To kick off my birthday weekend on January 15th, I am planning to have dinner with a few friends in the Berkeley/Oakland area. I know that there are plenty of threads on the subject, and indeed, I've been to most of these restaurants over the years.
But here's the thing - I actually haven't been eating out at restaurants that much in the past year, and even though I have my strong opinions and faves, I'd like to be pushed out of my comfort zone, and be surprised somewhere I haven't been in a while. Mostly, I'd like to have the dinner be extraordinary, and good value, and a good experience for all. I should note that I am food obsessed, cuisine savvy, like very good wine lists by the glass, and will eat anything. Also, small plates place are OK, as long as they are at the level of cookery of the restaurants mentioned below.
Here are the choices I'm considering:
Sea Salt (this is my default restaurant, and will probably have a great meal here, but I do go there all the time for happy hour, so am hesitant to be that unadventurous)
Riva Cucina (again, have been here often, the owners are friends, and perhaps a little too familiar for this particular dinner)
Rivoli (same as above, except I haven't been in about 3 years)
Bay Wolf (haven't been in about 3 years, was underwhelmed by everything but the duck pate the last time I went)
Lalimes (the new chef sounds exciting)
Oliveto (haven't been in forever, is this the time?)
Chez Panisse (haven't been downstairs since 2007)
Anything else exciting that I'm forgetting?
Here are the restaurants I am definitely not considering for various reasons:
Pizzaiolo (i'm in the minority, but find it overpriced and meh)
Flora (always had terrible service here, can't convince my posse to go, although I like the food)
Dona Tomas (many birthdays spent here)
Cafe Rouge (not special enough for dinner?)
We'll be about 5 people, I think. Thanks!