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Sep 20, 2012 07:46 AM

Borgo Italia in "Old Oakland"

Coming out your way for two weeks at Thanksgiving time and this new place is on my partner's radar. I realize it only opened two days ago, but has anyone been yet?

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  1. Oh, that's what Paul Ferrari of A. G. Ferrari opened in the old B space.

    1. Surprised that's on your partner's radar already when there hasn't been any buzz yet. I would think you'd check out Haven near Jack London Square first. But I guess since you won't be here until Thanksgiving, you can check back in a month to see what people think of Borgo Italia.

      1 Reply
      1. re: singleguychef

        He's originally from San Leandro, so he keeps up with what is going on in the Bay area. Plus, he saw the article about Borgo Italia on Eater recently. Hence, the radar. Of course we will check back in November to see what people are saying; I was just wondering in anyone had been yet. There were a couple of favorable reviews on Yelp. Thanks.

      2. This is the real deal, just like homemade. One of the owners had a restaurant in Parma and they're doing the same stuff. His mother is currently making the pasta and training the cooks.

        Just go.

        16 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Sounds like quite a lucky development on the restaurant scene, and a good way for people to be exposed to new variations on Italian cuisine.

          1. re: Tripeler

            Nothing new, though that kind of cooking is rare around here.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            Torta fritta aka gnocchi fritti were fresh, hot, puffy little breads served with prosciutto di Parma and good domestic coppa and salame. Would go really well with Lambrusco.

            Pizza margherita was tender Neapolitan style, very tasty tomato sauce and mozzarella.

            Spaghetti alla chitarra with tomato sauce was fantastic, noodles were thinner than I expected, almost like angelhair, their chitarra must have strings closer together than I'm used to.

            Housemade luganega sausage, zucchini poached in olive oil with garlic, and pepperonata were all great.

            I tasted a few creampuffs with different fillings and a ciambella with cream, not really my kind of thing but well made.

            I would have ordered the farinata (Ligurian version of socca) but the menu says three people minimum, the server said it's huge. Looking forward to trying that.

            Hours are 7am-11pm daily. The pastry chef apparently works all night. For breakfast they have a wide variety of fresh, housemade savory and sweet pastries for breakfast and morning snacks.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I really like this restaurant...but given the location, having Sunday hours was probably wishful thinking.

                  In any event, I'm pulling for the place.

                  1. re: Rapini

                    I went for a 4:30 dinner yesterday. Not very crowded at that time but it started getting busier when we left. We had spaghetti alla chitarra, saltimbocca, and ravioli. All were excellent. I especially liked the speck and sage leaf in the saltimbocca. The ravioli filling with eggplant and prosciutto was a first for me and quite delicious. They brought some pastries to try, and then we ordered more plus some to take home. Very friendly staff.

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I was wondering how they were going to sustain 16 hour days, seven days a week. I wish them well... actually, not just me. The second time I was there, there were a bunch of priests from Texas in the house. With Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" blaring in the background, one of them blessed the restaurant.

                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      Wow, you were certainly present for quite a religious experience. I am certainly jealous. Wonder what the priests from Texas were doing in Oakland?

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        Beats me, but add in a rabbi and a minister and we'd be on the road to a joke!

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          makes me think we should start a new thread -- jokes about food.

                        2. re: Tripeler

                          "Wonder what the priests from Texas were doing in Oakland?"

                          Vacation? Conference? Visiting a parish? Missionary work?

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I liked their "Spaghetti alla chitarra" but remember thinking the strands were too thin to exploit the irregularities introduced by a chitarra. Well, apparently no chitarra was used to make the "Spaghetti alla chitarra." They use a machine to cut the strands.



                      1. re: hyperbowler

                        I thought they were too narrow to have been cut with a chitarra. When we were talking with the chef's mother she said something about those things never working right anyway.

                        I'll have to see if I can get that extra-narrow cutter for our pasta machine.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          They use an Imperia from the photo. The Imperia model I own has an insert for tagliatelle on one side, and flips over for a cut about as thin as the one at BI. It's not as durable looking as the one in their pictures, but I believe it's their entry level model.

                          1. re: hyperbowler

                            The narrowest cutter we have for our Atlas 150 is about twice that wide. Looks like the capellini attachment's what I want.

                  3. sounds great. I can't wait to try their farinata.

                    anyone heard what kind of coffee they are serving? I'm always on the lookout for a nice place for an East Bay breakfast meeting.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: escargot3

                      I stopped by on my way to work this morning. The coffee is Giamaica brand from Italy. I had a sfogliatina de riso and a nice cappucino. The pastry was new to me; it looks like a small turnover and is filled with rice and cream. Really good, and I'd go back just for that, but they also have a wide variety of other fresh made pastries. I got a box for the office of little cream puffs. I don't know the Italian name, but they have less pastry cream than what I would expect from a French cream puff, and they had caramel drizzled over the top. The staff is very friendly, and have lovely accents. I'd definitely use the place for a breakfast meeting.

                      1. re: j mather

                        Sfogliatina = small sfogliatelle.

                        The usual name for those little cream puffs is bignè alla crema, but there are probably regional names as well.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Had a bunch of these little cream puffs today: chocolate, vanilla, honey, pistachio. Very well made, not too sweet.

                          I'll be back for lunch/dinner and more pastries.

                        2. re: j mather

                          Decades ago I used to walk to North Beach's Victoria Pastry to get yummy pastries. When we moved to the East Bay we were loyal patrons of Alice Medrich's still-unparalleled Cocolat Bakery. We adored Shuna Lydon's dessert creations at the still-mourned MoNo in Jack London Square, when it was still a warehouse district. So yes, we love whipped cream and pastry cream and flaky buttery pastry shells and oh yeah, that dirt-colored stuff called chocolate. You can take most American oversweetened desserts and dump 'em, as far as we're concerned.

                          Spouse and I stopped in to check them out at 8:30a on a Monday. Nobody else was there. Lovely rework of the old "B" space inside, very warm and rustic. If you don't know Borgo and District are there, however, you will NEVER notice them. With the tinted glass they look closed all the time, very unfriendly. Signs are tiny and easily missed, especially if you're driving past. Borgo has no 'Open' sign that we could see, which means if it is there others will probably miss it also.

                          They are NOT well-organized. Cheerful and friendly, but they must explain to every customer who comes in, what every single food item in the refrigerator case or on the tray is. There is no menu for the breakfast and pastry items, and no signs, not even handwritten ones! Sweet, but very inefficient if they get popular – which with their quality, they deserve to.

                          Not much in the way of breakfast savories. Everything is cold. Tiny croissants with thin-sliced ham, or two pieces of focaccia with very thin layer of ham, are the only savory options. No cheese or herbs, but we got one croissant apiece, and the pastry was excellent, the ham sweet and high quality.

                          But for sweets? A 4.5 star experience, absolutely! There is coffee and espresso, only one size. Cappuccinos were excellent, but they had not gotten any decaf beans yet so both of us drank it "leaded". How nice are they at Borgo? Well, they gave us two of the beignets for free to try – one chocolate, one vanilla. And they were wonderful.

                          Borgo is a stunning, outrageous, dessert-lover's paradise for sweet pastries. I personally don't believe they can continue to produce so many different cream-filled pastries on a daily basis; the entire workforce of would have to descend upon them every day to prevent so many desserts from going limp and stale. It just isn't practical until they get more well-known.

                          At 8:30 a.m. they had out on the bar:
                          1. A long tray of pistachio cream tartlets
                          2. A long tray of chocolate cream tartlets
                          3. 3/4 of a large-size chocolate tart
                          4. Most of a large-size mixed nut tart

                          In the refrigerator case:
                          5. At least 18 large ciambelle – for my éclair-loving spouse, heaven! They use a pastry cream lightened with a judicious amount of heavy whipped cream. This was so much better than what I used to get at Victoria Pastry, I can't even begin to tell you.
                          6. Mixed fruit bowls with whipped cream topping
                          7. 3 kinds of beignets: chocolate, vanilla topped with drizzled spun sugar, and the other ??
                          8. Small fruit tartlets
                          9. A cake with little meringue puffs decorating the outside; two layers of what might be meringue? with a chocolate filling in the middle; pastry cream on top – again, didn't catch the name and exact description
                          10. Glass jars with lids for tiramisu (which we will try after dinner tonight)
                          11. Glass jars for panna cotta, which I picked. This was a full 1-1/2 cups of a rich milk cream, flecked throughout with vanilla bean seeds. Like the tiramisu which is the same size, enough to share. It can't be unmolded. If you like soft custards (which I do; it's how I make them at home), this is lovely. It is a little sweet, but goes well with black coffee although it would be nice if they had a fresh tart-sweet raspberry sauce as an optional accompaniment.

                          We came back an hour later after finishing our errands, to get the tiramisu and some beignets to go! We're coming back for dinner this week (dinner menu looked more interesting than lunch). As a bakery, we haven't seen this kind of quality and whipped cream enthusiasm in the East Bay in way, way too long (happy cries of "mit schlag! Mit schlag!" are being heard in our house).

                          1. re: jaiko

                            They have separate lunch and dinner menus now? On the Web site it's a single "all day" menu which is what we got at lunch the other day.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              The menu on the website looks a bit like a skeleton -- I assumed things would be added -- permanently, seasonally or as specials.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                It changes daily. It's not unusual in Italy for that kind of restaurant to have a very short menu.

                      2. Great savory items, but I'm mainly excited that there's a place open till 11PM that has pastries to go. Currently, the neighborhood's late night dessert offerings are limited to places I'd feel weird getting take out from, frozen desserts, and what's offered at Asian cafes. Come to think of it, the only take-out place in the whole of Oakland & Berkeley with homemade pastries past 9PM on a weekend, to my knowledge, is PiQ, and there's aren't very good.

                        I stopped in last night. The daily menu didn't match what was online, and that sadly meant no farinata. The tagliatelle with veal ragu was rustic. excellent, and had a good sized portion. It was served in a frying pan to keep it warm. There was just enough ragu to coat, and showcase, the pasta.The tagliatelle had a good amount of resistance for a fresh pasta, and was a reminder of how good a simple pasta can be.

                        The salad of the day had a crunchy green, raisins, orange slices, pomegranate seeds, a few slices of carrot, and some swizzles of balsamic reduction on the plate corners. I'm not sure I've encountered a salad with pomegranate seeds that gelled, but the components were fine.

                        The torta fritta was a great vehicle for eating Italian meats. They're thin enough so that the bread's flavor doesn't overpower the meat, yet crunchy enough to add a contrasting texture. For a deep fried product, they're not at all oily, and the inside has a dryish texture similar to a homemade pocket pita. The prosciutto was sliced to the point of translucency.

                        The honey and hazelnut cream puffs were excellent, especially considering how many hours earlier they must have been produced.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          Sorry, almost forgot to report back on the tiramisu we brought home! It was good, but not quite as good as the one Venezia/Berkeley USED to make (alas, theirs has also gone downhill noticeably). It was probably the least sweet version we've ever had, which is good. Lots of espresso flavor, also good. But we like a lot of liqueur in our tiramisu, and we could hardly taste anything but coffee in Borgo's version.

                          Also, it was very whipped cream-y. Now, we do love whipped cream, but this needed more mascarpone to give the crema some body. I also can't figure out why they are spending on such expensive containers? The tiramisu comes in a Kerr's canning jar and heat-sealable top! This is a refrigerator need for the overkill.

                          Still in love with the beignet/cream puff thingies, though. I tried one of the pistachio mini-tarts, and the cream filling had remarkably full pistachio flavor, tender pastry crust. Very nice!

                          1. re: jaiko

                            I wonder if they might be having trouble sourcing mascarpone? We were talking with the mother in Italian and she said they were having trouble finding some things. AG Ferrari does not carry Galbani, which I think is best.

                            There are two basic schools of tiramisu, one made with espresso and the other with marsala.