Dungeness Crab Salad; Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Vegetables and Biscuit; New York Sirloin Steak
Occupation: Software Sales Manager
Favorite Restaurant: Casa Orinda
Reviewed Casa Orinda: Friday February 15, 2008
It’s not very often that you find a great quality and exciting restaurant hidden in a small East Bay community. Casa Orinda is just such a place. Hidden in the quiet, historical town of Orinda, Casa Orinda is a well known dining experience for locals and fortunately not well known outside of Lamorinda!
Nestled on the outskirts of Orinda Village, just past the Caldecott tunnel and right next to Highway 24, the building front and parking lot do not disclose what gem is hidden right in the middle of the East Bay hills. Casa Orinda doesn’t advertise its style and sophisticated food by outside appearances. If you don’t know the restaurant, you probably wouldn’t just “drop in.” Upon arrival at the restaurant, you are welcomed by extremely nice and courteous valet parking attendants. Almost all of them are college students, earning some extra cash during the evenings and weekends. Entering through the large wooden door, this restaurant seems to feel more like a nightclub, with no windows giving you an internal view of the restaurant. After entering the restaurant, you immediately get the feeling of being transported back into the old Wild Wild West — the large bar against a decorated back wall, the copper decorations — everything just reminds you of what it would have been like a hundred years ago. The tables, however, are set classically; white table linens, white napkins and are very, very comforting. That’s something this restaurant gives you from the moment you walk in, it’s very comforting.
The Casa Orinda menu is as surprising as the rest of the ambience. There are classical “feel good” dishes like country fried chicken with mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy but also very sophisticated Dungeness crab salads and meat dishes; a fantastic combination for whatever guests you decide to bring. The quality of food presented is outstanding; extremely fresh and well prepared.
From the large selection of steaks from the broiler to the classical Italian pasta dishes, Casa Orinda demonstrates that a restaurant doesn’t have to strictly follow a one style; combining several cuisine styles actually makes the dining experience more special. The waitstaff and ambience within Casa Orinda is also on a very high level. The staff knows the dishes by heart, knows how to pair dishes with a wine selection, and is extremely friendly and courteous! A trend that seems to belong to Casa Orinda. The ambience of the restaurant, as mentioned before, is based upon the old saloon idea (there is a huge collection of old Western guns on display), with some practical modern touches here and there. A perfect setting for a Saturday night dinner, sophisticated but not too stuffy!
Occupation: Pediatric Physician Assistant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Nick’s Crispy Tacos
Reviewed Casa Orinda: Sunday February 17, 2008
This evening I experienced a bit of local history in addition to enjoying a hearty meal. I drove east from San Francisco to the city of Orinda where I dined at Casa Orinda. From the street, there isn’t much to draw a passerby inside. A simple sign on a windowless building indicates the location of the restaurant. However, as soon as soon as I stepped through the doors I was intrigued.
A welcoming hostess greeted us without delay and showed us to our table. A large fire roared in the back of the dimly lit dining room. Walls were adorned with ranching memorabilia and a large moose head. Our friendly server informed us that the memorabilia on the walls was used locally at the ranches in the area. Of course this was over seventy-five years ago when Casa Orinda first opened!
Drinks and bread were brought to our table immediately. I opted for a bottle of beer, resisting the temptation of sampling one their stiff cocktails. Salad was my starter, which was simple, fresh, and straightforward. It consisted of a mound of iceberg lettuce with a sprinkle of carrots and a slice of beet. What the salad lacked in complexity, it made up for in traditional quality, much like the restaurant as a whole.
Minutes after finishing my salad, the entrees were brought to the table. I sampled the fried chicken along with bites of my mother’s New York Steak. The chicken was very crispy and came with a delicious biscuit. I topped the biscuit with a dollop of honey. Alongside the fried chicken came the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. They melted in my mouth! My mother’s steak was my favorite dish. It was cooked perfectly and had a rich flavor. My mother, who grew up on a ranch in Colorado, felt that the food was very much like the meals her mother would make her back home.
For dessert we split the “cooked fruit of the day” (an apple-blueberry cobbler topped with ice cream) and a slice of mud pie. The warm fruit was served in a casserole dish straight from the oven — warm and delicious. The mud pie was a generous wedge of coffee ice cream in a cookie crust with a pool of melted chocolate surrounding it. The desserts did not venture off the beaten track, yet they satisfied my sweet tooth thoroughly.
I enjoyed my experience at Casa Orinda because of the local historical flare and some scrumptious dishes. I also appreciated the kind service and low noise level in the restaurant. The server took some time to talk to my dining companions and me, which we all enjoyed. The portions were large for the price, and I went home full. While I won’t get a chance to work off the food during a day of ranching, I certainly enjoyed an authentic ranching restaurant.
Occupation: Marketing Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Côté Sud
Reviewed Casa Orinda: Sunday February 17, 2008
As soon as you walk into Casa Orinda, you are quickly reminded you’re not in the big city anymore. Two pairs of huge horns that looked like they’d come from wooly mammoths hang over the wood-paneled bar. Other décor included several cases of guns, shotguns, and rifles, as well as painted scenes from the “wild west.” This, of course, gave us pause before we might complain about the service or food.
When we arrived, there were several families enjoying an early Sunday dinner. It became obvious that this was no place for vegetarians. There were no less than ten chicken dishes and eight veal dishes on the menu—all varying forms of quasi-Italian-American cuisine ranging from veal parmegiana to chicken piccata.
I ordered the supposedly “famous” fried chicken. My friends ordered the veal parmigiana and steak.
Service was a bit slow from taking our order to finally getting our meal. But it was fine as we enjoy dining at a slower pace, anyway.
My first course was the minestrone, which had a strong onion broth flavor that overwhelmed the few vegetables floating in it. When the main courses did arrive, it was overwhelming. The portions were enormous! I was able to give chicken away to everyone at the table and still have leftover to bring home!
The fried chicken was very juicy, but not greasy at all, with a nice crisp crust. The chicken itself could have benefited from a buttermilk soaking or brining to give it a little more flavor. The mashed potatoes were beaten to within an inch of their lives…not a single lump or sense of texture left. The vegetables weren’t really a side dish, but seemed more like a garnish. We decided perhaps vegetables were beside the point here.
My dish came with a light and buttery buttermilk biscuit that I quickly devoured. I avoided the accompanying gravy, not being a big fan.
The veal parmigiana was completely obscured by a mountain of tomato sauce and melted cheese that frankly overwhelmed the delicate meat smothered underneath. The steaks seemed to be acceptable by the two people who ordered them. They came with baked potatoes with “everything on them” and three enormous onion rings on top.
We were way too full to even consider a single shared dessert for the table.
We really wanted to enjoy this historical restaurant, which seems like a Western outpost. We didn’t feel like the décor was too kitchy because it seemed authentic rather than contrived. We can see why it would be a family favorite, what with all that fried food and huge portions. But in the end, the only star was the fried chicken.