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Apr 3, 2011 11:27 PM

Riva Cucina review (Berkeley)

Ruth's epic annual birthday dinner thread reminded me that I quite liked Riva Cucina the one time I went a few years back, and with my parents in town, it was time to try it out again.

Overall, food was quite good, with 4 out of 6 dishes hitting the mark.

Burrata - their burrata is really stellar, maybe some of the best I've had in the Bay Area. Each generous mound is dotted with intensely caramelized cherry tomatoes and served on a simple and perfectly dressed green salad.

Arancini - perhaps I've been spoiled by the incredible, pork-ragu stuffed arancini at Adesso, but I found the arancini here bland and uninspired.

Tagliatelle Bolognese - perfectly textured pasta, sauce was coarser than I expected but the flavor was deep and complex.

Passatelli alla salsiccia - I haven't had this kind of pasta before - described as a "traditional Parmagiano, egg and breadcrumb pasta", it's like cross between spaetzle and semmelknödel, sauced in sausage, butter, Parmesan, sage and cream. It's delicious, and doesn't seem heavy at all, until about 20 minutes after you've eaten it, when it hits you like a bomb. I would order it again in a heartbeat.

Branzino - my mother murmured her concern when this came out nearly blackened, and I would say the fish was just the tiniest bit dry in places, but I have to say this was one of the best tasting, plainly cooked fish I've ever had. It was sweet, almost lobstery in flavor. There was other stuff on the plate but I don't remember what it was. Great piece of fish.

Braised lamb shank - undersalted and overcooked, this was the other miss of the night.

I have to admit, I couldn't help keeping score in my head:

New to Ruth - Y
Not too loud - N (it got pretty loud
)Not too expensive - Y
Enjoyable for both adventurous and nonadventurous palates - Y
Not too heavy - Y (if you don't order the passetelli)
Tablecloths - N
Easy to get to from the East Bay - Y
Easy parking - Y
Great desserts - can't say, but unless you're a huge fan of classic Italian desserts (panna cotta, torta alla nonna, torta al cioccolato) I'm going to say no

So, it scores a 6/9 on the Ruth's B-day Dinner scale. I think the noise would be the dealbreaker, and it might be a little casual for a special occasion, but it's a really good pick for a nice night out.

Riva Cucina
800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

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  1. That's actually Berkeley.

    Riva Cucina
    800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

    1. Thanks, daveena! Love the "Ruth's B-day Dinner" scale -- maybe we can get Michael Bauer to adopt it. ;-)

      When a friend asked me where to take me for a belated b-day dinner I chose Riva Cucina, so I'll be reporting back myself.

      Riva Cucina
      800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Did you ever mention where we went for your birthday dinner?

      2. Had a great spur-of-the-moment low-key celebratory meal last night at Riva Cucina.

        Drank a 2007 Castello di Luzzano Oltrepo Pavese sparkling Bonarda ($44), lovely, same idea as dry Lambrusco but better.

        Zuppa di fagioli ($7) I would call minestrone. Excellent, light.

        Arancini ($10), maybe the chef read the review above, anything but bland. They had a dusting of strong sheep's cheese and came with an intense tomato sauce on the side.

        Passatelli alla salsiccia ($15.50), "traditional Parmigiano, egg and breadcrumb pasta sautéed with housemade Italian sausage, butter, sage and cream." The noodles are rustic, kind of like spätzle. Traditionally they're served in broth, the sausage and cream is gilding the lily, or maybe more like larding the pork belly. Delicious but very rich, I was glad to be splitting it.

        Fettucchine alle sarde ($15.50), a bed of al-dente squid ink pasta in a great marinara sauce topped with two (four halves) nicely grilled sardines, nice light counterpart to the passatelli. I could eat this two or three times a week forever.

        Bistecca alla griglia ($22.50), properly medium-rare, came with excellent broccoli, and nice fried potatoes, a balsamic sauce made it seem a bit like a steak salad.

        The "torta della nonna" was good but wasn't the almost cookie-like jam tart I expected but more like a French lemon tart. Coconut sorbetto (Ciao Bella?) was refreshing.

        For future reference, corkage is free Wednesday night.

        Riva Cucina
        800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

        1. Wanted to eat outside last night and they had one table left. Really nice atmosphere, quiet and pleasantly lit.

          "Panzanella" was instead a tomato salad with croutons and cheese, which was fine with me since it was a lighter dish. Pappardelle with mushrooms was perfect. Risotto with squid, scallops, shrimp, etc. was tasty though it would have been better without the tomato. Simple spinach and Brussels sprouts were good. Lovely wines.

          The inside is air-conditioned, FWIW.