Ten Not-So-Cheap Dates 

Our house foodie's top romantic picks for Valentine's Day.

For those lucky in love, V-Day is when you want (or need) to demonstrate your love in as many ways -- or courses -- as you can afford. Here, adapted from our dining guide, are ten of the most romantic spots to dine in the East Bay. But getting a table for two on V-day requires advance planning, so make your reservation now, or pay dearly for your sloth later.

More than $40 per person


1329 Gilman St., Berkeley; 510-527-9838.

Not that the room isn't lovely, too, but it's the service -- personal, attentive, even caring -- that makes this one of the East Bay's most romantic restaurants. On their side of the kitchen window, the chefs update French-Med food with luxuriant abandon. Lalime's is doing a special Valentine's prix-fixe menu at $70 per person -- see Lalimes.com.

O Chamé

1830 Fourth St., Berkeley; 510-841-8783.

Chef-owner David Vardy takes the awkwardness out of Asian fusion cuisine, assembling dishes that look Californian but taste more Japanese -- and more elegant -- than those of many competitors. For a lighter, more traditional meal, try one of the big bowls of chewy udon noodles floating in richly flavored stock. The golden, intimate room is the perfect place for a date.

Zax Tavern

2826 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley; 510-848-9299.

There's no trace of the beer hall in this romantic Californian "tavern." Take your date, your mother, or your snobby foodie friends here: The cooks don't shoot for culinary fireworks, but turn out well-crafted, seasonal, and consistently delicious food. The service is thoughtful and charming. Zax will have a three-course, prix-fixe Valentine's dinner for $65 a person.


3565 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette; 925-299-8700.

Postino is still the most romantic place to dine east of the Caldecott Tunnel, and new owners and a new chef haven't futzed a bit with its charm. A warren of small, stone-walled rooms circles a high, bright tented center, and warm evenings fill the patio out front. Many of its most popular Cal-Ital dishes, such as garganelli with rabbit and pancetta and braised beef short ribs, are still there and still cooked beautifully. Postino will offer a prix-fixe Valentine's menu.


742 B St., Hayward; 510-583-9744.

The perfect place to treat your oenophile mate, Neumanali does everything right: tiny menu, impeccably prepared California cuisine, height-of-the-season ingredients. Its big-city food is served with small-town friendliness -- the bartender does card tricks, the owner tells ghost stories, and everyone wants to talk to you. And since it doubles as a wine bar and shop, the restaurant has assembled a short, interesting wine list whose near-retail prices will inspire the good kind of sticker shock.

Less than $30 per person


1025 University Ave., Berkeley; 510-549-9997.

A romantic restaurant with a buffet? Simply ignore Bosphorus's steam table and head straight for the dimly lit booths in back, where you can order off the menu. The restaurant's moist, spice-crusted kebabs -- its specialty -- are best hot off the grill. For a light meal, share a platter of meze with small dishes such as Yunan (Greek) salad, feta-filled phyllo cigars, air-cured pastirma, and taramasalata.

A Cté

5478 College Ave., Oakland; 510-655-6469.

If the weather's nice, sit out back among the trees, but the elegant alcoves and rococo archways inside A Côté are conducive to canoodling. The French- and Italian-inspired tapas served here include risotto balls, arugula salad, pancetta-wrapped swordfish, skewered lamb, and pommes frites. Guilt-inducing desserts such as a chocolate-port truffle tart enhance that fin-de-siècle Parisian decadence.

Locanda Olmo

2985 College Ave., Berkeley; 510-848-5544.

Owners straight off the boat from Florence are working wonders with this tiny neighborhood Italian restaurant. The gold-walled space, overgrown with vines, now looks like the set for A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the wine-hued mezzanine is comfortingly womblike. Chef Oculisti's hearty, authentic risottos, crepes, and braised meats -- and the best panna cotta in the East Bay -- are all prepared Florentine-style in the ovens.

Salang Pass

37462 Fremont Blvd., Fremont; 510-795-9200.

Salang Pass is the swankiest restaurant in Fremont's Little Kabul. Call ahead for a reservation, and you can sit on embroidered pillows at one of the low tables in the rug-lined dining area. Excellent appetizers include the steamed pumpkin with yogurt sauce and bolani, spicy potato-stuffed flatbread. From the main menu order kebabs, North Indian-style curries, and the excellent spiced rice pilaf.


5421 College Ave., Oakland; 510-655-0889.

As its name suggests, Soi4 serves high-concept Thai cuisine. Luckily, the food is more affordable than you would infer from the chic room, and the upstairs mezzanine is perfect for wooing your date and spying on all the romantic fools below. Stick with the sautéed dishes and salads -- the beef short ribs and vegetable dishes are great. Finish off your meal with primo fusion desserts.


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