Fantastic food finds that are light on your wallet
Photography by Ed Anderson
There’s always a silver lining, right? One of the upsides to the current economic mess is all the delicious deals on luscious meals at some of our best restaurants. Offering top-quality ingredients and careful preparation as always, these restaurants have cut prices to get you in the door. So, come on, do your part. Join the economic recovery—and enjoy!
« Prix Fixe Meals »
The Deal: Three-course prix fixe dinner menu, $27.
When: Sun.–Wed. evenings.
What you get: A chance to sit back and enjoy Bridges’ lovely understated patio while indulging in a mixed baby greens or Caesar salad, a choice of four entrées, and a selection of three desserts. The grilled flat-iron steak had deep flavor and an addictive red wine demiglace. The wild mushroom risotto had a pungent earthiness that went great with the restaurant’s Melville Estate Pinot Noir. For dessert, we’re all for the E. Guittard chocolate flourless cake.
44 Church St., Danville, (925) 820-7200, bridgesdanville.com.
The deal: Three-course menu du jour in the café, $24–$28.
When: Lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. Call to reserve.
What you get: A beyond fabulous prix fixe meal, plus the counter-snob appeal of having eaten at Chez Panisse on the cheap. The meal starts with a garden lettuce salad so fresh, it’s practically still growing when the server brings it to your table. A recent menu du jour included hand-cut noodles with fava beans and Bellwether Farms ricotta—a dish that was classic Chez Panisse in its elegant simplicity. Dessert brought a strawberry-rhubarb sherbet with rhubarb compote and crisp, buttery langues-de-chat cookies.
1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 548-5049, chezpanisse.com.
The deal: Three-course meal with a glass of wine, $29.
When Mon.–Thurs. before 6 p.m.
What you get: If you’ve got a show to hit in Berkeley, check out this amazing pre-event meal of salad or soup made from museum-quality ingredients, pasta like your nonna used to make (but better), dessert, and a glass of food-friendly red or Italian white wine. Corso has a great feel, too: It has just the low-key but sophisticated vibe to round out your night on the town.
1788 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 704-8004, trattoriacorso.com.
The deal: Bite Out of the Economy three-course menu, $29.95 or $32.95.
What you get: An old-school steakhouse meal. If you’re tough enough for the iceberg wedge with bacon and a sassy blue cheese, ultrarich mashed potatoes with a bite of horseradish, and some big meat, this here’s your deal. Get a stuffed pork chop, a sirloin steak, or Atlantic salmon for $29.95; or eight-ounce prime rib, twin filets with béarnaise sauce, or an eight-ounce New York for $32.95—all with a salad, plus a brownie, cheesecake, or bread pudding for dessert.
7400 San Ramon Rd., Dublin, (925) 833-0995, mcnamarasrestaurant.com.
The deal: Three-course menu, $25.
When: Sun.–Thurs. evenings through September.
What you get: Beautifully prepared, delicate seasonal dishes in not-so-delicate portions, and a fun, welcoming atmosphere. Both the vegetable soup and the organic greens with ricotta salata seriously rock, as do the crisp-crusted rock cod and the ravioli, with its perfectly seasoned mix of beef, pork, and veal—just two of six entrées on the special menu. Choose from any of Piatti’s desserts, including a knockout caramel balsamic gelato.
100 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 838-2082, piatti.com.
The Restaurant at Wente
The deal: The Local Menu two-course lunch, $19; three-course dinner, $29.
When Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner Mon.–Thurs.
What you get: An economical way to enjoy the scenic vineyard setting. All menu items feature ingredients plucked from Wente's 1,000-square-foot on-site garden, including the beets in our starter salad, which were so sweet and fresh, they made us fans of, well, beets. We also loved the veggies accompanying a delicate rock fish entrée, while a coconut rum cake with tres leches ice cream ended the meal in style.
5050 Arroyo Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2450, wentevineyards.com/restaurant.
The deal: Three-course meal, $19.50.
When: Mon.–Thurs. 4–6 p.m.
What you get: Snappingly fresh fish, plus salad or soup and dessert. We know "early bird" has an unfortunate ring to it, so call this ridiculously well-priced afternoon menu a late lunch. The chowder would keep a fisherman in port; we loved the salad with Fuji apple, blue cheese, and spicy walnuts. In all three entrées, the seafood—bay shrimp, Manila clams, fish and chips—tasted as if it had just leapt out of the sea. Try the sinfully rich and creamy butterscotch pudding.
3593 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-4100, yankeepier.com/lafayette.
«Bar Food Deals»
The deal: Happy hour at the bar and community table, $5–$8.
When: Daily 4:30–6:30 p.m.
What you get: You’ll love the garden-fresh soupe au pistou ($6); crisp fritto misto of asparagus, cauliflower, and brilliantly green snap peas ($6); a big boy of a juicy burger with caramelized onions, bacon, and white cheddar or blue cheese ($8)—as well as many other reasons to pull up a chair at Garibaldis' communal table and dig in. And, remember that cocktails are $6–$7. You’ll know this is a good deal when the servers start snatching the happy hour menus out of the hands of customers right at 6:30. And don’t forget that no entrée is more than $16 at Marzano, Garibaldis’ rustic Italian sister restaurant next door.
5356 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 595-4000, garibaldisrestaurant.com.
The deal: Happy hour eats, $2–$5.
When Sun.–Thurs. 3–7 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 3–6 p.m.
What you get: Steamed clams ($5 pound, $3.75 half pound) in a white wine broth so delicious, it could be soup; huge, tender onion rings ($3) in a crisp buttermilk batter–fried crust; a rich, satisfying white bean hummus ($2.50) served with grilled pita. The small plates on the happy hour bar menu have enormous flavor and go perfectly with the $2 draft beers or $5 glasses of carefully selected white or red wine—a Bordeaux blend was our favorite. As for cocktails, we don’t know who’d be caught dead ordering the Blackhawk Cougartini, but for $5—the price for all happy hour cocktails—it might be worth the laugh.
3483 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville, (925) 984-2250, laurussf.com.
The deal Late-night bar food, $4–$6.25.
When: Nightly 9–11 p.m.
What you get: Creatures of the night who never get out early enough for happy hour will go crazy for this menu. Wild fish tacos will have you stealing out of the house to order more ($4 each). Also try the killer burger ($6.25) and one of the prime-ingredient salads ($5–$6).
3524 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-4422, metrolafayette.com.
The deal: $1 oysters, $5 wine, $3 draft beer, $6 cocktails.
When Daily: 3–6 p.m. and 10 p.m.–midnight.
What you get: The beauty part here is oysters, oysters, oysters. I’ve never had one at Sea Salt that wasn’t a briny, luscious trip to the seashore. Also, the wines, the beer, and even the well brands served at Sea Salt are carefully chosen and organized to complement your dish.
2512 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, (510) 883-1720, seasaltrestaurant.com.