Time to Celebrate

Best Place for a Large Elegant Party

Once you have the evening gown, hors d’oeuvres and white tablecloths, what’s left? For the missing element — the perfect venue — readers chose the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco for the city, the Claremont Resort & Spa for the East Bay and the Marin Art & Garden Center for Marin/Sonoma as the best places to rent for a large elegant party.

Open to “anyone and everyone who wants to rent,” the JCC has rooms of all sizes for virtually all types of parties. Communications manager Aaron Rosenthal believes that clients appreciate the quality perhaps even more than the location: “People who have emotional attachment to the JCC will ultimately only choose to do it if we have a room that is tasteful and classy.”

It’s hard to find a location where someone will paint your toenails one day and serve your wedding dinner the next. But readers need look no further than the “big white castle,” the Claremont Resort & Spa located next to U.C. Berkeley. The facilities include 20 different-sized meeting and banquet rooms. “All of the out-of-town guests’ needs will be taken care of,” says director of catering Kathy Marty.

At the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross, visitors can find a diverse repertoire of events. From private parties to Shakespeare camps, the center seems to do it all. “We love having Jewish weddings here,” event manager Elizabeth Ayers says. “We have enough room for the ketubah signing and everything else.”

Second-place winners were the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, the Sequoyah Country Club for the East Bay, and the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa for Marin/Sonoma.

First Place

San Francisco

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
(415) 292-1269
www.jccsf.org

East Bay

Claremont Resort & Spa
Berkeley
(510) 549-8521
www.claremontresort.com

Marin/Sonoma

Marin Art & Garden Center
Ross
(415) 454-1301
www.maagc.org

Second Place

San Francisco

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
(415) 296-7465
www.ritzcarlton.com/hotels/san_francisco

East Bay

Sequoyah Country Club
Oakland
(510) 632-2900
www.sequoyahcc.com

Marin/Sonoma

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Sonoma
(707) 938-4250
www.fairmont.com/sonoma

Best Place for a Large Casual Party

Readers expressed diverse tastes in choosing the best place to rent for a large casual party by picking locales in an urban center and a secluded oasis. The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco won in the city, while the Brazilian Room won in the East Bay.

Protected from the bustle of San Francisco, the Brazilian Room in Berkeley’s 2,000-acre Tilden Regional Park has been a favorite location to host a party since 1941. “In this area, it really is a gem of a place,” supervisor Gerrie Honder says.

Information on the JCCSF can be found under the award for best place for a large elegant party.

In second place were the Cellar for San Francisco, and Beth Jacob Congregation in the East Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
(415) 292-1269
www.jccsf.org

East Bay

Brazilian Room
Berkeley
(510) 540-0220
www.brazilianroom.org

Second Place

San Francisco

The Cellar
(415) 441-5678
www.cellarsf.com

East Bay

Beth Jacob Congregation
Oakland
(510) 482-1147
www.bethjacoboakland.org

Best Place for a Large Outdoor Party

Where can you find a place to host a lot of guests without worrying about complaints from the neighbors? For large outdoor parties, readers chose the Brazilian Room at Tilden Regional Parks for the East Bay, and Marin Art & Garden Center for Marin/Sonoma.

Information on the Brazilian Room can be found under the award for best place for a large casual party.

Information on the Marin Art & Garden Center can be found under the award for best place for a large elegant party.

First Place

East Bay

Brazilian Room at Tilden Regional Park
Berkeley
(510) 540-0220
www.brazilianroom.org

Marin/Sonoma

Marin Art & Garden Center
Ross
(415) 454-1301
www.maagc.org

Best Place for a Small Elegant Party

When hosting a small elegant party, diversity is the theme for our Readers’ Choice winners — ranging from the Victorian grace of the Haas-Lilienthal House, chosen as the best in San Francisco, to the bustling Berkeley eatery Bar Ristorante Raphael, best in the East Bay.

The Haas-Lilienthal House, built in 1886, combines a luscious setting with a rich history. Clients can also ask for a docent to be available during their event to provide historical details. “With three main rooms on the first floor, there is a natural flow of events,” explains operations manager Barbara Roldan. “Gathering in one room, drinks in the next and dinner in the last — the house works perfectly.”

Bar Ristorante Raphael’s part-owner and chef Domenico Testa believes his venue’s easygoing environment and succulent food are its main draws. With Italian plaster everywhere, and many fresh, organic ingredients, Testa seems to have found a recipe for success. “It’s like going to someone’s house for a party,” he says. “[We] make up everything!”

The Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club won second place for the East Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Haas-Lilienthal House
(415) 441-3011
www.sfheritage.org/house.html

East Bay

Bar Ristorante Raphael
Berkeley
(510) 644-9500
www.ristoranteraphael.com

Second Place

East Bay

Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club
Oakland
(510) 339-1832

Best Place for a Small Casual Party

Readers gravitated toward cross-category favorites when choosing the best place for a small casual party. In the city, the winner was the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and in the East Bay, voters selected Bar Ristorante Raphael.

Information on the JCC can be found under the award for best place for a large elegant party.

Information on Bar Ristorante Raphael can be found under the award for best place for a small elegant party.

Scott’s Seafood Restaurant in Walnut Creek won second place for the East Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
(415) 292-1269
www.jccsf.org

East Bay

Bar Ristorante Raphael
Berkeley
(510) 644-9500
www.ristoranteraphael.com

Second Place

East Bay

Scott’s Seafood Restaurant
Walnut Creek
(925) 934-1300
www.scottsrestaurants.com/wc_intro.cfm

Best Florist

Are the buds more beautiful in the Bay Area? Floral-loving readers say yes, and chose four different shops as best florist: Bloomers for San Francisco, Glenview Florist for the East Bay, J. Floral Art for the South Bay/Peninsula and Main Street Floragardens for Marin/Sonoma.

Patrick Powell has been selling flowers for 29 years with Bloomers on Washington Street. He credits his “lovely customers with good taste” for creating his high level of repeat business.

Glenview Florist’s owner Vicky Rice, in contrast, took over the Oakland store only recently, following previous owner Doug Brown’s departure after 22 years. Besides moving the shop to a smaller building down the street, she doesn’t plan to make many changes to Brown’s business model. His vision kept the shop busy with many events, including “many Jewish weddings!”

Co-manager Jeffrey Adair of J. Floral Art in Menlo Park prefers to blaze his own path — giving customers the “big city European aesthetic, big on design and color. Our style is a little different than a typical ‘mom and pop’ shop. No carnations and daisies here.”

Without a retail location, Main Street Floragardens in San Anselmo is available by private appointment only. “With the shop, we were requiring more and more employees, so I was spending my days managing instead of designing,” co-owner Marcia Maffei says. “I wanted to be more hands-on.”

Ashby Flowers won second place in the East Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Bloomers
(415) 563-3266

East Bay

Glenview Florist
Oakland
(510) 530-1945

South Bay/Peninsula

J. Floral Art
Menlo Park
(650) 363-0313

Marin/Sonoma

Main Street Floragardens
San Anselmo
(415) 485-2996

Second Place

East Bay

Ashby Flowers
Berkeley
(800) 644-7662
www.ashbyflowers.com

Best Jeweler

From the Ascher Cut to the U-Bar Setting, jewelers in the Bay Area have many areas of expertise — and experience. Keeping clients satisfied isn’t a problem for this category’s winners: Simayof for San Francisco, Heller Jewelers for the East Bay and Diamonds of Palo Alto for the South Bay/Peninsula.

Manager Dan Wiskine believes in the Simayof motto: “Keep it simple and sophisticated.” He has been in business since 1989, and says that longevity — and his two locations in San Francisco — keeps customers returning.

Scott Heller, owner of Heller Jewelers in San Ramon, believes in the value of customer service — he even discourages using his Web site over going to the store. “It’s the personal experience, not the point-and-click experience,” he says.

Israel Zehavi, who has spent 18 years in the jewelry business at Diamonds of Palo Alto, has a different philosophy — after receiving orders from overseas through his Web site, he’s excited to see how his business can expand via the Internet. But he still believes in the personal relationship: “The clients and I have become like a family,” he says.

Fisher’s Custom Design Jewelry won second place in the East Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Simayof
(415) 391-0152
www.simayof.com

East Bay

Heller Jewelers
San Ramon
(925) 904-0200
www.hellerjewelers.com

South Bay/Peninsula

Diamonds of Palo Alto
(650) 322-1200
www.diamondsofpaloalto.com

Second Place

East Bay

Fisher’s Custom Design Jewelry
Albany
(510) 524-0400

Best Klezmer Band

Not too many band managers can report that their congregation helped them come up with their name. But with a group like the Red Hot Chachkas, picked as the best klezmer band in the Bay Area, it’s no surprise that manager Julie Egger concocted the title on a synagogue camping trip.

“We had ‘red hot,’ and we were sitting around thinking of all these other words when we landed on ‘chachkas,'” Egger says. “I came up with a different angle to spell it – most Americans probably can’t pronounce ‘tchotchkes’!”

Klezmania! won for second place in the Bay Area.

First Place

Bay Area

Red Hot Chachkas
(415) 488-9125
www.redhotchachkas.com

Second Place

Bay Area

Klezmania!
(415) 239-4670
www.bennybemusic.com/klez.htm

Best Dance Band

Able to segue within seconds from a pop song such as “Hit Me Baby One More Time” to hand-clapping “Mayim,” the Joel Abramson Simcha Orchestra is anything but stuck in one style. It seems readers like that, as a majority chose the group as the best dance band in the Bay Area.

Abramson noted that “sometimes people are afraid that we are going to be too Jewish, but we are also a great pop band.”

The Shtetlblasters won second place.

First Place

Bay Area

Joel Abramson Simcha Orchestra
(408) 265-7279
www.joelabramson.com

Second Place

Bay Area

The Shtetlblasters
(510) 287-2540
www.maxjas.com/shtetl.htm

Best DJ

When remembering the b’nai mitzvah they’ve attended recently, most people recognize a familiar litany of events in the party: games, candlelighting, the obligatory hora. DJK Productions, picked as best DJs in the Bay Area (with many readers singling out disc jockey Darryl Grace), can change that pattern.

“We try to avoid doing the same party every Saturday night,” says owner Ken Maas. “We cater to [a client’s] individual tastes.”

Denon & Doyle Entertainment won for second place.

First Place

Bay Area

DJK Productions
(877) DJK-4FUN
www.djkproductions.com

Second Place

Bay Area

Denon & Doyle Entertainment
(800) 944-9585
www.djay.com

Best Party Planner

Barbara Heimowitz knows when to say “Thank you … thank you very much.” She’s had 19 years of experience melding Elvis impersonators, Hawaiian dancers, clowns and more into Celebrity Gems, which was picked by readers as the best party planner in the Bay Area for the second year.

With her husband and business partner, Stan, she combines the entertainment of live bands and performers with catering, decorations and party favors to make planning an occasion a one-stop shop.

Barbara Kweller won for second place.

First Place

Bay Area

Celebrity Gems
(510) 581-5964
www.celebritygems.com

Second Place

Bay Area

Barbara Kweller
(510) 410-4413
rkweller@comcast.net

Best Photographer

A wedding holds many extraordinary moments for a budding photographer to catch. David Lee, whose Allegro Photography (formerly David Lee Arts Photography) was voted best photographer in the Bay Area, is an ace at finding those precise moments. David and his wife, Joanna Kaplan Lee, prefer to capture the candid side of events — what they call a “photo-journalistic approach.”

“I always think of it as an honor,” Lee says of being hired to shoot a special event. “They decided we would be the ones who chronicle their moments.”

Joyce Goldschmid won second place.

First Place

Bay Area

Allegro Photography
(415) 254-3465
www.allegrophotography.com

Second Place

Bay Area

Joyce Goldschmid
(650) 364-4400

Best Videographer

The job of a videographer is to give people an exact replica of the special day, right? Wrong, says Andy Hirsch of Blue Moon Productions, picked for best videographer in the Bay Area.

South Bay resident Hirsch believes editing the events of the day into a “cinematic documentary” really makes the memories special. “I’m not just filming it and burning it [to] a DVD and giving it to them,” he says.

Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants won for second place.

First Place

Bay Area

Andy Hirsch
Blue Moon Productions
(408) 206-6505
www.blue-moon-productions.com

Second Place

Bay Area

Stuart Sweetow
Audio Visual Consultants
(510) 839-2020
www.avconsultants.com

Best Kosher Caterer

When ruminating over the concept of kosher food, what dishes come to mind? Common choices may include matzah ball soup, lox and bagels. Wendy Kleckner of Too Caterers, winner as best kosher caterer in the Bay Area, has been working since 1978 to change that image.

“There’s a certain mystique about kosher food: old, boiled green beans,” she says with a laugh. “There’s no reason not to have delicious, health-conscious food that just happens to be kosher. That’s what drives me!”

Bar Ristorante Raphael took second place.

First Place

Bay Area

Wendy Kleckner
Too Caterers
(650) 322-4189

Second Place

Bay Area

Bar Ristorante Raphael
(510) 644-9500
www.ristoranteraphael.com

Best Non-Kosher Caterer

With specialties such as Sungold and Early Girl Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho to Crispy Kung Pao Chicken Skewers, the Delicious! Inc. catering company seems to have chosen an apt name. And readers selected it as the best non-kosher caterer in the Bay Area.

Jan Goldberg started Delicious! back in 1975. Today, she works with her partners to maintain a high quality. And she makes memorial services a priority, even though they are last-minute. “We do everything we can to make those orders happen,” she says.

Robert Meyer’s Mangia/Nosh Catering Company won for second place.

First Place

Bay Area

Delicious! Inc.
(415) 453-3710
www.deliciouscatering.com

Second Place

Bay Area

Robert Meyer’s Mangia/Nosh Catering Company
(415) 472-7375
www.mangianosh.com

Best Ketubah Artist

Not many people can boast that in their spare time they show students how to do yoga moves in the shape of Hebrew letters. But that is one of the talents of Robin Hall, who was chosen by readers as the best ketubah artist in the Bay Area.

She’s come a long way since her first calligraphy classes at age 16. Her ketubahs have been featured in New York exhibitions, and her company, ABC Calligraphy, had its 20th anniversary not long ago. Hall creates ketubahs regardless of her clients’ denomination — and even creates contracts for interfaith and same-sex ceremonies. “I work with people as far as their heart goes,” she says.

First Place

Bay Area

Robin Hall
ABC Calligraphy
(415) 771-1719
www.robinketubah.com

Best Chuppah-Maker

When planning a wedding, you probably won’t find a Yellow Pages entry for chuppah-maker. But readers agreed that one need look no further than Elizheva Hurvich.

From silk-printing to finger-painting, Hurvich uses her artistic talents and Judaica studies to create chuppahs. “I came to realize that the chuppah is the physical place where the community sanctions the transformation of people’s relationships,” she says.

First Place

Bay Area

Elizheva Hurvich
(510) 575-5175
www.elizheva.com