dishes???
Manhattan has sure changed since my last visit 12 years ago and I have no idea where to go.
We are staying in the 50s near 6th Ave...
I love to focus on the kind of restaurants which we don't have in Bay Area.... which means avoiding Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and California style organic - which we have in abundance....
So I'd love any and all regions of europe, Pan-latin and interesting regional chinese, regional american...and anything else you can think of that is interesting and novel. I am open to fusion restaurants... I'm traveling with a friend who is wild for Japanese food - so I would like one recommendation for a Japanese restaurant - hopefully one with a TWIST - something non-standard in someway...
Now for the caveats.... Not wild for fancy restaurants - with decorated plates and restrained flavors...and very high prices...Prefer Bold flavors and restaurants which provide a real bang for the buck - in terms of the dining experience as a whole. While I understand that restaurants in NY (esp in mid-town) in a "reasonable" price range tend to be pretty cramped and "store-fronty", if you have a recommendation which has a more spacious (warehouse-style) atmosphere, please mention this - as it would definitely considered as a plus!!! But the food is paramount - so feel free to recommend based on the food regardless....
Midtown is great - but willing to travel for something special..Novelty is a plus....
Thanks so much for your recommendations in advance!
The real test of a restaurant is how they respond to a problem brought to their attention by a customer. This will impact not just the diner having the problem, but everyone at the table – and it needs to be handled correctly so as not to ruin the meal for everybody at the table. If I am dining with a group, I am very circumspect about making a complaint about a dish because I don’t want to ruin everyone’s meal. A problem needs to be pretty egregious before I make a complaint. And really there is only one proper response a restaurant can make to such a problem – it needs to be “I am so sorry for this, what can i do to make it right". And then as long as the customer's response is reasonable - the restaurant should honor it. And this should be done rapidly and as discreetly as possible making the guest feel comfortable about having made the compliant rather than uncomfortable.
I've developed a craving for these delectable morsels since discovering they are actually only 80 calories (okay that is before jam and butter!!) but they are really the only decent brand of crumpets available.
TraderJoes crumpets are gummy and heavy and once you try McCrees you will never be able to eat the Trader Joe's brand ever again!
I understand they are carried at a number of places in the City but that is really inconvient to purchase on a regular basis..... Any ideas?
I was delighted to see this post because the search for the perfect french style baguette is a passion of mine - and I am always looking for tips.
I do want to echo two recommendations in this post as being really worth seeking out:
Firstly is the the French baguette at Feel Good Bakery in the Alameda Marketplace. This one gets "top honors" from me - it is simply divine. When fresh it is perfect unadorned or with some Brebirousse d'Argental (purchased at the cheese store in the same market) what a combination!! And if you have any left over - it is still wonderful when sliced open and toasted up with butter and roasted garlic (which I always have in my fridge) mmmmm...
In a very respectable second place (originally first place but displaced by discovery of Feel Good Bakery!!) is Acme's Rustic Baguette. Lot's of places carry Acme's regular French Baguette - but you need to ask them to carry the rustic for you - there is no comparision. Their rustic is similiar in style to the Feel Good french,.. but this bread is more available outside the East Bay due to their distribution channels...
Well, here is my report on Passionfish and following that my response to the lively debate about wine:
Restaurant ambience was very nice - contemporary but not overly stylized. Young, friendly waitstaff also a plus. They had what I would refer to as an appetizer/amuse bouche - two grilled figs filled with mascapone and wrapped in their special bacon. It was only $5.00 so at $2.50 a piece - it was a delicious amuse bouche for two people to share (in addition to a regular starter) - just for fun. I liked that alot. I had the "fisherman's daughter" starter - which was four shrimp in an extremely flavorful olive oil/garlic/feta cheese/oregano sauce - which I mopped up with their very nice bread. This had my name all over it - I loved it.... I was less impressed with the main course. I had the duck - which was two duck legs with a nicely done potato slices and fennel - the portion was generous. I am a duck lover - and this dish was good but I have definitely had better overall. Didn't love the fennel with the duck and the sauce on the duck was ok but did not have the slightly acidic or fruity quality that works so well with duck.
DH said that both his starter and his main course "were ill-conceived" Starter was a butter lettuce salad with baked gorganzola, candied pecans and chutney -he felt that it would have been better had the gorganzola been evenly distributed in the salad rather than as a small portion in the middle of the salad - so as to stand up to the sweetness of the chutney and candied pecans.
Re the wine debate: let me explain in more detail our wine MO: we usually peruse the menu online and have an general idea what we are in the mood for - often I will bring along two wines to hedge our bets. Sometimes when we get to the restaurant our choices are too divergent to open either of the wines - so we just order by the glass. Sometimes it goes with one person's starter and the other's main course - so we might open the bottle and also order a glass of wine for the person whose main course doesn't go with the bottle. Sometimes the wine is really special and we are going out to eat to just compliment the special wine - so we order according to the wine. There are many variations to this theme. I have a pretty good wine memory and DH really appreciates wines paired well to the food - so most the wines in my collection I have tasted - and I can pair them pretty well by asking some questions about the dish.
OK back to Passionfish: DH pointed out that a whole bottle of wine between us was too much for us to drink and have to drive home to Bay Area - so we didn't bring a bottle in the end . Their selection of wines by the glass is quite deficient - I recall only 3 reds by the glass (ok, I realize they do this on purpose - but that doesn't change the facts) so rather than go by glass (my preference when our food choices are so disparate) we followed their lead down the half-bottle path. Now, there are two general approaches these days about wine/food pairing: the traditional approach and the "why are we so hung up on rules - let's have fun with wine/food pairings and break the rules" approach. After this evening I realize that DH and me fall firmly into category one and I have no intention to allow myself to be swayed into category 2 (against my better judgement) again.
The charming 20-something waitress claimed that Sangoviese or a Pinot would go with both our dishes. I was sceptical and she went off to consult the rest of the staff and came back saying the consensus was a Zinfindel!!!! Apparently they all felt that the spiciness of the peppered fish and wasabi would work with the Zin. I am not that crazy about Zins and they are WAY too variable to order one with a meal untasted. So (playing along with their thinking) I said that if they were were willing to suggest a Zin - then how about a Tempernillo - also spicy and fruity. She went off to consult with the others - and came back with a consensus that this was a good choice.....and brought over the half-bottle.
Cutting to the chase, it was a terrible choice because frankly the sablefish (I was unfamiliar with this fish) is a medium textured, dry (as opposed to oily) fish and should not, imho, be paired with any red wine in any circumstances I can think of. And the tempernillo was pretty big and not really that spicy anyway. It didn't go that well with the duck either.
It's not that big a deal really - I mean there are worse things in life than having a nice wine that doesn't go with ones meal. But my point is - a - had the restaurant had a better selections of wines by the glass, this problem could have been easily avoided and b- if the restaurant subscribed to Wine Approach #1 instead of Wine Approach #2. they would have had a better selection of wines by the glass and they never would have recommended a zinfindel to go with sablefish!!
So while you may not agree with me on any of this - I am hoping nobody will jump down my throat for being contrary to the consensus on this thread.
I am interested in your feedback to my thoughts above and hope that I haven't offended anyone....
Its funny, but after I posted my question I noticed Passionfish had been mentioned on many posting and looked up the menu and thought it looked like a promising choice. I am thrilled that you all mentioned Passionfish after reading the type of restaurants we really enjoy. So we will try for a reservation and let everybody know what we think. Also, I have to say that Red House Cafe seems like a great (a bit more casual) choice as well. I think you guys really nailed what I was looking for - and I appreciate the tailored recommendation.
I will also say that the two choices suggested (being located in PG) also validates my thoughts that Carmel proper would not be a likely venue for "my kind of restaurant".....Frankly I am not wild about Carmel in general- it is a "Santa's little pop-up village" as a friend of mine called it. But I love the surrounding areas - PG in particular......so I'm not surprised that the restaurant choices go along with the general impressions.
Re Alan's comments on the wine list - looked at it on their website - it is clearly very thoughfully chosen and very personal list and many of the names I recognize as well-regarded boutique wines/wineries. And while I don't doubt that prices are attractive for the selection, the selection overall tends to focus on rather pricey wines. And I have to admit that I am barely personally familiar with more than 15 of the wineries listed and even with those I am not necessarily familiar with the particular wine that was selected. We usually bring our own bottle and pay corkage except in places (like Sierra Mar) where there is really expert Sommelier services - because if I am not familiar with the particular wine - I have little hope of matching it to a food selection(s). Interestingly at the top of the winelist they specifically say that they keep their prices low by NOT having a Sommelier and state that you will get varied personal suggestions by the waitstaff. That is great if the waitstaff is pretty educated about food and wine - but not having been to this restaurant before - I have no idea what level of experience they bring to the table (literally!). So frankly, this approach seems a bit risky - the wines themselves may be quite excellent - but if not skillfully paired with the food I fear that some fairly pricey wines will not be fully appreciated (at least by me and DH!) So we will play it safe and stick to our usual MO of bringing our own bottle - despite the interesting list......
Thanks everybody for your comments...
We have never been impressed with the restaurant scene in Carmel. Everything is all about presentation, the view and overly obsequious service rather than about the main point of a restaurant (imho) which is the FOOD!
My ideal restaurant is Higgins in Portland or the old Cafe Beaujolais circa 1992. Warm and caring service, a decor that is pleasant and a really fantastic, full-bodied, multi-layered, complex food experience!
While restaurants like Sierra Mar can be lovely for special occasions, my favorite restaurants are ones that are the passionate vision of the owner - and are intellectually interesting, yet nuturing at the same.
And if you don't know of such a restaurant in Carmel proper (and I am doubtful that there is one) - I would be grateful for a recommendation to such a restaurant in a near-by place (we are driving down from the East Bay).