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Jun 11, 2008 09:53 PM

Corso (Berkeley)

One report on this new Rivoli spinoff:

1788 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

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  1. Had a late dinner at Corso last night. Got there 20-25 minutes before the 10pm closing and sat at the bar. Wendy Brucker and Roscoe Skipper were both there. Space and atmosphere reminded me of Dopo. Hard to believe that not long ago it was the bizarrely laid out and semi-divided Phoenix Pastificio.

    To start we shared a cauliflower sformatino ($8) topped with "wild"-type arugula and a bowl of acquacotta ($7), a minestrone-like kale soup with a piece of toast topped with a soft-boiled egg, both great.

    Then we split a grilled tai snapper ($25) and sides of peperonata ($6) and a mix of big and bigger corona and pope's beans ($5). We also ordered the spinach with garlic and chile flakes ($6) but they had run out. Didn't matter as there was some on the platter with the fish along with some roasted new potatoes and more peppers. All great and a nice combination.

    Very interesting wine list. With two glasses ($7.50-8) and four tastes ($1.75-2.50) the total bill was $75 before tax and tip.

    The style reminded me of Rose Pistola when they first opened and Reed Hearon was in the kitchen. Simple, great flavors, very Italian.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      It's good to hear that Corso carries on right up to closing. On our visit, which was early in the evening (6-7:30), the ambiance seemed a bit flat and tentative, with not much of a Dopo vibe. But that was in week 2, when the staff seemed preoccupied with not making mistakes, rather than projecting a robust Corso character. Maybe the more relaxed 9-10 hour reveals more of what Corso will be. (It can't be "Rivoli south," and it doesn't need to be "Dopo north.")

    2. Had a nice dinner there last night. At 7:30 it was extremely busy. Overall, a nice
      evening with still a whole bunch of opening-month kinks to work out.

      We started with the cauliflower sformatino, a ramekin-sized souffle-like thing that
      was very, very good. The tagliatelle with a wonderful beefy/porky ragu was
      delicious if slightly undersalted. The fish of the day was a grilled mackerel dressed
      with fennel, capers, and olives for $18. The chicken in butter was exactly that: two
      medium-sized breasts roasted in a small pan in about a 1/2 inch of italian butter. I'll
      bet this would be amazing if it was made with thighs and cooked just a little less. As
      it was, the meat was a bit flavorless and ever so slightly overcooked. And the
      side of spinach with chili flakes enthusiastically recommended by our server was
      absolutely the wrong thing to go with this -- the spiciness of the chilies overwhelmed
      what little taste there was in the chicken. Still, a bargain at $11 and I'll definitely try
      it again once they settle into more of a routine. We were too full for dessert. Final
      bill (1 appetizer, 1 noodle, 2 meat, 1 side, 2 glasses of wine) was high 60s.

      Some issues they still need to work out:
      . It's really loud in there.
      . The red wine is being served chilled. I'd guess my glass of chianti came to the
      table at 48 degrees.
      . The server vanished after dropping the glass off so I didn't have a chance to mention
      it to her.
      . She never came by to check on things and had to be flagged down for things like
      another glass of wine, the dessert menu, the check, etc.
      . They really need to get their crowd-control under control. The host station is
      located about 6 feet inside the inward-opening door and next to most of the tables on
      the left side of the restaurant. What this means is if there's a crowd in front of the
      station (which there constantly is and they made no effort to move it outside or towards
      the bar) everytime anyone comes in or leaves, the crowd has to all back away in
      various directions from the door which in turn means people eating at those front
      tables get about sixteen simultaneous butts in their faces. It's only going to get worse
      when the weather gets colder. For now, if you're someone sensitive to strangers' butts in
      your face while eating, insist on a table far from the door.

      Still, I went in knowing they were new and expecting far worse so despite the issues
      it was a much better evening than I expected.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

        Any updates? I'm finally making my first trip over there. Hits? Misses?

        1. re: lmnopm

          I haven't been in about 6-8 weeks, but all my previous experiences have been very positive. I can't think of a thing I wouldn't order again. As noted, it does get busy, so I'd recommend contacting them in advance for a reservation [you can book online through Open Table, or call]...on the other hand, they have a full bar and good wine list, so the pain of waiting for a table can be mitigated...

          1. re: Rapini

            We shared a tuna tartare which was delicious - it was sort of like a slightly spicy poke, with little toasts, and some little tasty greens (probably rocket).

            I then had the sugo, which was really tasty. We each ordered a "primi" after sharing the app, and it was a filling enough, but not stuffing, dinner. The meats coming out of the kitchen looked tempting for the next visit.

            We shared an affordable bottle of primitivo, which went pretty well with the meal. Service was very good.

            I place this in the "solid neighborhood restaurant that I'll be back to sooner rather than later, but not a destination restaurant" category, It is also priced accordingly. Definitely worth the 2 mile drive to get halfway across town. :)

      2. Had another nice meal last night. Trippa alla Fiorentina ($8) was unexpectedly light and bright and fresh tasting from lots of tomatoes, lemon, and mint, lots of creamy big white beans, modest amount of mild-flavored, tender tripe. Bollito misto ($16) was wonderful, beef and tongue braised to melt-in-your-mouth texture, an assertively seasoned pork sausage provided a nice contrast, delicious broth.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I'd be interested to hear of additional recent visits.

          1. re: lmnopm

            I've been back twice since the above-post. It has turned into a comfortable place in the local repertoire to go for a nice dinner. Tonight, my guests really seemed to love their dinner. I had the burrata starter (I liked the texture better a few weeks ago) and then the chicken, which I keep seeing and finally ordered. It was quite tasty. I could have done without the budino for dessert, partly because I was full. There was nothing wrong with it. The 2 who ordered the duck loved it (there were exactly two orders left) and the steak was really good (we all got a taste). Between the wine and the sides and desserts, the bill was somewhat steep for there, but nothing to complain about. It is no wonder it is usually full.