Monday, March 07, 2011

Oliveto Restaurant

If you live in the Bay Area, it's likely you know about Oliveto. It opened 25 years ago, is located in Rockridge, Oakland and serves wonderful Italian food, with a Slow Food sensibility. You can always count on Oliveto for great pasta, roasted meat and fish, and a commitment to using the best quality ingredients. It's also been the home for several great Bay Area chefs notably Paul Canales, Michael Tusk and Paul Bertolli.

Hoffman farm hen rolata
What's new at Oliveto? A lot, to tell you the truth. For one, there is a new chef, Jonah Rhodehamel. I recently ate at the restaurant and can tell you he approaches cooking with finesse and sense of balance. It's hard to believe someone so young has already spent time at such venerable restaurants as La Folie, Americano and Quince. I particularly loved his Hoffman hen "rolata" stuffed with sausage. It reminded me of a similar preparation I had at Frances last year.

Oliveto cafe pizza
I've always been fond of the pizza served in the cafe downstairs, but it's actually gotten better now that they are using whole grain flour from Community Grains. The flour is very smooth, not rough but has a nutty flavor that really complements cheese, mushrooms and more. Unlike other whole wheat flours, Community Grains makes a flour that is not enriched. You actually get all the parts of the grain, ground together. The flour will soon be available for retail customers.

Tred flint polenta
Another fabulous grain making it's way into Oliveto's menu is red flint polenta. It takes a full three hours to fully hydrate and cook, but the result is something special. Flecked with red, it has texture and body and cooks up thicker than regular yellow cornmeal. I had it topped with egg and greens.

Christmas limas
So new that it's not even on the menu yet, are heirloom beans that Oliveto sourced from a farmer who grows a huge variety of legumes, some that are very unusual. Which ones Oliveto will end up using is still up for discussion. At a recent lunch I got to try the pigeon peas, cannellini and Christmas limas. They were prepared very simply to let their natural flavors shine through. The pigeon peas had good texture, but were not as flavorful as the cannellini which had a natural sweetness and the Christmas limas which were unbelievably meaty. They really tasted as if they had been cooked with beefy bones. The beans were just delicious served up plain, so I can't wait to see how they will make it onto the menu.

Not new, but an annual tradition, Oliveto is hosting their Whole Hog dinners March 9-12, 2011. Each night a different pig is featured, check out the schedule for more details. This is a super popular event but some later seatings are still available.

5655 College Avenue
Oakland, CA