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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:


                    1. Paul Bertolli left Oliveto last September; has there been a review from a major source since?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: scenicrec

                        I've posted about maybe half a dozen meals since Bertolli left. I think under Paul Canales it's gotten even better.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Right, but I'm talking major media sources- the Chron, NYT, etc, the kind that award the "stars" that dcharron is talking about (although I'm sure your reviews are as good as anyone's!).
                          Okay, I'm off to google myself an answer...

                      2. I'm the person who posted about dinner last night at Oliveto. What's the "sic" for? Since Bertolli apparently named it and is from Italy.....

                        Our bread was fine, the waitress was great. The prices have actually gone up since I last ate there and it's now a pretty pricy restaurant. The wine is also pricy.

                        I've had some of the best food I've ever eaten there over the years, starting with a wonderful pickled herring and potato salad dish about 10 years ago to a fantastic rabbit ragout with faro polenta earlier this year.

                        My dessert last night was great - apple charlotte.
                        It's amazing how two people eating at the same place can have such wildly different experiences!

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: oakjoan

                          Oliveto was not named by Bertolli. Maggie Klein published a book under that name and set up Oliveto in an earlier location under that name. I believe she and her husband are still owners.

                          1. re: wally

                            She was the first chef, wasn't she?

                            1. re: wally

                              Oliveto opened in 1986 at its current location. Paul Bertolli, who is from San Rafael, was at that time at Chez Panisse. He didn't take over as chef at Oliveto until around 1994 and hadn't been actively involved in the day-to-day operations for some time before he officially quit.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Bertolli actively started a couple of years later and throughout his tenure had a two night per week commitment to the restaurant. He did considerable work on the kitchen remodel and menu redirection (pasta portioning and contorno reflecting a more refined style of multi coursed Italian dining) which included the addition of wood oven, wood rotisserie/grill. He also spearheaded salumi production, olive harvests, and started producing balsamico. The daily operation of the restaurant during the Bertolli era was under the direction of Mike Tusk, and eventually Canales.

                            2. re: oakjoan

                              It is amazing. I almost ordered the Charlotte, and now I wish I had! Sounds like you had the same experience as we did with the mackerel. Wish we had had your waitress!

                              1. re: oakjoan

                                "sic" means thus. You called it "Oliveto's." I don't believe that the restaurant is owned by an olive grove (in which case it would be called da Oliveto). So the name is Oliveto.

                                On other Italian restuarants in the Bay Area I have been to Acquerello, Quince, Palio D'Asti, etc. I would say that Oliveto surpasses them in authenticity (although less so than under Bertolli). If I had to choose I would say that Palio is the best of these, although many would disagree.

                                1. re: Podsnap

                                  "Authentic" is such a subjective term as to be useless, but the places where I've felt most as if I were eating in Italy are Oliveto, Incanto, and La Ciccia.

                                  A16's food is just like in Italy, but the overall experience is very Marina District.

                                  1. re: Podsnap

                                    This is a little embarassing to admit, but it barely registered with me that Delfina was Italian the first time I ate there. I also share susancinsf's preference for dining downstairs at Oliveto, though it's been a while since I've been.

                                    PS: I don't believe you are using "sic" correctly.

                                    1. re: a_and_w

                                      Oliveto's downstairs has changed somewhat in the past year, menu's longer, prices are a bit higher, and the place is full more often.

                                      These days, if we're not feeling splurgy enough to eat upstairs, we usually go to Dopo or Pizzaiolo instead.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I am not a Dopo fan, but agreed that these days I would much rather go to Pizzaiolo. I am not even sure I had been to Pizzaiolo yet when I wrote the above about downstairs at Oliveto....

                                        I took my daughter who doesn't eat pork to Oliveto upstairs (at least a year or two ago), and it wasn't a big success: forget not going with vegetarians, I don't think I would even go again with non-pork eaters!

                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                          Have you been to Dopo post-remodel? Shorter waits, bigger menu, and a few tables in the alley that are nice and quiet. These days, it's my favorite restaurant on this side of the swamp. Better pizza & dessert can be had elsewhere, but the crudo, antipasti and pasta are tops.

                                2. I need to give Oliveto another try. It's been years since I've been and I always left feeling: they don't get a lot of vegetarians in here, do they? It just seemed like, in the past, there sometimes wasn't a vegetarian entree and I either had to cobble together appetizers or make a special request which was almost always a nicely prepared pasta that I could have, as a fairly competent cook w/ access to quality ingredients, made at home myself. W/ prices very comparable to Chez Panisse (a place that knows vegetarians), and w/ (at the time) lesser service, why bother? The menu Robert posted looks lovely, though.

                                  And I've never been to Olive Garden or Delfina, so I don't think it's my badly trained palate (though, I will admit, I have only spent two weeks visiting and eating in Italy).

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: MollyGee

                                    I wouldn't recommend Oliveto to a vegetarian.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I would, however, recommend Incanto to a vegetarian if you are happy with a pasta as your entree.

                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                        Incanto always has a bunch of great seasonal vegetable appetizers.

                                        The vegetarian pastas and entrees are sometimes great, sometimes kind of boring compared with the others.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't order a vegetarian pasta over the pork ragu. But when I brought my mom there she stuck to the vegetarian dishes and she was very pleased. For a vegetarian, there are no "others" to compare things to.

                                        2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                          Yep. Fine w/ pasta as an entree so long as it is thoughtfully prepared and main dish-y (a protein component helps).

                                          I'll put Incanto on my ever-growing list, thanks.

                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                            I took a couple of vegetarians to Incanto and it did not work too well. In the end they had their choice of two starters and one pasta entree. They're SOL if one of the options isn't appealing. I'll never take a vegetarian there again.


                                            1. re: nja

                                              It's a little iffy. Sometimes close to half the menu is vegetarian, other times choices are limited.

                                              1. re: nja

                                                Same here. I brought my vegetarian girlfriend to Incanto and she had a VERY tough time finding much to eat. I, however, loved the place. The veggie pasta was pretty bad.

                                                She also came along when we did the Whole Beast in the back room at Incanto (which by the way is an absolute must-try) and let's just say that wasn't the most vegetarian-friendly meal I've ever seen. I guess she could have eaten the stuffing which had been roasting inside of the pig for the last 6 hours.

                                                1. re: PulledPork

                                                  Incanto's vegetarian-friendliness varies radically from day to day depending on how inspired the chef is by what vegetables are available. Some days it might be the best vegetarian menu in town.

                                                  We recently took a vegetarian, I was worried but the timing was good. We shared a bunch of veg appetizers (usually excellent) and she loved the vegetarian pasta (if I remember right it was a morel sauce) and the panna cotta.

                                        3. I took my boyfriend and his family to Oliveto's for his birthday several months ago and had a very disappointing meal. Perhaps it was because our party didn't look particularly fashionable (not a surprise for the east bay), but the server was quite brief, and frankly, unfriendly. He became even unfriendlier when we declined to order wine - some in the party do not drink, making it uncomfortable for others to do so.

                                          Having had many an enjoyable meal at Oliveto's in my 7 years of living in the east bay, I was eager to have my new family try the food. More disappointment was in store - my salad showed up as a few greens with a lackluster vinaigrette and looked liked it had been plated by a 3-year-old. My fish was incredibly, inedibly salty, and my fellow diners' suppers were no better.

                                          Sadly, one of the few restaurants I have highly recommended to friends and visitors must be struck off my list of places to eat. For the price, it's not worth sitting through rude service and uninspired cooking.

                                          1. I have been upstairs and downstairs many times over the last 7 years. I have had so many amazing meals.

                                            But.... the last couple of times I have been upstairs some of the dishes have been horribly over-salted. Almost to the point of inedible.

                                            I never had this issue under Bertolli.

                                            This seems to be trend.

                                            I hope that the kitchen reads CH.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Johnny E

                                              I've been upstairs at Oliveto half a dozen times so far this year and haven't had anything I thought was oversalted. Or that needed salt.

                                              If you find something too salty for your taste, you should send it back.

                                            2. I have to agree with much of this review. We just had dinner at Oliveto on July 13, 2007. We had a Crudo (raw) halibut with avocado and purslane. The serving size was miniscule (about 1/2 cup of fish and 1/3 small avocado, with 2-3 T of purslane for almost $15 - tasty but overly salted and oily. Our second dish, which arrived cold about 30 minutes later was a twisted pasta (cannot remember the name, started with a an st and was long) and was supposed to have lamb we could not see - again $14.50 for about 1 cup of cooked pasta in a sauce. It was room temperature and we asked about it and had it replaced by what was now at least 1/3 larger and the right temperature. They offered 2 glasses of complementary proseco, which we accepted. The seared yellowfin tuna we had was a decent serving size, but again was overly salted and not very tender as we had to use a knife to cut it, since the fork could not do the job (for about $27). The dessert for $10 was a slice of layered cake with peaches and a raspberry sauce, maybe 1/2 inch thick, and about 3 x 4 inches. We had a half bottle of proseco. Our tab, with tax and tip was $115.00. I think they are overrated, I would not return and I would discourage others from going there. We could have done better at Cesar's, Chez Panisse Cafe, Rivoli, Bong Su, Slanted Door, etc.

                                              I had eaten there once before in January 2005 and thought they were great, but for the value and quality I would sooner go to Eccolo on 4th Street.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: GdFood

                                                Thanks for the review - it helps curb my curiousity. I've been wanting to go for years, but my foodie aunt won't let me - she says it's too "precious." She also knows about the disappointing meals I've had at CP and FL, and how my husband refuses to subject himself to any more expensive, underwhelming meals.

                                                1. re: Claudette

                                                  If you were disappointed at Chez Panisse, there's a good chance you would be at Oliveto as well. They're two of my favorite restaurants for similar reasons.

                                                  Raw fish and seared (raw-in-the-middle) fish are not things I'd order there.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                    Robert's comments mirror my curiosity with you. If you were disappointed with both Chez Panisse and The French Laundry, where have you have a meal that you thought was great? Is it the "value" that you weren't happy with, or were you truly disappointed in the food at CP and TFL?

                                                    1. re: Paul H

                                                      Both food and value.

                                                      My family and friends rate restaurants mainly on 2 things: quality of food and level of service. If the composite score is low, we do not return. If the composite score is high, we try to become regulars. Value is the next consideration, but not the primary one. Obviously, we won't go to Cyrus ($300/person) as often as we go to Kebab N Curry ($8/person), but you knew that.

                                                      The food at CP and FL were so unremarkable that my husband (who does NOT pay attention to foodie trends and has no idea who Alice Waters and Thomas Keller are) asked me why I chose those restaurants, and I was too embarassed to tell him how much those meals cost (same thing at Michael Mina, Manresa, Gary Danko). However, he loved the food at Cyrus, the Dining Room (Ron Siegel) and Dio Deka, so we've added them to our rotation.

                                                      We've done reality checks with our friends (some who dined with us, some who dined separately), and they almost unanimously agreed with our assessments. One of them told me she finally had a great meal at CP the third time she ate there, but I'm not that patient (and she never had to pay for her own meals).
                                                      I hope I succeeded in defending myself. In the end, we are all entitled to our own opinions, since we have different expectations, palates, dining companions, and sometimes just a chef who's having a bad day. Reading CH boards, it seems many share our opposing opinons, which is what I love about CH and living in America.

                                              2. This has been a very interesting read. I worked at Oliveto in the early 90s when Curt Clingman (now of JoJo) was the chef. Honestly, I learned more about food and wine in the two years I spent there than during any other period of my life. Not just because we were making beautiful and real food from scratch but because everyone who worked there was so into it that we always got together after work or on our days off to do more of the same.

                                                I left the country for a while and came back to work there, leaving again right before Bertoli took over and it had certainly fallen off. I recall being annoyed by all the stories that followed about him taking this derelict restaurant and turning it into something great. In reality, it had been great and had just gone through a tough time. When I opened up my own place in Santa Cruz a few years later, I brought one of the guys who'd been a line cook when I left to be my sous chef and was excited by all the things he'd picked up under Paul.

                                                This isn't the first bad report I've read on the "new" Oliveto and I am truly curious. I do agree that the same type of person is going to either like or dislike both Oliveto and Chez Panisse. At least when I was at Oliveto, we often considered them a sister restaurant of ours, doing an Italian version of what they were doing with Provence.

                                                One problem that both these places face is that, as better and better products avail themselves to consumers, much of what they're doing can be done easily at home. The food can be so transparent and people might want to get back-flips for the kind of money they're spending. It is an understandable stance. Of course, in all fairness, many of the complaints in this thread are more than that and are from people who really did not like the food at all.

                                                At any rate, thanks for the read...

                                                16 Replies
                                                1. re: detlefchef

                                                  At Oliveto, we frequently order three handmade pastas, and while one could do that at home, even one is a lot of work, particularly filled ones.

                                                  And we usually get a dish or two from the wood oven, which we don't have.

                                                  And the only way I can get Knoll Farms produce is to schlep to Ferry Plaza early on Saturday.

                                                  Are Paine Farm pigeons available retail?

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I'm not saying that you can make everything at home, I'm saying the the nay-sayers often gravitate to those dishes. "$25 for some seared scallops with olive oil and heirloom tomatoes?" or what have you.

                                                    As for the Knoll Farms produce. I'm not in the bay area anymore and am not familiar with that farm. I'm sure the produce is amazing. However, during my years in the both the East Bay and in Santa Cruz, I do know that there is no shortage of simply amazing produce. To imply that having to substitute tomatoes from, say Happy Boy farms, instead would make your dish worse is a bit of a stretch.

                                                    One thing I've really noticed having lived in the east bay as well as many other areas of the US, is that it has, quite possibly, the best stocked pantries in the US. If you go to someone's house, you are likely to be served produce from the farmer's market with some tiny production olive oil that Kermit Lynch brings in and some rad little crottin, etc, etc. So, it is not completely unlikely to find yourself at a place like Oliveto and be thinking, "This is really no better than what we had at so and so's house last night." Only, you're sort of bent 'cause you just laid down $70 for some random bottle of Rosso de Montalcino and are staring a $200 bill in the face.

                                                    In short, I think that some of the people who often get put into the "don't get it" category are simply those who do get the food but just don't like forking over big bucks for what is often peasant food. Back in the 80s and early 90s, when everyone was doing silly food, duck confit with white bean gratin was almost cutting edge. Now it appears you can get duck confit at costco. That's all I'm saying.

                                                    1. re: detlefchef

                                                      Knoll Farms' stuff is in a class by itself, and they grow some things few others do, such as cardoons.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        I really think you are getting hung up on a very minor distinction at the expense of understanding what is the root of many people's complaints with restaurants such as this.

                                                        More importantly, as with anything, there is often a pantheon level of quality at which point it becomes rather silly to argue which is better. I have never eaten anything from Knoll Farms. I have, however, eaten a "perfect" tomato, cooked a "perfect" beet, seen "perfect" salad greens. I would not say they were better than any other, but certainly as good as any other. At some point, you can do no more than simply say something is "among the best you will ever experience".

                                                        For instance. What is the "best" wine in the world?

                                                        1. re: detlefchef

                                                          I get your point, in fact I've made much the same point myself many times. I'm just saying that few of the people who say "I could make that at home" actually could.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              And even if they could, it would take them 7 or 8 hours, and they'd spend most of dinner in the kitchen working on getting the next course out.

                                                        2. re: detlefchef

                                                          This is the best explanation I have ever read for why some folks just aren't impressed by Chez Panisse, Oliveto and Zuni. They aren't complaining about the food, they are complaining about the value. And and detlefchef points out, these folks are likely to be more sophisticated, not less.

                                                          1. re: Paul H

                                                            Well, I don't want to be misunderstood because often times these claims are simply wrong. Also, assuming the service, ambiance, and execution are on point, it might, in fact, be a value. Also, as Rbt mentions, if you don't have a wood oven...

                                                            At very least, there is no prep, cleaning up afterwards, etc. and when you want something, you tell your waiter and it is brought to you. These things cost money.

                                                            I am actually one of those people who can, in fact, make much of that stuff at home but I still enjoy places like this immensely. I was really just pointing out that the fact that the east bay has a number of restaurants that serve very simple food as well as a savvy population with well stocked pantries makes it ripe for such a critique.

                                                            I would say, however, that the vast majority of friends who I feel are truly qualified to make such a statement are not inclined to do so. Those same friends are happy to pay for a perfect bowl of cannalini beans with fresh herbs and great olive oil or some other such dish.

                                                            1. re: detlefchef

                                                              The people I know who like Chez Panisse and Oliveto the most are also the best and most ambitious cooks.

                                                            1. re: detlefchef

                                                              >>> One thing I've really noticed having lived in the east bay as well as many other areas of the US, is that it has, quite possibly, the best stocked pantries in the US. If you go to someone's house, you are likely to be served produce from the farmer's market with some tiny production olive oil that Kermit Lynch brings in and some rad little crottin, etc., etc. So, it is not completely unlikely to find yourself at a place like Oliveto and be thinking, "This is really no better than what we had at so and so's house last night." <<<

                                                              When were you at our house?!?!?! ;^)

                                                              We live up the hill from Chez Panisse, and you've described our pantry perfectly. Weekly trips to the farmer's market, the cheese board, and elsewhere combine with the considerable talents of my wife in the kitchen to make some pretty stunning Monday dinners after work, let alone Saturday or Sunday meals.

                                                              The difference -- at least for us -- between places like Chez Panisse and Oliveto is that, while I find both to be excellent, my wife and I always leave Chez Panisse thinking "That was great, but there's wasn't anything we couldn't do at home." (OK, we don't have a wood oven for the pizza.)

                                                              We don't feel that way about Oliveto -- perhaps because we can't make decent pasta. (Or Quince -- yet another Oliveto alum [Michael Tusk] that makes great pasta.)

                                                              (But, yes, we do have duck confit at home -- but it's from Fatted Calf, not Costco.) ;^)


                                                              P.S. Where in Santa Cruz did you work?

                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Occasionally they have them at the Cafe Rouge butcher. You can order them there also but they are "seasonal" and are not always available. My skills are not up to those at Oliveto for the grilled pigeon yet. I don't think Knoll at Ferry Plaza sells everything that they sell to Oliveto.

                                                            3. re: detlefchef

                                                              I suppose every 'rule' has it exception, but count me among those that love Chez Panisse and dislike (or at least don't really like) Oliveto. Apart from the fact that I find the menu to be more balanced (or perhaps the word is varied?: in any event the same non-pork eating daughter who had a tough time finding a meal to her liking at Oliveto loves to dine at CP), I think CP is a better value, I've had better service there as well, and find it to be a more comfortable room.

                                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                                I've not been to Oliveto since Bertolli's departure, so things might have changed substantially since a last enjoyable, relaxing, and satisfying meal there. Looking at the current menu, I see fresh, distinctive, and unpretentious dishes that frankly few of us could execute skillfully at home (at what cost?) and fair prices. The value is in the total dining experience, and not in how well I, too, could slice and dress an heirloom tomato. Oliveto (and Zuni) succeed by comforting us with quality, directness, and just enough creative reach to keep us interested.It's like it can be in Italy's most attractive locali--the (sometimes) familiar, prepared with superb care, top ingredients, served with a relaxed, professional confidence.

                                                                1. re: obob96

                                                                  The major change I've noticed since Paul Canales took over is consistently good service. Also, under Bertolli the entrees were usually served Italian-style, plain piece of meat on a plate and you had to order vegetables a la carte; now they're more Cal-Italian, and usually come with vegetables.

                                                            4. We had dinner there last winter and didn't care for it. The pasta at Baci in Vallejo is a lot better and I'm not crazy about Baci so that says something about Oliveto's being overrated. The only thing that I really liked was the panna cotta for dessert.

                                                              1. We had dinner there last week and hated it. The food serving was so tiny (and no I was not looking to be supersized!) and so expensive. Vegetables had to be ordered separately for around $6.00. The skimpy entree (upstairs) cost $24.00 for a tiny piece of sea bass and that is all. The service was terrible too. Dirty, empty dishes were left on our table for ten minutes while the staff just stood around and chatted. I would much rather go to a nice lunch or dinner at Vivande on Fillmore in the City.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: cherylallmon

                                                                  Most of Oliveto's entrees come with vegetables. On last night's menu, five of six did.

                                                                  1. re: cherylallmon

                                                                    That's what happened to us when we went. We had to keep flagging down the server just to get the dishes removed, etc. Even to get the dessert menu. Not what you'd expect from such an expensive and well known place.

                                                                    1. re: rightstar

                                                                      I used to see that sort of thing regularly there, but in the past year or two we've had consistently good service upstairs.

                                                                      The cafe downstairs, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        Robert, it sounds like you go to Oliveto's more than any of us. Do you think they know you and give you a different level of attention? Because my recent experiences are the same as the other posters.

                                                                        1. re: sgwood415

                                                                          No. A lot of the service problems I used to notice were at other people's tables. These days everybody looks happy.

                                                                          I think it's more about taste and expectations. Oliveto salts its food the way they do in Italy, which I prefer to the California approach of preparing everything as we'd all had heart attacks. I like to order the traditional four or five courses, and Oliveto's menu lends itself to that. Between courses of a leisurely two-and-a-half or three-hour dinner, I'm paying attention to the conversation, not the dishes. There are few other Italian restaurants around here that are as amenable to that sort of meal.

                                                                  2. My recent experience at Oliveto: I have not dined upstairs in a few years, and my past experiences were mixed...O.K. food, small servings, meh service etc. Last night the service was excellent, though our Salumi was brought to the table and we had not been given any bread. When I mentioned this "oversight" it arrived immediately. We ordered the Pole Beans and roasted tomatoes with olives and wild fennel...which was Outstanding. The potato gnocchi with a blue cheese sauce was good, soft and fluffy but the cheese used was a little overpowering.

                                                                    One entree, Hoffman Farm Hen with Wild Nettles and Lobster Mushrooms was the type of dish that keeps people coming back and the reviews glowing. The other , Charcoal-grilled local Albacore with Heirloom Tomatoes, fried onions and bottarga di muggine(I think this is tuna roe) left lots to me desired...absolutely no evidence of this tuna being near a grill, overcooked and a suspicion that it was not the freshest. The Tuna sat on 3 slices of tomatoes and neither dish came with any vegetables.

                                                                    I thought the wine by the glass were reasonably priced and a decent selection though not large.

                                                                    So my summation, it will be sometime before I go back to the upstairs restaurant, but will be back soon to enjoy the downstairs where I think the prices reflect a good value for the quality.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. Link

                                                                      Oliveto Cafe
                                                                      5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                                                                      1. One reason that I love Olivetto, is that this Sunday they will hopefully be roasting whole hogs on the street and serving sandwiches at the Rockridge Fair. A way to sample their food with no commitment. I'll be making a food run there between games.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                                          Nothing about that on the Market Hall's page on the event, or on oliveto.com:


                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            I'd be surprised if they don't have the hogs on the street -- they've been doing that for the past three years of the event. Also, that links to last year's page (which didn't advertise Oliveto and the hogs, but they were there, nonetheless).

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              I just called. Porcetti non. Salumetti (sp?) Cotto si.

                                                                          2. I went last Friday night (10/05). It was completely spur of the moment, DH and I played hookey from work in the afternoon, made the reservations on Friday at about 10:00 am for 5:30 pm and took Amtrak from Sacramento to Berkeley. We ordered the Salumi plate, the monterey bay sardine dish, clams w/thin pasta and the venison loin w/farro, chanterelles and chestnut sauce. Loved all the dishes except for the clam dish (it was very good--not great). DH liked how well timed the meal was and I liked the how the waiter was helpful yet unobtrusive. As a former waiter, DH thought the bussers were amazing. However, in retrospect if we had been seated in the wrong area or ordered dishes that were either too safe or too bold it might have lead to a less than memorable experience. We look forward to returning for one of the themed dinners. With regard to some of the comments about pricing, staff and hit/miss dishes, I think if I lived in the bay area my perception would be a little different and I'd probably seek out other alternatives before making Oliveto a regular haunt-- but, I could see it as a semi-regular haunt though.