Tomato Dinner at Oliveto: Is it worth the $$?
I'm a new chowhound poster, and would love to hear if it's worth the $ and the drive (about an hour with the bay bridge closure)
I have never had a bad meal at Oliveto so I am sure it is worth it. I've come up from Southern California and each time had a lovely meal. (My last visit was after a very long night at Kermit Lynch.....so it ended in teary I love yous to my fellow diners but even after that I remember it being really clean and delicious) I say go for it.
Oliveto is directly across the street from the Rockridge BART station, just take BART there if the drive is a problem.
I enjoyed last night's dinner a great deal. We had no duds, though the beef main course was the least successful dish.
Dry-Farmed ‘Early Girl’ Tomatoes and ‘Aqua Perfecta’ Basil Brandy from St. George Spirits (9.00)--I enjoyed this more than last year's take on a Bloody Mary. The basil flavor was nice, and the salt rim worked (I'm not a fan of the salt rim w/ a Margarita). Wish I could drink it all the time.
Fried Pork Trotter with ‘Black Roma’ Tomato Preserve (12.50)--But then I always love the trotters at Oliveto. Nicely crispy outside, lots of porky goodness inside, well complemented by the sweet tomato jam.
‘Pineapple’ Tomatoes with Oliveto lonza, Arugula, and Muscat Vinegar (15.50)--Hubby really enjoyed this, though I did not get a bite.
Spaghettini aglio, olio with Whole-Roasted Tomatoes Studded with Garlic (14.50)--Everyone loved it. So simple, but possibly the biggest hit of the night at our table.
Jones Farm Rabbit Braised in Earthenware with Tomatoes, Rosemary, and Olives (26.00)--I love bunny, but am often disappointed by dry/bony wabbits. This was super. The tomato flavor was intense, but the rabbit could still be tasted through it. The meat was tender, and the three pieces were nice and meaty. One warning--this dish stays very hot, so it's difficult to keep up with other diners.
Hoffman Farm Hen milanese with aïoli and Tomatoes (26.00)--My dad loved it, and I enjoyed the small piece he was willing to part with.
Green Tomato and ‘Galia’ Melon sorbetto (8.00)--very refreshing, but there was too much of it for me after the huge dinner.
Though we did not have it this year, my dad was a huge fan of the beefsteak tomato w/ pancetta last year. Service was attentive and friendly, but (as at many of these full house special events) the kitchen had a little trouble keeping up (there was a long gap between the apps and the pasta course).
I have no idea if it's "worth the $$," as this calculation is, at least in part, based on competing uses for your $$. The four of us had 3 cocktails, 4 apps, 2 pasta dishes, 4 mains, 1 side veg, 2 desserts, 7 glasses of wine, and 2 glasses of eau de vie. We spent around $100 per person before tip. I found that reasonable for the quality and quantity of food. If $100 per person is only a major, special occasion splash out for you, your assessment might differ from mine.
Also went last night and thought food was quite good.
Particularly liked the dry farm tomato with burrata appetizer and the sicilian gnocchi with conserva.
We also had the classig ragu napoletana which was fantastic. Lovely braising sugo poured over pasta for the primi and then the shoulder (?) to follow. Very good.
Last night was my 3 time at the tomato dinner in the last four years & the first time I’ve experienced the much talked about Oliveto's horrible service.
I had to call & confirm, they told me they tried but my # was listed as a 510 not 415. How does that happen when my same information has been in their computer system for 4+ yr & never caused a problem before?
While witting for our table we ordered cocktails but before we all (6 of us) were served are table was ready & the bar tender suggested that we just order the remaining drinks form our server. Shouldn’t they take care of communicating the drink order to the upstairs bar or our sever, instead of having us1/2 of us wait drink-less?
Our server seemed new, overwhelmed didn’t seem to really listening to our questions for example when asked what new to this year menu items she thought were not to be missed she just went through & told us all her favorites & went in to details that were unnecessary, like what burrata is. Is there still a person who lives in the bay-area & likes to eat that hasn’t encountered burrata before?
Up to this point all could be overlooked but then we ordered our food, all to be shared family style.
We put in our order for the antipasti & salads. Before they arrived added our pastas & mains. We received 4 of our antipasti & salads, but had to ask about after the last 2, our server blamed the food runner for the mix up. (Which I find supper tacky)
Expecting our pasta we were pretty surprised to see our entrees coming out. We were a bit confused thinking that there was another screw up & we would get our pasta’s after our entrees. But then our pastas came out as well. We had a total of seven dishes on our table that we were trying to share, before they got cold. I asked the server why they were all coming out at once. The response was we didn’t specific that we wanted it coursed, something I’ve never had to do there or at any restaurant of a similar quality. The manager approached us & I explained that we had no room on our table & the whole thing was just strange. She offered to hold some thing in the kitchen till we had more room. I didn’t find this to be much of a solution since the food is either going to get just as cold there or it will die under a heat lamp.
I feel I can really only comment on the salads & antipasti since much of the pasta & entrees were cold by the time we all had gotten to them. Or the fried green tomatoes that we never received.
-trotters-porky goodness, nice sweetness from the jam
-lonza –didn’t really blow me away, found it kind of plain
-smoked swordfish-delicious, smoky, salty, acidic tomatoes & mint to cut it all.
-burrata-never bad, but theirs is really good-I thought it highlighted the tomatoes the best
-gratinata w/ wild snails-very nice dish, you could actually taste the snails, very earthy
-pizzetta frolla-tasty but I didn’t find it memorable
All in all I didn’t feel that the tomatoes were the star, in most dishes it seemed like an accompaniment. But the food was as good as always they just need to get it together in the front of the house. I can honesty say I really didn’t enjoy the meal, but I would have if we were taken care of by our server. They did comp the corkage on our wine, this seemed the very least they could do, given that we ate half our meal cold.
Last Whole Hog our waiter tried to bring our apps during the salumi course. I told him (firmly) to bring the apps later. He did, and they were just fine. Hot and (apparently) fresh. Just after the waiter took the apps away, Canales rushed over to where the salumi was being cut and had a serious conversation with the staff. It looked like he was addressing the timing issue. I usually go for the first night of the Oliveto special events, and timing glitches do seem to come up. At the same time, when I was clear about my preferences (if things were going wrong), any problems were always worked out.
I went with a group last year for the first time and was really excited about going, however, I can't see myself going back. It was a fun experience overall, but I can't really remember much of what we had, except one starter of sweet 100 cherry tomatoes that was basically a plate of tomatoes in olive oil and s&p. It was fine because the tomatoes were good and I guess highlighting their simple flavor was the point, but I was expecting a bit more creativity for the type of dinner it was. What really got me was the price of that appetizer: $14.
I think it depends on how much good tomato you are getting on a regular basis. I've really enjoyed the other Oliveto specialty dinners, but probably won't return to their Tomato dinner. (My last Tomato dinner was last year, not this year.) My DH does wonders with a tomato this time of year, so I didn't really feel I was getting much at the Oliveto specialty dinner that I don't have at other times during tomato season. I did feel the raw tomato appetizers were good, but nothing we don't put together ourselves for a lot less $$$. I feel a lot better going to Whole Hog and getting wonderful items we would never prepare ourselves. Thankfully, I've always felt good about our service at Oliveto.