In a year filled with restaurant closures and decreasing sales on both sides of the Bay, it's encouraging to see that the East Bay is still incubating such stellar new restaurants as downtown Oakland's Verbena and San Leandro's Café Zula. But this year -- especially post-9/11 -- Purple Plum hit the perfect note. Combining the deep, gut-warming flavors of Southern home cooking with Californian lightness, brightness, and freshness, the Plum dishes out heaps of satisfaction. Get the spicy, meaty, and deliciously nonbitter braised mixed greens, or the crispy but moist fried chicken. The food is priced so reasonably that even laid-off dot-commers can afford to become regulars.