New Chef at Oliveto
5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618
The Community Grains pasta I cooked the other night made me want to check out what Oliveto is doing these days. Outside of the whole hog dinners, we've always thought the pastas were the highlight, so we tried five of them. We might have had six if they hadn't run out of the tajarin with porcini.
They've changed their focus from labor-intensive stuffed pastas to extruded pastas made with Community Grains flours. I think they said all were whole grain, except the spaghetti had 20% all-purpose. Everything had perfect al-dente texture and none of the crumbliness or mealiness I expect from whole-wheat pasta.
Saffron chitarra with Monterey Bay squid ragù, hot pepper, and lemon ($16): this was great. The little hit of hot pepper was brilliant.
Conchiglie with mortadella della casa, turnip greens, and Parmesan cheese fonduta ($15): Rich and intense.
Agnolotti dal plin ($17): This was the one pasta that was similar to their old style. The sauce seemed like demi-glace rather than the more rustic and traditional braising juices.
Whole-grain Durum wheat spaghetti with pancetta, Coco Blanc beans, hot pepper, and Parmesan cheese ($16): This was a relatively simple and homey preparation that highlighted the flavor of the pasta and the gamy house-made pancetta.
Red winter wheat penne alla bolognese ($16): Extraordinary, something really new. The penne are made with the same intensely flavored flour as the linquine I cooked last week, and the ragù was made to complement that flavor. This reminded me of when I was in Italy and first had rice that tasted like rice. Made me excited to buy some of the flour and experiment.
I think any of these pastas would satisfy the pickiest Italian. Portions are large enough that the two of us were pretty full, would probably have been a better plan to get only four.
We had a couple of salads, young chicories with pancetta, Castelmagno cheese, and hazelnuts in balsamic vinaigrette ($12) and shaved root vegetables with celery heart and white almond pesto ($11), both lovely and refreshing.
A warm red wine-poached Italian prune plum dartois with crème fraîche ($9) was very French and very good. I meant to ask where they got their crème fraîche: it was the real deal. A cardamom panna cotta with pistachio-rosewater pralines ($8) was lovely, though the "honeyed" quince that came with it was starchy and weird, the only off note of the evening.
The wine list has some solid values. At $60 the 2009 COS Pithos Cerasuolo is less than twice undiscounted retail.