2011 Oliveto Tomato Dinner(s)
I posted a bit about this on another thread, but I thought I should start a new one specific to the Tomato Dinner(s) for this year, the first with Oliveto's new chef, Jonah Rhodehamel. This year Oliveto is doing two sets of dinners, one in August and another in September. Tonight (August 26) is the last night of the "early season" dinner. We went last night and had a wonderful meal. The September dinners (September 13-16) will feature late season tomatoes.
I thought the food was wonderful last night. The Green Zebra tomato and watermelon crudo was sweet and refreshing. The Black Prince tart could have been a dessert. Both of our pastas, the tortelli and the pappardelle, were gorgeous. If you have both, eat the tortelli first; its delicate flavor and texture could be overwhelmed by the more powerful braised beef pappardelle preparation. The short ribs were rich, intensely flavored, and stunningly tender. Despite this, I was even more impressed with the Spezzatino of 36 month Angus beef. Though the beef in this stew was not falling apart tender like the short ribs, it had a remarkably deep beefy flavor. The stew liquid was much lighter than the dense sugo on the short ribs, and the tomatoes, potatoes, and squash held their own next to the intensely flavored beef.
Back from the Late Season Tomato Dinner. Currently worshiping at the altar of the Tortelli di pomodoro with garlic crema and rosemary crumbs. Absolutely explosive. Sweet enough to be a dessert. Love, love, love! The Parmesan cheese panna cotta with marinated heirloom tomatoes
and watercress was another standout, with a perfect panna cotta jiggle that caused it to continue quivering until every last bit had disappeared.
The Salad of warm lamb’s tongue, cherry tomatoes, and new potatoes was a very generous serving, and very tender. I loved it, but those who would rather not know that they're eating tongue will find it a bit...overt. We had the Gratinata of braised San Marzano tomatoes with Gigande and Flageolet beans, pork skin, and garlic sausage, the Spicy cioppino of chilipepper rockfish, clams, mussels, squid, scallops, and shrimp with Early Girl tomatoes, and the Pancetta-wrapped rabbit with Red Zebra tomato “hoppin’ John,” farro, and Anaheim peppers, all of which were excellent. That said, the Tortelli were the high point of the evening.
Yes, I went this week. My favorite was the lamb's tongue as described above. We also liked the panna cotta antipasto, though we weren't as taken by the sweet and savory flavors of the tortelli (though the pasta was well-made). Other worthwhile dishes were the lasagnette and the ciopinno, both were straightforward renditions, but showcased full tomato flavor.
There's always a crank in every thread. I didn't love it. Seemed like the old Oliveto to me. High prices. Miserly portions. Fussy/affected presentation (both presentation on the menu--how many Italian words/phrases do you include that one could hardly hope to know--and on the plate).
I read the descriptions of the lamb tongue above--one of the reasons I wanted to go. The tongue itself was first-rate, the portion generous, the presentation attractive. But the greens were over-salted, rendering the dish inedible, despite the exceptional meat. My husband's gazpacho was fine. Our friend's fried green tomatoes were nicely fried and sauced.
I asked the waiter if the pappardelle would be enough for a main. She said it should be fine, w/ the tongue as appetizer. It was three bites. OK, five. Delicious, great pasta, w a tasty hen sauce. But too small by a lot for an entree. And a bit small for its price tag (mid-teens). Others had hen roulade, which they more or less liked (my bite was nothing to write home about--indistinct flavors--a bit of a mush).
The desserts, one tomato concoction after another--one sillier than the next imo--didn't tempt us--not a one.
Service was mixed. I quite liked our server--she was lively and attentive. But when we asked for one translation, she ran down the entire menu, rattling on for quite a while. And, as I said above, I thought her advice re the pasta was just wrong.
The noise level made it hard to hear.
Had hoped for a special meal (meant it as a treat for the friend we'd invited). While there were some good things about it, it wasn't great.
5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618
re: sundeck sue
Sorry it wasn't good for you. I liked the greens with the tongue. Did not find them over-salted, but I do like thinks salty.
You were badly misled on the pasta size. The portions are tiny. Wonderful, but tiny. They used to give you a menu option of a larger, more "main-like" portion for a higher price. You might have been able to request that, but I'm not sure.
Your server sounds like the one we've had recently. I've found her to be good, but that pasta advice was terrible (though the lamb tongue serving is quite generous).
re: sundeck sue
Sue, having been to a number of these tomato dinners, I agree that this one was the least special. We had a decent dinner and liked the food, though weren't impressed as we were in previous years. When I first read over the menu, I suspected that this particular event might not be this chef's forte. That said, when the kitchen is on its game (Oceanic Dinner), Oliveto is excellent.