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Sep 16, 2006 11:10 PM

Oliveto's: who loves it and why?

We had dinner upstairs at Oliveto's yesterday and left wondering why this restaurant consistently gets such high ratings from the Chronicle and others. As far as we could tell, the emperor has no clothes although they cost a lot! We had a range of unimpressive food: one dish drowned in hot oil, another was greatly oversalted. The wine that was ridiculously pricey, and the dessert item we chose was stale. Oh and did I mention that the bread was burnt? The waiter had so many tables to look after that he hardly managed a smile the whole time we were there. He was not rude, but he added nothing to the experience. And we sat so close to other diners, we felt like we were seated in United's economy plus section. So why does this restaurant get four stars?

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  1. Do you recall what dishes you ordered? I might go to Oliveto next month, so more specific comments would be helpful.

    19 Replies
    1. re: Jefferson

      With regards to exactly what we ate at Oliveto's on Friday 9/15 ...

      We had two appetizers: one pear, fig and arugula salad, which was the best thing we ate all night. Fresh and well balanced, although not especially complex. To start, we also had the Sierra Mackerel with roasted peppers. This had the potential to be a good dish, but the roasted peppers that accompanied the fish were so hot that they made it difficult to taste the fish or anything else. Luckily we ate the salad first. Our fish was also drowning in a pool of oil that covered the entire plate, but we observed people at a neighboring table eating the same dish later in the evening and it appeared to have a better balance between fish and oil. Next we had a pasta dish: Tagliatelle with prosciutto di Parma, Sage, and Parmesan. This was very disappointing. Essentially a plate of buttered noodles with three slices of prosciutto slapped on top. I like simple fresh food, but this really had not particularly fresh flavor that was being showcased, beyond prosciutto. Then I had the pork scaloppine with lobster mushrooms and a side of greens. The pork came with delicious roast potatoe quarters, but the pork was very salty -- even my husband who is a salt enthusiast thought so -- and the mushrooms were unpleasantly crunchy. My husband had the lamb with turnips, which I would recommend because it had a better balance of flavors. Not extraordinary but certainly tasty. Finally we ordered the pinenut macaroons for a light taste of sweet at the end. We received two cookies slapped on a plate. Even though we are both fond of macaroons, we left most of these on the plate, as they were so bad. With most of the meal, we drank a 2002 Saint Emilion -- not bad but not memorable. Hope others enjoy a more satisfying meal!

      1. re: dcharron

        What - pray tell - is Sierra Mackerel? If it's a type/variety of the ocean fish mackerel family it's nothing I've heard of. Oxymoron? If I'm ignorant, please forgive the post.

        1. re: canard

          I wondered that too the first time I saw it on their menu. It's not a freshwater fish from the Sierras.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I would just add that it is THE fish used in deeply marinated Ceviche recipes in Mexico... there is no more perfect fish to stand up to the lime juice, onions etc.,

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              I've been seeing Sierra mackerel at the Asian supers (Ranch 99, Marina Foods).

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Thanks.... any idea of the provenance?

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Both Ranch 99 and Marina Foods do label the provenance of seafood, e.g., New Zealand, Wild, but I don't recall for the Sierra. I wouldn't have noticed the fish except that you had mentioned Sierra before. These Asian markets have a large number of Latinos in their customer base too.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I believe Sierra is strictly found around the Pacific Mexican coast... so the provenance would prove if its an authentic product or just the glamourizing of a less desireable species (as happens with Pacific "Red Snapper" which is not a Snapper at all).

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      Scomberomorus sierra aka Cavala, Macarela, Serrucho, Verle has a pretty broad range: "Eastern Central Pacific: La Jolla in southern California, USA to the Galapagos Islands and Paita, Peru. Recently reported from Antofagasta, Chile."


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I misspoke... from a Commercial Fishing perspective its strictly found in the Pacific Mexican coast (and I guess Central America though I am not aware of any significant harvesting there).... so if its marked California I would still be leery that they would be trying to push the less desirable, and very cheap... locally abundant Mackeral.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          I'll mention that one of the times I was in Ranch 99, I counted six different kinds of mackerel for sale, all separately labeled and priced. Commonly there are at least three kinds of pompano, a couple types of snapper, and three varieties of sole.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            That is impressive.... do you know which Ranch 99 would be closest to me?

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Probably Richmond - Pacific East Mall off I-80 Central Ave Exit

                              There's a store locator here

                              1. re: rworange

                                Thanks! I have been meaning to get to Richmond to try all the places you have found anyway.

          2. re: canard

            Sierra means "saw". Check out a picture of the Sierra Mackerel and you can guess why it's called that.

          3. re: dcharron

            Re: Dcharron's first message on this thread.

            Ooh! Oooh! The hot peppers are the reason I don't go to Olivetto any more. Used to be one of my very favorite places, but I had that mackerel dish about a year ago and, after eating the peppers, couldn't taste much of the rest of my meal.

            When I asked about the hotness of the peppers, I was told that mostly they're not that hot but some might be. I found this answer to be wholly unsatisfactory! Why would they keep this dish on the menu for more than a year? Seems as if it's still numbing taste buds.

            Also, the prices were higher last time.

            1. re: oakjoan

              Padrone peppers are usually around 1 in 8 hot, the rest mild.

              Occasionally you'll get a batch that are all hot. I think that unpredictability makes them a dubious choice for using in a dish.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Alternatively people could just learn to appreciate spice. The idea that they sear your tastebuds is absolute b.s. Its like doing Yoga... once you have the position correct, your comfortable & confident it all gets easier. Spice heightens the flavor experience it doesn't destroy it.

              2. re: oakjoan

                What's wrong with hot? You don't go to a restaurant because their chilies are spicy? Do they put them on everything?

          4. Oliveto tends to be one of those places that people either get or don't, although for many people who don't get it some of that in the past has had more to do with service than with food, and service does seem to be improving by most reports..

            I've eaten upstairs at Oliveto perhaps four times, and each time I felt I wasn't really getting my money's worth, so I guess I fall into the 'I don't get it' category also. However, I have had a few very nice meals in the cafe downstairs, and have found the service downtairs to be nicer as well.

            1. I've been to Oliveto (sic) at least 100 times over the last ten years ... I would say that it is the only Italian restaurant in the Bay Area which gets close to the offerings of an Italian restaurant in Italy. That's why so many don't get it--they are trained by Olive Garden on the low end and Delfina on the high end--and neither of these serves Italian food (believe me, Delfina is nothing like Da Delfina in thought, action, or execution).

              So, you don't get it because you don't understand what it should be like; that's fine.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Podsnap

                Nonsense. I get what it is supposed to be, I just don't like to spend that much when I think that comparable food and service can be had for less (with less pricy wine lists) elsewhere. That is one reason I like downstairs better: personally I think the quality of the food can be almost as high if not as high, but the prices are lower. Besides, telling us that it is "the only bay area Italian that is really italian" tells us nothing without more information: for one thing, there are plenty of bad and indifferent restaurants in Italy. (not that I think Oliveto is bad, but it just isn't my favorite.) For another, have you eaten at every Italian restaurant in the bay area for comparison? So, Other than Oliveto, Delfina and Olive Garden, what other Italian restaurants in the Bay Area have you eaten at, and what do you think of them?

                1. re: Podsnap

                  I agree that I don't get it, but I also don't think good food needs to be explained. And I can't imagine that Olive Garden has created unreasonable expectations for a welcoming, gracious and enjoyable atmosphere. For the record, I've eaten at Olive Garden exactly once in my life, in desperation on my way through Reno, and I've enjoyed some wonderful meals on my half a dozen trips to Italy.

                2. Here's last night's menu. Which dishes did you order?

                  Oliveto salumi
                  Salumi Tasting: coppa, rustic chorizo, felino, finocchiona, and mortadella
                  Platter for two 16.00; Platter for four 32.00
                  Pâté Tasting with Pickled ‘Yellow Wax’ Beans and Grain Mustard 16.00

                  Antipasti and Salads
                  Insalata di carne cruda with Farm Egg, Anchovy, and Parmesan 14.50
                  Watson Farm Lamb Tongue with Cauliflower and sauce gribiche 13.50
                  Summer Melon and Oliveto lonza 15.00
                  ‘Red Oak Leaf’ Lettuces with Roasted Beets and ricotta salata 12.50
                  Sea Scallops and Stuffed Mussels with fregola (while available) 17.50
                  Animalitos Farm ‘Bartlett’ Pears and Figs with pecorino and Pine Nuts 15.00
                  Chilled antipasto of Spinach, Pine Nuts, bottarga, and saba 13.50
                  Charcoal-Grilled Sierra Mackerel with ‘padrone’ Peppers 14.00
                  Charcoal-Grilled Paine Farm Pigeon with Knoll Farm
                  Arugula and ‘Gala’ Apple Vinaigrette 14.00
                  Garden Lettuces Vinaigrette 8.50

                  Primi piatti
                  Passato of Summer Vegetables with Parmesan 8.50
                  Tagliatelle with prosciutto di Parma, Sage, and Parmesan 14.50
                  Fidei with Monterey Bay Sardines, Garlic, and Rosemary 14.00
                  Conchiglie with fontina Cheese and Chives 15.50
                  Potato gnocchi with Chanterelle Mushrooms 17.50
                  Mostaccioli with Spicy Pork ragù, Basil, and pecorino 14.00
                  Trompetti all’ amatriciana 13.50
                  Wild Nettle taglierini with Local Sand Dabs, Garlic, and Parsley 15.00
                  Ravioli of Paine Farm Pigeon with Sage 15.50
                  Lumache with Roasted Hoffman Farm Hen 14.00
                  Cannelloni of Roasted Summer Vegetables 15.50

                  Grills, Sautés, and Rotisserie
                  Charcoal-Grilled Sika Venison with ‘cipolline’ Onions, prosciutto, and Figs 38.00
                  Wild King Salmon with Heirloom Tomatoes, aïoli, and Basil 27.00
                  Polpettoni fritti of Willis Farm Pork with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula 22.00
                  Classic Lobster Thermador 36.00
                  Spit-Roasted, Charcoal-Grilled, and Braised
                  Watson Farm Lamb with ‘Tokyo’ Turnips 32.00
                  Scaloppine of Willis Farm Pork with Lobster Mushrooms 28.00
                  Paillard of Hoffman Farm Hen with Braised Lentils and Herbs 24.00

                  Side Dishes
                  Fresh ‘Cranberry’ Beans 5.50
                  Braised cavolo nero 4.75
                  Fresh-Milled polenta 4.50

                  Concord’ Grape sorbetto 7.00
                  ‘Black Mission’ Fig and Ella Bella Farm Raspberry Ice Creams 8.00
                  ‘Elephant Heart’ Plum Tart with crème fraîche 9.50
                  Warm Apple Charlotte with crème anglaise (while available) 9.00
                  Bittersweet Chocolate Cake 9.00
                  Pine Nut Macaroons 3.00

                  1. By coincidence, here's another report on dinner at Oliveto last night: