Bellanico in Oakland
Wow, I can't believe it has been open for what, four days? And I'm the first to post?
Anyway, stopped by Bellanico, the new Italian place (Osteria?) on Park St in Oakland, immediately next to Blackberry Bistro in the Glenview. Google tells me it is opened by Chris Shepherd and Elizabeth Frumusa, who own Aperto in Potrero Hill. Name is a concatenation of the nicknames of their children.
Anyway, took our 3 year old tonight and had a great meal. A long thin space with a big granite bar on one side and tables for maybe 30 on the other. Menu reminds me of Pizzaolo, without the pizza. Good, valued wine list, almost all european, and a good selection of flights. We ordered a chicchetti (5 on the menu), two anitpasti (maybe four selections), one pasta (4 here) and one secundi (6 options?), along with orechiette and butter for our son. A number of tables were already occupied by 5:15, with a couple other kids, and it was full by the time we left.
They brought his pasta ($5) with the checchetti ($4), a plate of three breaded and fried meatballs on a salsa verde. Our antipasti were pork belly($8) with a salad of apple and fennel, and a warm faro salad($7) with roasted hazelnuts and raddiccio. Orechiette ($13) was with a pork ragu and a the secundi was a grilled cod over lentils ($16). The ragu was quite meaty and I'm glad it was not a standard red sauce, but the scant liquid was maybe a white wine braising liquid with a touch of tomato paste? Excellent depth, and the cod was flaky and moist. We went for the bomboloni ($6), which my son enjoyed, served with a light creme anglaise kind of sauce.
We had two flights, "aromatic whites (13.50)" and "Italy, North to South (13)". Six wines I was not familiar with, and all very good. There is probably 50 wines on the list, maybe 20 available by the glass. Most in the $25 to $40 range. Corkage $12. Service was attentive. Tables are pretty darn close together, though, and it was noisy, but not too bad. Prices seemed good, and portions were moderately sized.
Has anyone else gone recently? I first went around the time of the original post and found the food good, if a little butter-heavy, and just revisited for the first time. In general, the pastas were good, but the appetizers were generally unfocused and a couple of them suffered from too many ingredients.
Braised and seared pork belly with watermelon, ancho cress, watermelon puree, mustard sauce – thankfully, the weirdly disparate elements in this dish were pretty subtle, and took a back seat to the perfectly cooked pork belly. The flavor was dominated by what tasted like Chinese-five spice.
Beet casunzei – these beet-filled ravioli in a butter, cheese and poppy seed sauce are ultra-rich. Make sure you have an acidic white wine on hand to accompany them.
Orecchiete with braised goat sugo – I think the goat is finished in butter after grazing, this was another very rich pasta. Delicious, though.
Smoked ahi in endive – this was my mom’s pick – it was fine, nothing exciting.
Fried mondeghili, salsa verde – these little meatballs were good
Fried squash blossoms – these were fine as well
Grilled oysters, guanciale, mustard-cumin cream, spinach puree – these were almost excellent. I would have loved them without the cumin.
Tagliolini pepati with bacon, hot peper, grana, roasted tomato sauce - this was almost great as well – I thought it had just a touch too much bacon fat. I liked the flavors, though, and will probably try making this at home.
Marubini – large ravioli with braised pork filing, hen of the woods. I thought this was pretty good, but my dad grumbled that “it’s just like jiaozi”.
Scallop crudo with melon, sea beans, icicle radish, green onion – I hated this dish. I visualized this as a having truly raw scallops just touched with acid, with onion, radish, and sea beans, and maybe some pickled melon, but got scallops with a very cooked texture in a creamy sauce with a lot of cantaloupe. The funny thing is, it tasted a lot like a shrimp and melon salad I’ve had before and also hated, but that my parents really like. They ate the whole thing.
I want to love Bellanico – they have some delicious regional Italian dishes that no one else has – but their strong dishes do rely a lot on fat for flavor, and the appetizers seem to be taking a turn for the bizarre. I don’t remember the more “creative” stuff on the menu the last time I went (a few years ago) – can anyone else comment on whether or not this is a new development?
4238 Park Blvd, Oakland, CA 94602
I have been a few times over the past 6 months and tend to agree that some of their dishes lack focus or have bizarre combinations. I like their farro salad and the grilled sirloin is not bad but I skip carrot sauce. The pastas tend to be a little hit/miss. I usually go with a half order so that if it is too salty or fatty I don't have a big plate. The chicken breast is also a fairly safe entree. I want to like the place more than I do. The food is a little too inconsistent and the waitstaff never seems all that in to it.
Went last night with friends who live in the neighborhood. They don't take reservations for parties of less than six; when we showed up at 6:45 p.m. they told us it would be about an hours wait for four inside, but that there was a table on the sidewalk available immediately. That was an absolute no-brainer: it was a lovely night, and while the chairs aren't quite as comfortable at the outside tables, it is considerably less noisy, even with the traffic on Park Blvd! As someone else mentioned, tables inside are very close together, and when it full, the noise level is uncomfortably high. I'd definitely eat outside if/when I go back, it was just super relaxing to sit out there and enjoy the food, the wine, and each other's company. We were there for over two hours and never felt rushed; service was very good.
Anyway, food was good enough that I'd definitely like to visit again, and reasonably priced. My favorite dish (naturally) was the fried mondeghili, meatballs, served as a cicchetti: three or four meatballs to an order, resting on a bed of salsa verde. Flavorful, perfectly cooked, with a crust that I think is made of cornmeal(?) The baccala was also a nice little bite, as were the fried olives (how could you go wrong with fried olives?).
For Appetizers we tried the pork belly, served with a salad of arugula, pluots and fennel. Personally, I liked the salad (the pluots were perfectly ripe and wonderful) but was a bit disappointed that the pork belly came fried in the same coating as the meatballs; the pork belly didn't quite have the flavor to stand up to the coating. Two diners had the soup of the day, a cold tomato soup that was quite thick, like a gazpacho.
Mains: The swiss chard malfati, with brown butter and sage, were a hit: four nicely sized delicious dumplings; light in texture, rich in flavor. Hubby, who is trying to cut down on his meat consumption, devoured these but I managed to get a bite. My friend had cod on a bed of fresh garbanzos, corn and fregola: she loved the vegetables but thought the cod was a bit boring. Perhaps, but at least it was cooked perfectly to my taste: a bit underdone and silky. Fresh garbanzos were a treat. A generous serving. I'd definitely order that cod again.
The other two of us had the chicken al mattone, with cippolinis and some type of green, in a parmesan broth. The baby chicken was very nicely cooked, but I thought the broth was just a bit overly salty; I'd probably order something else next time.
For dessert we shared some cookies, which were just ok, and a great almond cake with Frog Hollow peaches and whipped cream (and I am not even a big almond cake fan).
The wine list has a nice selection of wines by the glass and wine flights, and an interesting list of bottles, heavy on Italian and some French selections. After starting with prosecco we had a bottle of the one rose on the menu, a Domaine de Nizas, Languenoc, which felt just right for drinking outdoors on a summer evening. The beer drinker in the group did feel the beer list is rather too limited. (Only three or four choices).
Total with tax and tip for three cicchetti, three glasses of prosecco, one beer, a bottle of wine, three appetizers, one pasta, three mains, and two desserts was about $212. Great neighborhood place, particularly if one eats outside in nice weather....
Side note: one of OPD's finest was parked in a squad car across the street most of the time we were there, just keeping an eye on the restaurants in that mini-row, which added to our comfort level (particularly for our friends: living in SF I guess I feel a bit insulated from the string of takeover robberies, but they clearly were happy with the police presence.)
We went to Bellanico tonight at around 6:30 and there was already a wait (although we were the first ones on the list, it looked like everyone had just sat down or were just eating appetizers), so we just took the first bar counter seats available. Right after we sat down, the front area of the restaurant began filling up with people, I think there was up to 12 people waiting there at times.
We ordered the spaghetti alla vongole which came in a pretty clear broth, making me worried that it was bland. But I was surprised that it was very flavorful, fresh vongole, and a bit spicy which added a nice punch to the dish. We shared a risotto with nettles and mint leaves for the secondi. It was very green (in color), and very generous in proportion. It was cooked just right (al dente), and was a bit creamy without being overpowering. The fried mint leaves on top were a very nice touch. Oh and they also have foccacia bread with olive oil.
Finally for dessert, we had their saffron panna cotta with orange slices and an almond-butter biscotti. The panna cotta was very smooth and rich and fit just right with the aromatic saffron. The biscotti paired with it was good too, warm and crunchy, possibly with a lot of butter as it just smelled so good.
It seemed that they have a pretty interesting wine list with wines from all over the place. I tried a 3 oz sample of the insolio (possibly spelled wrong) from Sicily ($4), it was aromatic and crisp, a good match with the vongole, will probably try one of the wine flights next time.
Overall, a good solid place with good service and great vibe (although the volume was quite high). Recommended!!
4238 Park Blvd, Oakland, CA 94602
We went last night and were VERY impressed as well. They have a very comfortable, spacious bar as well as the tables. Great flights, great prices and they are very happy to finally be open! When we left the place was filling up. I predict it won't be long until you can't get in without a wait.
Monday-Saturday 5pm-10 right now.