Oh, Oh, Oakland, Part 2: Oliveto

Dinning at Oliveto was not only a total pleasure it was a real surprise.  The part of Oakland that I had explored the day before was a world away from the refined upscale strip that you exit at the Rockridge station on the Bart, this part of Oakland looks more like Berkeley, fully gentrified, quiet and very comfortable. Not a place in transition, but rather a place that had arrived and settled in.

The overwhelming feeling I am left with from my visit to Oliveto is how friendly a place it  is.   Split into two sections, a casual downstairs cafe and a more formal upstairs dinning room.  I ate upstairs, an although they host dinners for some heavy hitters, one of te staff told me that Pixar had just had a big event there a few weeks back.  A table of 4 Gentlemen in suits where there the night I went, all in there early 60’s, taking turns leaving the table to have important conversations on their smart phones.  The big topic of conversation I could over hear them having this particular night was about John Travolta:

“yeah, he would go to a masseuse, er, masseur and ask them for….”

“so he’s gay?”

“He’d ask them to do extra things…”

“so one of these gay masseurs’ went to the media...”

“so he’s gay?”

It seemed to go on like that for a while, luckily I had attentive staff and a fascinating menu to distract me.

To drink I had a glass of Loire red ($12 a glass) when the sommelier brought the wine he brought with it a half of a glass of a Sardinian wine he wanted me to taste.  How amazing is that?  He was also very charming, handsome and most importantly well-informed and enthusiastic about wine.  My waitress was the equivalent in a food server.

After my hand wringing I decided to have three small plates starting off with a Duck Egg, poached then bread and deep-fried, served on a lemon sabayon with fried artichoke.  Amazing.  The duck egg was runny inside and crispy fried on the outside, the thick, lemon sabayon studded with chives giving the perfect contrast to the fried, crunchy, crust of the egg and helped bring together the flavor of the artichoke to make for a perfectly balanced dish.  Again one is reminded why food is so great in the Bay Area, artichokes this delicious need to be grown near by.

Watermelon salad has become ubiquitous on New York City restaurant menus, usually served with a cheese (Feta) and mint.  It was great when first introduced, but is now so copied and familiar as to be kind of lame.   Not so at Oliveto.  The chunks of Watermelon are marinated in an aggressive hot pepper marinade (I believe the waitress said it was an Sicilian pepper?  But don’t quote me on that). The result was more Thai than Italian.  The hot sweet crunch of the Watermelon chunks was bracing and the accompanying arugula that the dish was topped with added the right vegetal note to make it worthy of being called a salad.

After these two dishes I found my spaghetti with fried anchovy a little less spectacular.   Perfectly prepared with wonderfully fishy fried pieces of anchovy crowning the pasta I felt the spaghetti needed a more aggressive sauce.  Still, with a little salt and pepper I gobbled it down without any problem.  The level of skill in this kitchen is very high and their willingness to take on food politics both on their website and their menu is to be applauded.

As an example of their commitment to sustainability and excellent sourcing of their produce/meat/fish they were having: “a series of conversations about eating, cooking, an the politics of food, aimed at going beyond the quick-take, 140 character understanding of complex food-system issues.” It’s called: It’s Complicated. The first event was called: Our Local Seas: A Comeback Story.

What can I tell you?  I think I’m in love.  When I decided not to have dessert, the sommelier came over to chat with another, he felt better, Loire red to share, after much chatting the waitress brought me another full glass of the wine I had been drinking.   I was charged for none of them.  This level of intelligence, service and food is a rare thing to find, and although I had been told about the food scene in Oakland I wasn’t expecting to find something at this level of accomplishment.

If you are in the Bay Area take my advice, put aside an evening and go to Oliveto.  Trust me on this one you won’t be sorry you did.  Oh my bill for such a wonderful night excluding wine and tip?  $44.59

About urbanfoodguy

I'm a self taught cook with a dedication to buying and eating food that is as humanely and sustainably raised as possible. Which is why in addition to recipes you will see a lot of environmental/political reporting here. I started cooking when I was about 6, it's something I always loved to do. Watching Graham Kerr - aka "The Galloping Gourmet" - was what got me started and I have never really looked back. Over the years I've been a private chef, a caterer, and a food stylist for magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Oprah, Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and many more. I've also worked in the prep kitchen for the Food Network on the Bobby Flay and Paula Deen shows. Now I work at home in my kitchen sharing with you here recipes that I create or that other people have created that inspire me and I think you will like. I love my neighborhood (the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and I love to travel. Because NYC is such a big place I tend to focus mostly on my 'hood and the ones that are close by: The East Village, Bowery, Chinatown and Williamsburg. My love of travel has no limits really, I'm always ready to get on a plane. I was lucky enough to have a business for many years that allowed me to spend a lot of time in South East Asia. These days I've been spending time in Mexico, Germany, Canada and the West Coast of the U.S., but check back you never know where I might end up. I do consulting, cooking classes, and freelance lifestyle writing so if you are interested please send me a note: urbanfoodguy@gmail.com
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3 Responses to Oh, Oh, Oakland, Part 2: Oliveto

  1. Kurt Brown says:

    I love both Rockridge and Oliveto 🙂

  2. Monsieur Marcel says:

    I love the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland –– although it was “Portlandia” decades before that hoot of a satire, and it’s somehow managed to become even more so since the show began. Still, where was I? Oh, yes. Oliveto: I have loved Oliveto since it opened way back in the late 1980s. I believe only Baywolf matches Oliveto in longevity among fine dining establishments in Oakland.

    Now that Oakland has nurtured one of the hottest culinary scenes on the West coast, Oliveto (and Baywolf) can seem “Old School” to many not in the know. But trust, however old the school of Oliveto is, it is the School of Rock when laying it down for pleasures of food, wine, and presentation.

    Oliveto? Another reason why this Manhattanite says of Oakland: THERE.

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