Three Restaurants for Half-Priced Fine Dining in the East Bay

Plum Restaurant

It’s no secret that Berkeley’s long-standing gourmet ghetto and the newly foodie-fied Oakland each offer some of the best eating options in the entire Bay Area (San Francisco included). But the best part is that menu prices in the East Bay still fall far below equivalent restaurants on the other side of the bridge. Here are three ways for foodies to get fed by some of the most celebrated chefs in the region—at a fraction of the price.

Chef: Daniel Patterson
Splurge: Coi | 373 Broadway | San Francisco | $520 (dinner for 2 with wine pairings)
Steal: Plum | 2214 Broadway | Oakland | $125 (dinner for 2 with Linden Street Lagers)

Daniel Patterson, the vegetable foraging, truffle-happy experimental chef behind Coi, helped put San Francisco on the map as one of the nation’s best culinary towns. He’s also one of the local restaurant scene’s biggest detractors, maligning the proliferation of uncreative high-end eateries, lamenting the skyrocketing cost of running a restaurant here, and claiming that it would be impossible to open a place like Coi in San Francisco today.

So Patterson fans eagerly anticipated Plum, his first restaurant in Oakland, where he lives. The restaurant keeps Patterson’s focus on quality northern California ingredients and finely honed, innovative preparations, but in a homey vibe that is distinctively Oakland. And while the tasting menu at Coi runs $165, the menu at Plum runs mostly in the sub-$15 range, with a bar menu that offers jalapeno pork sausage sandwiches ($12) and confit chicken wings ($7) for the most frugal of foodies.

Take BART to 19th Street /Oakland Station (a .2mile walk to Plum)

Chef: James Syhabout
Splurge: Commis | 3859 Piedmont Avenue | Oakland | $220 (dinner for 2 with wine pairings)
Steal: Hawker Fare | 2300 Webster Street | Oakland | $48 (dinner for 2 with Mickey’s Malt Liquor)

Oakland native James Syhabout is probably that city’s most celebrated chef—and the first to win a Michelin Star, for his acclaimed Piedmont restaurant Commis. There, Syhabout incorporates his Thai and Chinese background with his refined French training, serving up avant-garde dishes like pork jowl salad with black trumpet vinaigrette and frozen green apple with cucumber and eucalyptus. At $68, the seven-course tasting menu isn’t exactly San Francisco expensive, but it is one of the priciest menus in Oakland.

Fortunately, when Syhabout decided to branch out with a second restaurant earlier this year, instead of moving up to San Francisco, he opened downtown Oakland eatery Hawker Fare. The hip spot maintains Syhabout’s focus on local California ingredients, and the menu features southeast Asian street foods—all under $10. (We challenge you to name another chef who followed a Michelin-starred restaurant with one where the menu doesn’t even break into double digits.)

Take BART to 19th Street Station, then walk up 4 blocks on Webster to 23rd street.

Chef: Alice Waters
Splurge: Chez Panisse | 1517 Shattuck Avenue | Berkeley | $190 (dinner for 2)
Steal: Chez Panisse Cafe | 1517 Shattuck Avenue | Berkeley | $85 (dinner for 2)

Even the godmother of California cuisine herself—Berkeley’s Alice Waters—has an option for foodies hoping to skip both Chez Panisse’s notorious months-long reservation wait and the high-end pricing.

The main dining room at Chez Panisse offers only each night’s three- to- four-course menu of farm-fresh fare at price points that increase throughout the week, from $60 on Monday to $95 on Friday and Saturday nights. Fair enough for one of the most acclaimed restaurants in America, but not exactly accessible for most diners.

The upstairs cafe, however, is a more casual setting, with an open kitchen and wood-burning oven, plus a la carte prices. The menu is set each day based on farmers’ market finds, but might include starters like sorrel anchovy and egg pizzetta ($9) and mains such as wood oven baked gnocchi with porcini mushrooms and mint ($22). While the wine list at both sections of Chez Panisse is rather pricey, you can also BYOB for a $25 corkage fee.

Take BART to North Berkeley, then walk north 9 blocks.

Photo: Plum by Maren Caruso