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Apr 13, 2007 07:00 AM

Nice But Not So Fantastic Meal at Rivoli Restaurant in Berkeley

Yes it was that time again. Rivoli in the spring. Garden side dining. We showed up full of anticipation.

The lamb shank with eggplant gnocchi was average but nothing to get excited about. I couldn't taste the eggplant or the tomato. The red pepper cream tasted like ordinary cream and there was too much of it. The broccoli was a little too soft for my taste and the rabe was soggy. The saffron aioli was tasty, though, leaving a nice smooth taste on the palette. It was the highlight of the dish. As for the mint relish, it would have been nice if the lamb had been infused with the flavor.

The pork loin tasted too much like regular bacon and it was chewy so that you had to spit it out. I couldn't taste the pear marmalata but the creamed sweet onions were rather good. The corn spoonbread souffle was nothing special. I did like one thing about this dish, however. The green beans with bacon were excellent. I would have enjoyed a plate of it on the side.

As for dessert, it was nothing special either. The strawberry shortcake wasn't warm like the menu said and it was a plain scone. I couldn't even taste the meyer lemon syrup. The chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream was much better but only because of the orange chocolate sauce which we liked.

Yes it was a nice meal, and the garden in the back looked beautiful. The service was very efficient. However, the menu overpromised and undelivered. It would have been better if it had left out all the extras and just simply stated the dishes as they were: lamb shank and pork slices.

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  1. That's a bummer. In the past Rivoli has been a reliable option for us. What you describe doesn't even sound nice. I don't really understand the lamb and mint critique, as mint sauce is usually served on the side with lamb. There are preparations in which lamb is cooked with mint, but the menu doesn't represent it as such. If the pork was too chewy to eat, I hope that you sent it back to the kitchen. The misrepresented warm strawberry shortcake also deserved a comment.

    1. You've eaten there before and been happier with the food? If so, it sounds like maybe they were off their game. You should have sent back the tough pork and cold shortcake.

      Shortcakes and scones are fundamentally the same thing: two different shapes of plain biscuit dough.

      The menu descriptions are:

      Saffron and tomato braised lamb shank with eggplant gnocchi in red pepper cream, broccoli and broccoli rabe, saffron aïoli and mint relish

      Grilled lavender brined pork loin with pear marmalata, creamed sweet onions, corn spoonbread soufflé and long cooked green beans with bacon

      Warm chocolate soufflé cake with vanilla ice cream

      Warm strawberry shortcake with meyer lemon syrup and whipped crème fraîche

      7 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        The one meal I ate at Rivoli was above average but I thought that many of their dishes relied on lots of fat to create flavor. I was unpleasantly stuffed at the end of the meal.

        1. re: hamachihil

          That's true of many places that serve French / French-influenced food, e.g. Gregoire and A Cote.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          I like both shortcake and scones, but think of them as somewhat different. Shortcake seems American and is, as you, say basically a plain biscuit. The scones I had in England were always made with lard. I supposed no one does that here, though.

          1. re: Glencora

            Some people do, the same types who use suet in their mincemeat. Lard was generally supplanted by industrial vegetable shortening in the U.S.

            I'd expect a place like Rivioli to use butter.

            1. re: Glencora

              Where did you find them made with lard in England. I just looked in half a dozen real English cookbooks and they were all made with butter or margarine. Penguin Cookery, Mary Norwak, The Paupers Cookbook, Elizabeth Ayrton.

                1. re: Curmudgeon

                  I stayed with my friend's grandmother in Yorkshire for a month back in the late Seventies. She made scones and rockbuns (like scones, but not rolled out and with dried fruit added) from scratch for tea every day. She always used lard. They were amazingly good, if unhealthy. We fed the day-olds to the local swans. Hope we didn't kill them.