Linguine with Clams, Pork Scaloppine, Chocolate Cake
Occupation: Retired Superior Court Judge
Favorite Restaurant: Oliveto Café & Restaurant
Reviewed Oliveto Café & Restaurant: Friday, November 21, 2008
Two reasons why restaurants stay in business for 20-plus years is they are cheap (McDonalds) or (in the disjunctive) very good. Bob and Maggie Klein opened Oliveto over 20 years ago, and it is very good. I am chauvinistic about Oliveto. My wife and I live 1 1/2 blocks away and dine there frequently at both its restaurant and downstairs café. This evening we were there, with four friends, for the annual special white truffle dinner. The place is pretty without being fussy. Beautiful flower arrangements and subdued lighting in an upstairs room overlooking College Avenue in Oakland make it an attractive place to dine, but like at so many such restaurants, as the evening goes on and the wine breaks down inhibitions, the noise level can get pretty high.
Oliveto has a good staff, many of whom have been working there for years. It is always pleasant to have the owner, chef, maître d’, wine steward, and server recognize you. However, even if they don’t, you will receive a warm welcome.
The price of this meal was high, but it is a once-a-year extravagance, so no holds barred. We paid $287 for our 41-gram truffle and enjoyed every crumb. This event runs for four days and features truffles selected by the owners in Italy and brought back for the event. (I have volunteered to go with them to help carry the booty back, but so far they haven’t taken me up on the offer). So the meal was expensive, more so than the regular fare. The downstairs café is even less expensive with a more limited menu but is just as good.
As is always the case at Oliveto, the menu is extensive, genuinely Italian, and solid on traditional dishes cooked properly. Paul Canales, the executive chef, is into serving sustainably-raised raw materials, both meats and vegetables. Imagine this; another annual special dinner is their tomato night. The beauty of this restaurant is that the food is not made up of ego-trip inventions, rather it is beautifully traditional. I guess that satisfies ego enough.
Even with the packed house, Chef Canales accommodated my wife’s request for a non-menu pasta dish. Our server, like his colleagues, was very attentive without being intrusive. He anticipated our needs fully.
Our party was made up of six hearty, but not gluttonous, eaters. We, with one exception, did not select from the traditional main plate menu, but rather feasted on multiple dishes from the antipasti, salad, soup, and pasta menu items. That way we got to try a good selection of the offerings and share with one another. The truffle was used with reckless abandon on virtually every item.
Oliveto is one of those high-end restaurants, which should be on everyone’s short list. We have met San Franciscans who BART over from the City to dine there. (It is literally across from the Rockridge BART station.)
Occupation: Deputy Director, SF Office of Gov. Schwarzenegger
Location: Mill Valley
Favorite Restaurant: India Palace Restaurant
Reviewed Oliveto Café & Restaurant: Sunday, November 16, 2008
It was a date night! My husband and I looked forward to a romantic evening filled with good food, and quiet time after a busy weekend with our toddler son. Oliveto was the location where these goals were to be accomplished…
We parked easily in the BART parking lot across the street from the restaurant. Since we live in Marin BART was not an option for us, but it would certainly be a wonderful way to arrive to the restaurant coming from the City. We walked in to find a large crowd and another couple hoping to be seated. The wait was too long for both groups, and so they left. We were seated promptly as we had reservations. We were escorted upstairs by a friendly hostess and seated in the middle of the restaurant in an awkward location that was about six inches from the next table over. The restaurant was packed. Still, it was decorated with lovely candlelight, beautiful flower arrangements, and it had a nice noise level. We were happy enough. We started to get antsy, as it had been over ten minutes before a waitress came by to welcome us and take our drink order. When she did arrive, she brought over some yummy olives, and we were pleased to give her our order for a glass of Pinot Noir.
My husband has lived in Italy and knows the Italian language fairly well, good thing as much of the menu was in Italian. We both had a hard time dissecting what was offered that evening, as the descriptions were very unclear. I had to ask our waitress for advice, as I had no idea where to start. It was clear she was very familiar with the menu, and so I felt educated and was able to make my decisions. We started with the antipasto plate. It had fresh broccoli and a delightful fava bean spread, again served with the yummy olives. While we finished our appetizer, the pasta dish we ordered showed up. The in-house made fusilli pasta with manila clams was light and fresh. The sauce they served was cleaned up with the sourdough served on the table. We loved it.
I ordered the sea bass, and while my husband wanted to order the lamb, they ran out of it, so he ended up with the pork scaloppine. We both enjoyed our entrees. We had gotten comfortable at our awkward table, as the couple next to us had left, and we were able to focus on each other, free of distraction. I had never tried pork scaloppine and so I had some, it was very tender and had a rich flavor. The sea bass was light and served in a sauce filled with julienned veggies that gave a crisp feeling to the tender and flaky fish.
Even though were both satisfied by our meals, we felt compelled to split a piece of chocolate cake. It was very rich and smooth and ended our experience at Oliveto nicely. We both enjoyed our dinner, but had somewhat of a buzz-kill once the check came. For $150 (without tip), we thought it was a bit overpriced. While we enjoyed the dinner and felt we got a romantic experience, we felt it lacked value or a reason to have such inflated prices. I think next time I am in the area I would try the café downstairs and would hope that I would get a better bang for my buck.
Occupation: Human Services Manager
Location: Daly City
Favorite Restaurant: Thanh Long Restaurant
Reviewed Oliveto Café & Restaurant: Monday, November 17, 2008
I invited my two adventurous friends (Wanda and Tangerine) to Oliveto for my first restaurant review. It turned out that Oliveto was fully booked on the days that I wanted, so we had to settle for their first available reservation, which was on a Monday night at 7:45 pm. It was a little inconvenient, but my friends were supportive and made themselves available for that night.
Given that it was a Monday night, and we were anticipating heavy traffic on the Bay Bridge, we left earlier than usual. I was pleasantly surprised that the commute was not bad and that finding the restaurant was not difficult. On the other hand, parking on the street was a challenge, but we did have the option of free parking at the BART station across the street from the restaurant. Unfortunately, navigating to get there was another challenge because of several one-way streets surrounding the restaurant. After making three trips around the block, I got lucky and found street parking that was closer to the restaurant. What a relief!
When we arrived at Oliveto, I was ready for a little tender loving care, but got none. The hostess who greeted us had a tight smile and ushered us to a small and crowded waiting area that was part of the Oliveto café downstairs. Since the hostess was not helpful in directing us where should wait, we ended up hovering around tables occupied by people eating their dinner. We did check out what they had ordered, but it was a little uncomfortable for us and probably for them, too. When our table was ready (around the time of our reservation), we went upstairs — past a beautiful cascading staircase.
The ambiance in the dining area was casually elegant, and there was a very large flower arrangement in the center of the room that was very attractive. Lighting was subdued, and the noise level was high. I was pleased that our table was by the window, overlooking the bustling foot traffic below (I am a big people-gazer). As soon as we sat down, we were served right away with a small plate of three different kinds of olives and a basket of bread. I loved the olives (pits and all), and the bread was soft with a crispy crust. After a while, I noticed that the room got a little quieter. Either, I got used to the noise level, or the people settled into their food.
I was impressed that the menu appeared to be prepared daily (even though it was not easy to figure out some of the dishes described in Italian). Our appetizer was Affetati misti or a plate of salami, served with slices of toasted “lardo” (literally means “lard,” which sounds unappetizing but it was delicious). Later, we decided to order the rest of the meal as “family style,” so that we could sample more dishes. We shared an Oliveto bresaola salad with hazelnuts and persimmon that gave the salad a rich mixture of color, texture and flavor. Our first main course was the spaghetti with Monterey Bay squid with breadcrumbs and just the right amount of hot spices. It was a relief that the squid was not fishy or rubbery. Our next entrée was the grilled sea bass with vegetables and cabbage garnishing. I liked it, but I enjoyed the Farm hen even more because of its lentil sauce. It was reminiscent of a good old fashioned gravy — comfortably familiar, yet sophisticated. I also liked the contrasting, sharp taste of the capers. To compliment our main courses, we ordered a side of polenta. It turned out to be less creamy than usual, which I actually prefer.
For dessert, we decided to order the bittersweet chocolate cake, mainly because it was in English. By the end of our meal, we were too tired to try to figure out what else was on the dessert menu. It would have been helpful if our server had been forthcoming with the translations or explanations of unfamiliar dishes. Having to keep asking for them became tedious.
Overall, we enjoyed our dinner. The Oliveto Restaurant is a great place for big groups and engaging conversations — not so much for quiet, romantic dinners. If you decide to eat at Oliveto, be sure to ask for a table by the window, because you’ll enjoy it as we did. The service was fast and efficient, but it lacked warmth. Price was reasonable, especially with what we had.