Rivoli (see photo) (1539 Solano Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707/Phone: (510) 526-2542) is a great place in the East Bay that serves California/Mediterranean cuisine that is really outstanding. They specialize in using only seasonal, local and fresh, mostly organic ingredients, including naturally raised meats and poultry. The Chef/Owner is Wendy Brucker, and she is a really well-known chef who is described by many as being very creative and highly skilled. We were there during the holidays, and we had a great experience. The highlights of the evening were the Warm Goat Cheese Souffle, with proscuitto di parma, black mission figs and ambrosia melon; the Sonoma Liberty Duck cooked two ways with Roast Nectarine Jus, with polenta, pecorino and ricotta sformatino and braise Tuscan kale; and a Warm Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding with orange caramel sauce, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. We eat out a lot (obviously) and we're always looking for unique flavors. Ravioli has a ton of them. Prices are moderate, they have a quality wine list and kids are welcome. It gets loud when it's busy, but the food helps you forget about the added decibels.
Straits (San Francisco Centre, 4th Floor, 845 Market Street, Suite 597, SF 94103/Phone: (415) 668-1783 www.straitsrestaurants.com) features food from Singapore expertly prepared and presented by renowned Chef/Owner Chris Yen. With a full menu of delights and an amazing Raw Bar, Straits is a cornucopia of incredible dishes that are pleasing to both the eyes and the palate as well. When we were there last month, we had their Hay Tuna Tower (sashimi jewels tosses with a ginger, kefir lime leaf and served for cassava chips -- $14); the Chow Kay Tow (wide rice noodles wok-tossed with prawns, fish cake, Chinese sausage and bean sprouts -- $12); the Banana Blossom Salad (banana flowers, grilled chicken and seasonal fruits with Asian herbs in a Vietnamese vinaigrette -- $9); the Origami Sea bass (baked in parchment with ginger, long an, shiitake mushrooms and rice wine -- $19); and the Tamarind Beef (wok-fired filet mignon and watercress with black pepper oyster sauce.) Everything was absolutely marvelous, with new exciting flavors and inspiring colors. One of the really great things about Straits is that they are open until 2 am every day, so that you can eat late after a night out on the town. They have a full bar and dancing as well. The decor can best be described as contemporary cool and hip. This is not the kind of place I would take young children to. Reservations are strongly suggested.
rnm (598 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117/Phone: (415) 551-7900 www.rnmrestaurant.com) is a American/French Bistro that really goes above and beyond when it comes to serving inventive, inspired food. They walk the walk when it comes to their passion for this cuisine, featuring vegetarian meals, seasonal menus, chef's tasting menus and prix fixe menus. There are a lot of fine dining establishments out there that have the same things on their menu every time you go there, but not rnm. Each experience there is different and unique, which makes eating there exciting. Last time we went there, we ordered items exclusively from the small plates section of the menu. We sampled the Brentwood white corn chowder with chanterelle mushrooms, house smoked bacon and truffle oil ($9): What an amazing blending of deep flavors. The bacon with the mushrooms created a really unique taste; the Parisian style steak tartar with sweet baguette crostini, micro greens and a quail egg ($13): Wow! The soft texture of the hyper-fresh tartare complemented the crunchy baguette perfectly; and the Charcuterie plate with pate, duck rillettes, smoked prosciutto, coppa salami, house made andouille, marinated olives, Dijon and upland cress ($11): a filling and completely satisfying array of wonderful meats and a real value at just $11. rnm also features pizzas, larger plates and from what I have heard, a great selection of desserts. Chef/Owner Justine Minor has put together a great space here. In 2005, the San Francisco Weekly named rnm the "Best Unsung Restaurant" in the Bay Area. But, good news travels fast -- rnm is crowded most nights and reservations are strongly recommended.
Cyrus (29 North Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 433-3311; www.cyrusrestaurant.com) is a two-star Michelin Guide recipient, and one of Gourmet Magazine's "Top 50 Restaurants in America". It also received a 4-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle. The place features world-class dining in the vineyards of Healdsburg. The Executive Chef/Owner is Douglas Keane, who was chosen as Food & Wine magazine's "Best Chef 2006," offers a very flexible prix fixe format that makes the place a little more affordable. They also have some wonderful wine pairings that are quite reasonably priced. Some of the signature dishes at Cyrus include the Thai Marinated Lobster with Avocado, Melon and Hearts of Palm; the Duck Breast with Tamarind Glazed Eggplant and Edamame with Keffir Lime-Kecap Manis; Bacon Wrapped Pork with Sweet Corn and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and the Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth. Reservations are always suggested here; the place is usually booked a month in advance. Cyrus describes their food as "contemporary luxury," and that probably capsulizes it best. It's food people who really care about food.