Oliveto's Truffle Dinners
Oliveto has begun their annual truffle dinners. Did anyone got a chance to try it last night? I have a reservation for later this week and would love to get some feedback before I go.
Below is this year's menu:
5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618
We were there on the first day.
1. Wild snails
3. Marinara bianca
5. Ravioli of maine lobster and roe
First of all, the dishes were all excellent, especially the sweetbread - never had such a lightly cooked sweetbread before, almost like a boiled + steamed + chilled down process to achieve a veal/chicken/duck kind of texture. Very sophisticated and wow-inspiring. Love wild snails, soft and succulent, with that tangy snail flavor that I like. Fantastic marina soup and fantastic lobster ravioli, very nice risotto too.
The disappointment of that evening is the truffles. I was also here for last year's truffle dinner, and I honestly feel that in comparison, this year's truffles were tasteless. Last year's truffles were fantastic, filling the restaurant with its aroma, enhancing every dish with its beautiful flavor. This year, could not taste anything on my marina bianca, very very barely tasted in my risotto. I wasn't stingy with it too.
I did ask the server if it was my imagination, and she told me that I wasn't the first one to comment on how it is not comparable to last year. She was also here last year and also mentioned that last year she too could smell the truffles in the air, but this year - nothing.
So, I'd go for the dishes, but won't have too much expectations for the truffles. It costs 8.50 per gram, btw. That's just mother nature for you, I guess.
I actually had a better experience with the truffles this year - I was initially disappointed that there wasn't the heady, overwhelming perfume of truffle in the air that I remember from last year, and almost didn't order any truffle at all (I had been disappointed by last year's truffles, despite the incredible aroma). The protocol is different this year - instead of each table selecting its own truffle, to be weighed before and after the dinner, there were different truffles circulating. The one we had over the minestra bianca was nearly flavorless, but the one we had over the agnolotti was fantastic - way better than the truffles I had at either of my two Truffle dinners from last year.
My favorite dishes of the night were the fried pigeon stuffed with black truffle dinner (very rich and livery - too much so for some of my tablemates, but just right for me), the sweetbread "salad" (really, a rich stew of truffle cream-napped artichoke, cauliflower, and sweetbread), the crespelle of porcini and Dungeness (perfect lacy crepes - I think the porcini were better last year, and I preferred last year's rockfish filling to this year's crab, but still a fantastic dish, with an absolutely outstanding, slightly spicy, creamy sauce that we greedily finished off with bread), and the agnolotti (one of my favorite dishes from last year, even better this year with the addition of truffle).
We also really enjoyed the Kabocha squash gnocchi with bay scallops (addictive, pillowy gnocchi paired with incredibly sweet, juicy scallops) and the fried rabbit with black truffle mayonnaise (my tablemates went crazy for the rabbit - I thought it was delicious, but greasier and drier than the superlative fried rabbit at Cafe Chez Panisse). The minestra bianca was tasty, but the bass was a touch overcooked, and the cream/sherry/herb flavor profile was echoed in other parts of our meal, so it ended up being a little redundant.
For dessert, the pear "budino" with truffle (not a pudding - more of a charlotte-like molded dessert of caramelized pear and bread) was fantastic, while the hazelnut torta with persimmon gelato fell short (I wasn't crazy about the coarse grind of the hazelnuts, and found the persimmon flavor too mild).
The truffle price dropped to $7/gm by last night, and looks like it's the same tonight. People looking for bargains could do well going Saturday night, when the dinner is officially over, but many of the menu items remain, and the truffle prices may be even further discounted (I know they were last year on the Saturday after the official dinner was over).
Last night was my first visit to Oliveto - I thought some things were great, some were only OK. Service throughout the entire evening was really excellent - and the space was beautiful as well. The upstairs was quite loud though - I had a hard time hearing what the people across the table were saying.
Onto the food....I managed to sit at the table over from daveena, which allowed us to slyly trade some tastes of dishes between tables. So I will comment on things we ordered at my table, as well as a few things I tried from the other table.
Pan d'mie crostini w/ wild snails, chanterelle mushrooms and leeks. This was really delicious - I felt the leeks were the best part. I have only had snails once before, and I was a bit hesitant about ordering this, but I really enjoyed them. They were slightly chewy, but mostly tender and earthy-tasting - but for me the sauce was the big winner in this dish.
Voilino di chiavenna e salsiccia vicentina cruda: The little violins were the best - breadsticks w/ truffle butter wrapped in prosciutto. Heavenly. The lamb prosciutto was interesting, the cruda tasted fine to me but nothing special, and the bread w/ goat cheese was nice. Maybe not worth the 18 dollars, especially compared to what you get for 18 dollars at Incanto. I suppose the truffles bring the price up slightly, but Incanto still has my favorite salumi platter.
Sugar pie sformatino - We made a mistake of shaving truffles on this when it really didn't need it - the flavor was wonderful on its own.
Fried pigeon - I wasn't a big fan of this dish, especially compared to the excellent fried rabbit that came later.
Minestra bianca w/ egg yolk and shellfish - A nice seafood bisque, but daveena put it well when she said the flavors were redundant. I thought it was good but nothing special.
I didn't try the crespelle, but I had a taste of the sauce from the next table - it was excellent. My table strongly considered ordering this for dessert (I regret not doing it now).
Agnolotti dal plin - We had this with truffle, and this was excellent. I would definitely get this dish again - they were like little pillows of meat (they reminded me of ghosts from pac-man). It would make a good kid food.
Pici with magruder ranch milk, and grass fed vitello sausage - I only tasted the sauce from this, but it was delicious - the nutmeg, lemon and black truffle flavors all came through - on the richer side, but unique and hearty.
Risotto alla pilota - with wild nettles, mushrooms, etc - This was presented beautifully, and the risotto was bright green! The flavor was interesting - almost fruity, which I was told comes from the nettle (and perhaps also the cheese). This was very different (and better) than the riso that came with the fish.
I also had a taste of the kabocha squash gnocchi - these were great. I didn't have a bite with scallop, but the scallops added some nice seafood flavor to the sauce. Also very fluffy, and I felt inspired to try making these at home.
The petrale sole with mild mushroom riso was only OK. I thought the fish was very good - it had a cheesy crispy crust to it, and was cooked perfectly -flaky and delicious. I thought the riso was ordinary.
Meanwhile, our table managed to get a piece of the fried rabbit from the other table. This was awesome - I never imagined I would be gnawing on rabbit bones, but there I was, sucking out every last bit of meat. I didn't find our piece to be too greasy or dry....it was like really good fried chicken, but better......so I guess this means I should head to Chez Panisse to try this dish there.
For dessert we had the hazelnut torta w/ persimmon gelato, and I agree w/ daveena's assessment, though I didn't think the gelato was bad. I didn't really care for the hazelnut cake, which I thought was too dry.
Overall, I liked Oliveto, but I couldn't help comparing it to La Ciccia (where I ate twice in the past month) and Incanto (where I have also been twice), and I definitely like Oliveto the least. That said, there are some very interesting standout dishes at all of these places, and I think that for truffle lovers, this particular dinner is a lot of fun. I'm definitely glad I went, and was thrilled to try so many things.
We went last night- Friday- and I would have to agree that the truffles were not as fragrant as I remember from years past. In addition, we had a horrible problem with our bill. Among our appetizers we ordered 2 farm eggs, and when they came I specifically asked for 1 gram split between the 2. Then, when our entrees arrived, I asked for 'just one' shaved on top, and I stopped him early. My dining companions (3) also asked for 'one'. I assumed we had made it clear that we each wanted one gram added to our dish. When the bill arrived, we had been charged for 29 grams. We questioned this, and explained that we thought we had been very specific about our requests. They were really nice about it, and actually knocked 1/2 the truffle cost off of our bill, but if anyone is going tonight, watch out for that.
That being said, the meal was fantastic. I had the sausage with endive and parmesan fondue, which I loved, but the winner was the pork scaloppini. Two at my table ordered it, and I wound up wishing I had as well. The farm eggs were delicious, easy to share, and a great dish to experience the shaved truffles on.
Is it just me, or has Oliveto gone downhill in the past few years? It's still one of my favorite restaurants, but now I feel like they always play it safe. Less innovation, and there's just a certain 'something' missing.
Oliveto definitely has its own "style". It's not intended to be edgy cuisine, but a rustic and comforting taste. When you want to see Oliveto being adventurous, try its Oceanic dinners. In that, Oliveto definitely steps out of its comfort zone in the dish design - unfortunately, that shows up in the cuisine too, it's still good, but not going wow. So maybe it is "playing it safe" by sticking to what it does the best, but there's a certain comfort in knowing that whatever they do, they do it well. Actually, it has changed a little bit when the chef changed - the original one went on to open Fra'Mani - everything is incredible. The new chef in fact makes better main dishes, the flavors have gone a little bit more defined. It is very hard for a great restaurant to stay consistent in its quality, but I think Oliveto has done it, and done it well.
I too Attended Last night (Thursday). I thought everything ranged from very good to excellent and though this was my first Truffle dinner at Oliveto, I thought the TRuffles were very fragrant and very flavorful, though, admittedly, we had much shavings than we had anticipated, but at $7/gram, its seems like a steal for a once a year special kind of meal.
My table shared the plates below:
1) The Crostini with the snails - Excellent, a must order and definitely add some white truffle shavings to it (and be generous)
2) Sweetbreads on a bed of artichokes and cauliflower in a black truffle sauce - excellent and a must order
3) Crespelle of Dungeness crab and porcini mushrooms - I'm not a huge crepe fan but this was really good.
4) Papardelle with leeks and celery root - this was an absolute simple but excellent dish, the celery root provided a great flavor, plus the addition of the white truffles was great.
5) Wild Nettle Risotto - This was a really good dish but not so much a creamy risotto as more of a flavored rice. The nettles with the white truffles were really a good balance
6) Lobster Ravioli with roe sauce - An Excellent dish, a must order. It tastes of pure lobster goodness. Be generous with a good and sizeable addiiton of white truffles. They go great together.
It's been a busy week for me, but I want to report back on my dinner a few days ago. My husband and I had:
1)Poached, salted farm egg
2) Fried pigeon stuffed with black truffle
3) Sugar pie pumpkin sformatino
4)Kabocha squash Gnocch
5)Agnolotti dal plin
6) Petrale sole with wild mushrooms
The highlight was really the gnocchi. I have always been a fan of Oliveto's fresh pastas and this was no exception. The bay scallops were large and very sweet. It was great without the truffles and even better with.
The Agnolotti was also great. This dish was the best accompaniment for the truffles. This was my first time having fresh truffles. I enjoyed the flavor, but was expecting it to be more intense and better than the truffle oils I have had in the past.
The sugar pie was also delicious It was very bold in flavor and did not need any truffle addition. I was a little disappointed with the sole. It really did not have enough wild mushrooms to make it stand out. The hazelnut oil was a little too sweet and did not go well with the addition of the fresh truffles.
Overall, the dinner was great, but I wish there was more of an emphasis on the truffles and mushrooms. I was disappointed to not see any candy cap mushrooms on the dessert menu.