A native of Paris, Executive Chef Christian Nam-Hee sharpened his knife skills and his palate at l'Ecole de Paris des Métiers de la Table. Today he lets his know-how blossom and wander in the kitchen of Bijou Restaurant & Bar, blending the culinary traditions of his homeland with the flavors found in northern California's seasonal organic ingredients. From his pans and cutting boards spring forth sweet-potato frites, quail stuffed with napa cabbage, and other dishes that embody the menu's inventive fusion spirit. To complement such an aesthetically poignant dining experience, the space itself—designed by DesignPlus's Pia Thomas—remains sleek and focused. The centerpiece is the bar, which glows a dreamy, iridescent amber that's complemented by ring chandeliers and absorbed by Italian leather chairs, a lounge area's plush velvet cushions, and tabletop black holes.
Linger at one of The New Ristorante Forli's tables long enough, and owners Gabriele Davanzante or Russ Belleci might sidle up to the table to tell a joke or spontaneously burst into an Old Italian song. Flourishes like these imbue The New Ristorante Forli with the aura of a traditional Italian trattoria. In addition to a pair of jovial Italian hosts, The New Ristorante Forli cements its status as a cultural bastion by plating classic dishes such as osso bucco and braised lamb shank. Tuscan chianti and California pinot grigio punctuate the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Additionally, dining companions can cast aside games of napkin peek-a-boo and dance to live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Harpreet "Happy" Singh—also known as “The Beer Baron”—holds court over 22 taps of suds chosen from a rotating selection of craft beers. Singh, who also presides over Perry's Liquor and Craft Beer, adds his encyclopedic knowledge to every pint of Delirium Tremens or Armored Fist Black IPA that slides down the smooth wooden bar in his industrial-chic watering hole, nestled within the nearly century-old Schenone Building in downtown Livermore. Hanging metal lamps spotlight seats at the bar, where flat-screen TVs flicker with sports, and a candlelit back lounge lends tabletops to Greek food brought in from Demitri's Taverna. Hits from the '80s, '90s, and modern hip-hop scene fill the bar on Thursday through Saturday nights, when DJs enthrall crowds with alluring beats punctuated by tributes to Perry Como.
Around the burgundy-walled space of Sanctuary Ultra Lounge and Restaurant, guests sink in to plush chairs, savor bites of fire grilled gourmet pizzas, or get up and dance to music spun by a DJ. The lounge prides itself on effortlessly shifting from upscale restaurant to high-energy nightclub. A back room plays host to live musicians late into the night and even the morning when they all transform back into potted plants. For those more interested in dinner than karaoke, the kitchen grills up Angus burgers topped with portobello mushrooms or peanut butter, and prepares plates of braised pork and poblano tamales.
In 1941, Wilma and Henry Dorsey opened a modest family eatery on the corner of 18th and Market in West Oakland. Over the next four decades, devoted family members transformed the place with a relocation, the addition of a cocktail lounge, and the construction of a beautiful wooden bar. Today, Dorsey family members remain the sole shareholders of a bustling restaurant that celebrates their Texas roots with country-style meals of fried chicken, catfish, gumbo, barbecue ribs, and sweet peach cobbler. A rotating weekly menu makes fresh additions to the slate of hearty, homecooked food with such dishes as chitterlings and smothered steak, while sides of collard greens, yams, and black-eyed peas garnish every dish with Southern panache.
Far more than a mere restaurant, Dorsey's Locker also treats guests to a full bar and lineup of live entertainment. On Sunday nights from 6 p.m until 10 p.m., the restaurant waives a cover charge for live R&B and jazz music. Open mic events each Tuesday show off the hidden talents of friends and neighbors, while Monday, Thursday, and Saturday-night karaoke provides a socially acceptable outlet for singing a love song to a plate of breaded pork chops.
Marc 49 serves up a fresh menu starring a savory cast of Italian-influenced appetizers, bruschette, salads, and paninis to accompany the lengthy list of libations. Pass a plate of the house-marinated mixed olives ($4) or share the meat and cheese plate ($9) among a gaggle of good friends. The fresh-shucked Buckley or Chesapeake oysters ($2 each/$20 per dozen) offer a sensational taste of sea for first dates, second dates, or "does this count as a date?" dates, while the menu's seven salads ($6) promise to fill any mouth with an elegant mélange of greens. Put Marc 49’s wine bar to the test by pairing any of the simple yet flavorful bites with grown-up grape juice, available by the glass ($7+), bottle ($24+), or flight ($11 for three 2 oz. tastes).