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Nov 6, 2007 03:11 PM

Oliveto Birthday Banquet

This past Friday night, we had a surprise birthday dinner for my wife at Oliveto. Because we had 18 people (including one other hound in attendance, wanderlust21), we booked the private dining room.

The meal was terrific, and not just by large banquet-style standards (which are, understandably, often not as high as those of a restaurant's non-banquet meals). The meal began with passed hors d'oevures, consisting of four different kinds of canapés: pork pate, a green herbed chevre, caramelized onion and cheese, and fava bean puree. None were spectacular, but all were perfectly tasty table-setters. The rest of the meal consisted of an appetizer course, a pasta intermezzo, a main course, and (in lieu of dessert) a birthday cake. Instead of rigidly locking all of us into one or two options for each course, the restaurant gave us 5 or 6 options for the appetizer and main courses; we would have also received 3 or 4 dessert options had we not opted for the cake instead.

For my first course, I had a "Fried Pork Trotter" with frisee, sliced radishes and Dijon mustard. I love bacon, and have a strong salty tooth, so I couldn't go wrong with this dish. The trotter (a pig forearm that was basically a confit) had a perfect internal texture, similar to the texture of bacon between the crispy and chewy extremes, which was a great contrast to the deep-fried coating. Also in perfect contrast were the saltiness and fattiness of the trotter and the frisee/radish side, which provided a necessary bitterness and acidity. My wife went with a lighter alternative--shaved fennel with sliced fuji apples and hazelnuts and honey vinegar--that was crisp and refreshing. I also tried wanderlust21's dish, a spicy rabbit confit with pancetta and new potatoes. This was delicious; wanderlust21 and I spent some time afterward debating which was the best dish of the night, my trotter or her rabbit.

The pasta intermezzo was a very small portion of simple tagliolini in a creamy bolognese sauce. For the vegetarians in the group, the restaurant thoughtfully prepared the same pasta, but in an olive oil preparation with chick peas and some very savory leaf that I couldn't identify. Like the hors d'oevures, the intermezzos did their job, being satisfying without threatening to upstage the other courses.

My main course was a spit-roasted wild boar belly and loin. It was good, and again, very porky and salty. It was also humongous, to the point where I could only eat half of it. Also, I'm not generally one of those people who can be put off by the sheer size of a piece of meat, but this was pushing my limits. I liked my wife's dish better: petrale sole rolled around wild nettles, spinach and porcini mushrooms.

Finally, the birthday cake was Oliveto's bittersweet chocolate torte, supersized to birthday-cake proportions. Everybody who likes chocolate liked it… which is to say, everybody liked it.

The food, however, was only part of the story. Even more than the great meal, what will stand out in my mind was how great the restaurant was about helping me plan this dinner; there was a lot of last-minute planning, but the people with whom I was working at Oliveto never gave me any attitude or any response other than their best efforts to help me out and make the event a special one for my wife. Our head server, Drew, was also great (although his supporting wait staff was admittedly a little bumbly). In contrast, when I approached Chez Panisse about the possibility of doing this dinner there, they were incredibly cold and unfriendly. So while I'd recommend Oliveto heartily for a meal, I'd recommend it even more enthusiastically for a special event.

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    1. We did something similar with 27 people for my father's 70th birthday. It was a blast planning the menu w/ Canales, who indulged many of my father's quirks (love of tripe, weird fondness for oysters as a dessert, etc.). The pastry chef even made a mascarpone ice cream w/ cherries in crispy crepe shells to echo the oysters on the half shell (which came out w/ birthday candles). The kitchen and wait staff were also super about several people arriving an hour late due to a sick five year old (who did end up coming and loved the meal, despite a high fever).

      One of the best things about using the private room at Oliveto is that you get it for the entire night. There's no rush to vacate for a later party if you're running late.

      1. Great report. It was a wonderful evening. I loved both the trotter and the rabbit starters, but lean toward the porky crunchy goodness of the trotter. I'll definitely comment when I have a chance. In the meantime, below is a photo of the menu Oliveto put together and a link to photos from the meal.

        1 Reply
        1. re: wanderlust21

          Agree with you on the food, the porchetta was delicious, slightly on the salty side, but good when balanced in a bite with the greens. It was huge, must've been a pound or so. The chocolate torte was particularly good, the texture was amazingly light, but packed a delicious chocolate punch.

          I also wanted to comment on the room and the service. One wall had huge windows facing College Avenue, another wall had a nice glass case showing off bottles of wine stacked to the ceiling. The service was excellent and every effort was made to keep everyone comfortable and informed before the guest of honor arrived. There were a lot of nice touches and attention to detail. They definitely made it feel like a special occasion, not just providing a private room. The special menu and torte were personalized with the name of the guest of honor.

        2. Sounds wonderful! May I ask the approximate cost? I am trying to plan a similar event for our bon voyage party and would love to have various data points.


          1 Reply
          1. re: vespaloon

            It was $85 per person, plus $400 for the room rental, plus drinks (which we ordered a la carte, but you could definitely order for the tables and they'll help you out with that), tax and mandatory gratuity (I think 20%). I don't have the itemized receipt on me right now, but if I recall more specific info, I'll let you know.

          2. Thanks for the great report.

            I considered booking our company's Christmas party there but was turned off by the lack of an actual private room. It is my understanding that the private room is part of the main dining room that has been cordoned off with curtains.

            Just how private did this arrangement prove to be? I would like to know.

            5 Replies
            1. re: grishnackh

              The dining room was totally private; it was in its own separate room, sealed off from the rest of the dining room by a door. No curtains involved.

              1. re: lexmob

                No kidding! Where is this private room in relation to the rest of the upstairs dining room? Is it windowless?

                1. re: grishnackh

                  If you go up the stairs, it's in the very back of the restaurant. I believe that there were windows opposite the door of entry, but our backs were to them. The table was in a U-shape, arranged so that the U opened up toward the entry door, and people could be seated on the insides of the U as well as the outsides.

                  Also, in case any of you have guests with any mobility concerns and were concerned by the fact that the dining room is upstairs, there is an elevator.

                  1. re: grishnackh

                    They close off the back of the restaurant.

                    1. re: wally

                      Ah, I see.

                      Thanks for the clarification, guys!