The annual saga of Ruth's birthday dinner is upon me again. For all my years reading this board religiously and making suggestions for others, I'm often perplexed by the task of finding a place that's
(1) interesting and preferably new to me,
(2) suitable for my parents (not too noisy and a decent value, i.e., not cheap, but not so expensive it shocks my raised-during-the-Depression Dad's sensibilities, which I'm going to define as no more than half the entrees over $30),
(3) has a menu that will please both more and less adventurous diners (not too limited a menu and not too seafood heavy),
(4) has delicious desserts,
(5) isn't insanely hard to get a reservation for a party of five and/or inaccessible to the East Bay (Aziza proved to be a nightmarish trek one Saturday evening).
As an example, in 2007 we went to Perbacco and it was almost perfect (too noisy, but everything was so good it made the noise tolerable). A place that I would love to go back to but that miserably fails #5 is La Ciccia, where you can get a reservation for five but you'll probably be uncomfortable, and which I got miserably lost trying to find (and I never get lost).
I should also mention that my birthday dinner is cursed. Perbacco seems to have survived, but the restaurants where we had my 2008 and 2009 birthday dinners both closed (the latter just a couple of days after we ate there!). For 2010 I picked Lalime's since I wanted to check it out under Morrone and it seemed to be curse-proof, but the curse struck again when Morrone left shortly thereafter. Other birthday dinners have been plagued with memorably bad service (my 40th at Fleur de Lys being the worst).
When I asked this question in 2011 ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/766590 ), we ended up doing a completely different direction. The last two years we've done Italian (Riva Cucina and Lungomare, which both seem to have survived the curse). I'd rather not do Italian again, although it's a good fall back.
Some of the new places in Oakland look good, but they mostly seem a bit more casual than I would like (especially since they tend to be very noisy). My father (who is, after all, paying the bill) would hate Commis and Plum. Also, the current trend of rather limited menus, i.e. fewer than six entrees) doesn't feel very family friendly to me.