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Dinner table conversation has become a lost art, and not from any lack of witty repartee. No, it’s the noise —THE NOISE, I SAID, IN LOUD RESTAURANTS.
Like it or not, painfully loud restaurants are here to stay. That’s because architects are designing so many of them that way, with exposed ceilings, hard surfaces and floor-to-ceiling metal, wood or other minimalist design elements that don’t absorb noise. The sound just bounces, accelerating as voices rise to compensate. Soon, you’re shouting sweet nothings at your date.
While we can’t guarantee that the eateries on this list will never bustle with a few loud or large parties, we can say that they won’t reach decibel levels harmful to human ears (80, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Over the years, we’ve made much of restaurants such as Oakland’s Oliveto and Berkeley’s Comal, where substantial acoustic engineering keeps things serene at table level. There are other options, too. If you enjoy conversing with your dining companion, catch your next meal at one of these spots.
Market Tavern, Dublin
With ‘tavern’ in the title you’d think this new Dublin hot spot would max out the decibel meter, but Market Tavern took over a former Mimi’s Cafe, which means it’s big enough to offer several dining rooms and a separate bar, all of which cut down on the dining din. There’s no midcentury modern or minimalist decor, just booths, standard wood tables and chairs, and plenty of excellent New American food and drink options. Free purple pizza dough for the kiddos, too. 4775 Hacienda Drive, Dublin; www.markettaverndub.com.
Lao Tae, Oakland
This family-friendly restaurant in Oakland’s Montclair district specializes in the flavorful rice dishes, stir fries and meat salads of Laos. Open since January, the restaurant’s food is affordable (everything hovers under $20), service is fast and the restaurant is large and two-leveled, meaning the tables and noise are spread out, allowing for easy conversation even with big parties. 6516 Moraga Ave., Oakland; http://orderlaotae.com.
Menlo Tavern, Menlo Park
Our critic calls the newly revamped Stanford Park Hotel restaurant “the Peninsula’s new classic” for eating and conversation. Here’s why: Leather booths, instead of uncomfortable metal chairs, and area rugs covering the dining room’s tiled floors make for a cozy environment conducive to convos. The idea grew out of nearby Stanford University’s legendary “eating clubs,” restaurant management says. Add in their smoking option for classic cocktails — 10 seconds in the smoker box — and chef Jason Dalling’s less-is-more philosophy, and this spot has it all. 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; www.menlotavern.com.
Blue Door, San Jose
San Jose diners have plenty of options when it comes to eating at Westgate Mall, but our South Bay critic relishes her meals at this sleek, family-owned Mediterranean restaurant. Multiple dining rooms, cushy slate leather chairs, and tasty braised short ribs with orzo and mizithra cheese means you’ll be lingering for a while pre- or post-shopping. Our critic recently dined there with six friends and heard every last fascinating word they said. 1502 Saratoga Ave., San Jose. 408-866-4176; http://thebluedoorrestaurant.com.
Burma Unique, Walnut Creek
This cavernous new Burmese restaurant, which opened in April inside the old Le Cheval in Walnut Creek, had no music playing on our visit and its large, banquet-style dining room is separate from the bar. The combination makes for pin-drop clarity when you’re craving tea leaf salad and needing to catch up with your bae or boo. 1375 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek; www.burmaunique.com.
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