Il Casaro – New Restaurant

23 03 2014

When I first saw Il Casaro as I was walking by a week ago, the menu was posted as a “soft opening menu”. It looked intriguing, so (with difficulty remembering where exactly it was) I returned yesterday. They are now fully open, and I think they’re off to a good start.

Marinara Pizza - $12

Marinara Pizza – $12

The owners of Il Casaro are not new to the area; they’ve owned nearby Vicoletto for some time. Which, oddly, I’ve never been to. Perusing their menu, I would now really like to try their pappardelle with fresh crab meat, among other things. More new restaurants, yeay!

What I liked about Il Casaro, aside from the food being good, was the relatively casual atmosphere and price point, along with the simple yet totally satisfying menu choices. They (currently) offer a couple salads, a few appetizers and sides, two panuzzi (a type of Italian sandwich made with pizza dough), a variety of mozzarella cheeses and meat plates, and pizzas. They have a massive wood-burning oven (with chopped wood stacked along one wall to verify authenticity), and bar seating that surrounds the cooking area (with said oven). There are also a dozen or more tables around the perimeter of the high-ceilinged, open space.

Asparagi - $9

Asparagi – $9

Insalata - $9.50

Insalata – $9.50

While there is no shortage of Italian restaurants in North Beach, I find that many of them are upscale with a price point of around $20-30 per plate. It’s really nice to find a place that offers a nice atmosphere, good menu, yummy food, and can easily keep a meal for two under $50.

I made the considerable mistake of ordering the only pizza that doesn’t have cheese on it… a fact that was plainly displayed on their menu but I neglected to notice due to my apparently mistaken belief that all pizzas should have cheese on them. It was still a good pizza, but I definitely longed for all the pizzas that I saw being made behind the counter with beautiful mozzarella cheese on them.

Imported Burrata - $9.75

Imported Burrata – $9.75

Which brings up another point: the “Mozzarella Bar” part of the menu. All I can say to this is YES. They offer four types of mozzarella (buffala, fior di latte, imported burrata, and smoked mozzarella) that come with toasted bread and a small arugula salad ($7-$10 per order). I can’t wait to go back just to try more of these (and get a pizza with cheese on it…). We tried the imported burrata (obvious first choice) and it was amazing, as expected.

Everything else was simple but delicious, and, aside from the pizza coming out first (I would have preferred the salad), was smoothly executed. I look forward to returning.

Il Casaro on Urbanspoon





54 Mint

8 03 2014

54 Mint is tucked away behind the old San Francisco Mint off 5th Street just south of Market (indeed, in SOMA). It’s a cute space with rustic-chic decor, and a large-ish downstairs (basement) seating area for overflow seating and (I assume) large parties. They’ve got an extensive wine list, a fancy Italian menu, and, most importantly, it is possible to get a reservation.

IMG_3695

I went here a few weeks ago with Mom and Sister, and, though I enjoyed everything quite a bit, the menu wasn’t great for Mom. She has a few dietary restrictions that I try to accommodate in my restaurant choices, but I didn’t do a great job in this case. She doesn’t eat pasta and doesn’t like “weird” (i.e. non-standard) meat dishes. The mains at 54 Mint include a half-dozen house-made pastas (yum!), and lamb shank, oxtail, sea bass, and skirt steak. These things were too exotic for Mommy-dearest. Oops, my bad.

skirt steak

bistecca (grass-fed skirt steak, crispy potato, salsa verde) $26

amatriciana (bucatini, smoked pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino Romano) $17

amatriciana (bucatini, smoked pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino Romano) $17

But, we enjoyed the night anyway. It was a Tuesday, so it wasn’t terribly crowded. I can see how it might get quite loud in there if it were more crowded, however; the stark finishes really bounce the sound around.

tonnarelli cacio e pepe (home-made tonnarelli, black pepper, olive oil,  pecorino Romano cheese) $17

tonnarelli cacio e pepe (home-made tonnarelli, black pepper, olive oil, pecorino Romano cheese) $17

Our waitress was courteous, the wine was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed their version of classic Italian cacio e pepe. Mom did end up enjoying the skirt steak quite a bit, though I don’t think she loved the flourless chocolate cake as much as I did. What can I say, Mom’s a tough critic. Fortunately (for me), I’m less so. I’d definitely go back. Homemade pasta… mmm…

flourless Valrhona chocolate & bourbon cake, huckleberry, whipped cream $7

flourless Valrhona chocolate & bourbon cake, huckleberry, whipped cream $7

54 Mint SF on Urbanspoon





Caffe Baonecci

17 11 2013

North Beach is San Francisco’s “Little Italy”. As such, you’re never more than a stone’s throw from an Italian restaurant in these parts. Most of them, as far as I’ve experienced, are relatively mediocre, as you might expect in a tourist-oriented area with an overabundance of one type of restaurant. Caffe Baonecci is a nice change of pace.

burrata salad with tomatoes and arugula

burrata salad with tomatoes and arugula

I’ve walked by this place literally hundreds of times, as it’s right in the thick of North Beach — on Green between Colombus and Union. It’s two doors down from the famed Golden Boy Pizza (which is amazing), and just steps away from a handful of other restaurants and bars. Caffe Baonecci is unassuming. It’s a pretty small restaurant on the corner that’s family owned, and doesn’t look particularly swanky or chic. In my opinion, this actually works in my favor since it keeps the hoards of tourists at bay, and allows me to enjoy a nice Italian dinner that is both delicious and not completely overwhelming.

porcini and arugula pizza

porcini and arugula pizza

I’m not actually sure how long the wait would have been this Friday night, because I rarely go anywhere popular without a reservation anymore. We had a 7pm rezzo, and our tiny table was waiting for us promptly. We ordered a bottle of wine ($37), a salad ($14), a pasta ($19), and a specialty pizza ($20). Their pizzas are super duper thin crust, and everything is home made (ok, I don’t think the pasta noodles are home made, but I’m not actually sure). Everything was great. I was totally jonesing for some carbs, and that meal certainly did deliver.

pasta al forno

pasta al forno

We started with a Burrata Salad, which was a very generous portion of burrata with delicious tomatoes. Next came the carbs — the Pasta Al Forno (baked) and Porcini and Arugula Pizza. The pizza was very good, but the pasta was the star dish for me. It was simple — large tube pastas baked with tomato sauce and cheese — but it really hit the spot. It was rich and tasty, and the portion was generous. We did not leave hungry.

I admit that I should try more Italian places in the area, but I’m happy to know there is at least one place whose food speaks louder than the praise in the tour books.





Tommaso’s

2 06 2012

Two “m”s, one “s”. Tommaso’s. Opened in 1935 (under the name Lupo’s), this Italian eatery has stayed the course for over 75 years donning the same cave-like location and winning awards for their pizza. They’ve got an interesting story and are one of the great restaurant successes of SF.

Margherita pizza from Tommaso’s

When you ask for restaurant recommendation in SF, particularly in North Beach, you’ll often hear the name Tommaso’s. At least I have. And since I walk by the place every day (no joke) on my way to work, it’s a wonder it’s taken so long for me to go. But alas, now I can say I have experience the great Tommaso’s.

I liked it. I like most restaurants, I guess. Honestly, it wasn’t entirely my style, but the food was good and so was the company (Carissa and EJ met me there).

Being 75+ years old, not unlike my grandpa (love you grandpa!), the style is sort of old school. Think along the lines of Banchero’s (or any old Italian diner, if you’re not from Hayward). It’s been kept up pretty well, but there aren’t any windows (bordered on two sides by other buildings, kitchen in the back, no windows in the front), it’s a bit dim, and the service is what you would expect from a “family-owned” place as opposed to, like, an Applebee’s. You know what I mean.

And since the reputation is so ridiculous, the place is packed. We went on a Saturday night and they don’t take reservations. So, we waited in the too-small foyer for 45 minutes or so for our table. At least they’ll give you drinks while you wait.

Vegetarian antipasto plate from Tommaso’s

The menu offers a few appetizers, many salads, seafood, pasta, pizza, and Italian dinners. It’s down-home style — not light “California” Italian — like so many other restaurants in North Beach. We, obligingly, ordered a pizza to share and a veggie appetizer plate.

Margherita pizza in dim light

Both were good. I love veggies and so did my companions. We gobbled them up quickly. The pizza wasn’t thin Italian style, but wasn’t heavy American style either. It was somewhere in between, and it had lots of (read: adequate amounts of) cheese. It was tasty. I don’t know if I’d go running to Zagat about it, but I did like it. Carissa thought the place we went last time (another North Beach restaurant) was better. And Carissa never sugar coats things.

I’d definitely go back to Tommaso’s if the opportunity arose, but I probably wouldn’t, say, steer a group of my friends there if they asked me where to go. Just my two cents; Zagat can keep on with the praises all they want.

Tommaso's on Urbanspoon





Paradiso

29 06 2011
Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: One  ♦   Will I Return?:  Si, Per Favore!
___________

Ok, you live in the East Bay, but not really in the exciting parts like Oakland or Berkeley. You’re sorta stuck in the Fremont/Hayward/San Leandro no-man’s land of the East Bay*. There are plenty of places to eat, but most of them aren’t particularly exciting. Enter Paradiso.

Like Hayward’s Buon Appetito and a handful of other places around this stretch of land, Paradiso is an oasis of culinary delight. With classy decor, an upscale menu, and service that will put a smile on your face (as well as a hearty amount of water in your glass), Paradiso is a welcome pleasure.

Inside Paradiso: the counter that surrounds the kitchen.

Inside Paradiso

What I loved most about Paradiso, after being wowed by the stunning interior, is the menu. I suppose the selections are nothing terribly unexpected in an Italian restaurant, but I was excited to see how different they were from Buon Appetito, my go-to classy/delicious Italian restaurant in the East Bay. While BA offers dish after dish of (fabulous) pasta, Paradiso changes it up with hearty variety of appetizers, Italian style thin-crust pizza, and a large selection of meaty mains. While we were (unfortunately) trying to keep our budget down on this particular Paradiso trip, we did not have the good fortune to experience any of the starters or salads. But what we did try was enough to keep us coming back.

The Boyfriend ordered his classic go-to: Pizza Margherita. I swear the man could live off that particular breed of pizza-pie, and he nearly does live off the ingredients (cheese and bread can make a nearly unending variety of foods, I have discovered). This pie was thin, crispy, and generously covered with a surprisingly exceptional mozzarella cheese. He enjoyed it; I looked on with envy until he gave me a slice.

Pizza Margherita a la Paradiso

I ordered what (I believe) was one of their specials that night: mushroom risotto. I love risotto. It’s fabulous. But, while I’ve never cooked the stuff, I find that it takes a bit of finesse and is easy to muck up. If the restaurant doesn’t seem up to it by one measure or another, I will often go for a more reliably good dish (pasta, for example). The vibe at Paradiso was giving me all the right signs, so I went for it. And I was rewarded greatly. This risotto was cooked perfectly. It was not too soft, yet not too al dente. It had the right consistency (kinda like oatmeal) and the taste was fabulous. Score one for Paradiso.

Risotto!

I’d love to go back to try some of their salads, the calamari appetizer, and perhaps one of their pastas or another pizza. (Although if there is risotto again, I make no guarantees that I won’t be sweet talked into having that.) They also have a small bar that’s super cute and tucked away in the rear of the entry area. Paradiso is definitely a gem worth visiting.

Paradiso's bar

*Incidentally, Hayward is known as the “Heart of the Bay”. My mom calls it “The Armpit of the Bay”. I guess the glass can be half empty or half full, eh?

Paradiso on Urbanspoon





Buon Appetito — Revisted

7 03 2011
Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A Few* ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
___________

Buon AppetitoHello again, Buon Appetito. My first review of Buon Appetito in Hayward followed my first visit about this time last year. Since then we’ve been back a couple times and I wanted to report on the growth of this place for those who haven’t been in a while.

Last time I commented on the new addition of the bar area to the main restaurant. They have now added a third space as they attempt to take over that entire tiny shopping strip. Sandwiching the bar area is a second seating area that could probably seat another 50 people easily. I didn’t ask who their interior decorator is, but it’s clear that they spared no expense — the place looks fabulous.

Buon Appetito

The newest dining room at Buon Appetito, Hayward

They’re also adding what appears to be a small patio area on the parking lot side of the main dining room, which seems to be almost finished. It’s really impressive how they keep expanding and using their profits to grow their space and, undoubtedly, their business.

A couple more dishes that we tried recently which should be mentioned:

  • Fried Calamari: Crispy and delicious but a bit heavy (as you might imagine from a deep fried dish). A good portion for the price. Comes with two dipping sauces, yum!

    Calamari

    Calamari

  • Chocolate Tart: I actually can’t find this on their online menu, but it’s a little chocolate cake-y thing served hot and filled with liquid chocolate goodness in the middle. It’s amazing. I should have taken a picture with the chocolate pouring out of the center, but I didn’t because I was too busy stuffing my face and pretending to offer a bite to my boyfriend even though I wasn’t going to relinquish any piece of this little blob of heaven. This is worth the trip to BA alone.

    Cake

    Chocolate Tart!

*As this is a “revisited” post subsequent to a previous post about the same restaurant, any changes in my ratings at the top of the post are shown in bold. Otherwise, they remain the same as before.





Spettro

14 08 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  One   ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
___________

SpettroSpettro can be found at 3355 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland and is one of a huge many awesome restaurants which I’m only just finding out about in this area. Seriously, Oakland is pretty awesome. Our friends described this place as Mexican/Italian fusion, but after seeing the menu, it pretty much looked like Italian to me.

A variety of delicious-sounding salads; entrees including chicken marsala, chicken or eggplant parmesan, oven braised lamb and chicken risotto along with pastas and pizzas will start any mouth watering. Seriously, it was super hard to choose between the salads and the pizzas…so Friend #1 and I split one of each. This was a fabulous choice.

Spettro

Inside Spettro, Oakland.

Despite my continual urge to order a Caesar, I deferred to a Marblehead salad of “Tender Butter Lettuce, Tart Green Apples, Candied Walnuts and Crumbled Bleu Cheese In a Bleu Cheese Vinaigrette”. Yeah, it was worth it. Seriously though, there are quite a few salads to choose from that sounded DE-licious. Oh, and you can choose a small, medium or large size for any salad which is so, SO nice of them.

salad

Marblehead Salad from Spettro, Oakland.

Though I really did have my eye on a pasta dish (dude, pesto eggplant lasagna…hard to resist!) we settled happily on a Lofaro pizza: “Thin Crisp Crust Brushed With Garlic Olive Oil Topped With Roasted Shitakes, Spinach Mushrooms, Goat Cheese, Roasted Garlic And Mozzarella”. Cannot go wrong there, as far as I’m concerned. And, indeed, we did not. It was delicious. Everything was delicious.

pizza

Behold the glory of the Lofaro Pizza from Spettro, Oakland

Friend #2 ordered the chicken risotto with which he appeared pleased. Our salad and pizza was gone without a second thought (oh, garlic, you’re soooo good)…and we were on to dessert. I think I got caught up in the moment (and the dessert menu posted on the wall across from us) as I don’t typically order dessert. Since we couldn’t decide between the offerings we chose to all split an ice cream covered brownie and a peach crisp.

risotto

Smoked Chicken Risotto from Spettro, Oakland.

I’m not a fan of fruit crumbles, so I took my mandatory bite of crisp and quickly moved on to the brownie and ice cream wholeheartedly. For $5 each, both desserts were pretty plush, but I must admit that I was sorely disappointed by the brownie. It is, in fact, the very reason I rarely order brownies: it was dry, hard, and seemed old. I have no idea if it was actually old or overcooked or what, but it was not terribly satisfying. As it was the only thing on our table that I didn’t absolutely love, I did pardon good ‘ole Spettro for the single blunder.

brownie

Brownie and ice cream from Spettro, Oakland.

crumble

Peach Crisp from Spettro, Oakland

The service was good but nothing terribly special. I did love the atmosphere: smaller, single open room with brick walls and strings of lights spider-webbed over the room. Upscale dining and great food with medium prices…I like you, Spettro.

Spettro on Urbanspoon





Buon Appetito

8 04 2010
Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
___________

Buon Appetito has been one of the classiest Hayward restaurants for some time now.  Amidst all the good things I’ve head over the past many years, this was my first visit.  My conclusion?  It was great.  In short, the menu had many delicious meat-less choices, the decor was exquisite, and the food was very good.  The only problem?  The damn place is on A Street in Hayward.

Let’s talk for a moment about how I love Hayward.  I’m from Hayward, born and raised.  It seems to me that it does a person no good to walk around all day squawking about how horrible his or her hometown is, especially when he or she currently is residing in said hometown.  I would be continuously disgruntled if, for example, my feathers were ruffled every time the bass on the stereo in the adjacent vehicle was overriding the Regina Spektor playing in my car.   Or, if I were upset by the ever expanding stretch of out-of-business car lots on Mission Boulevard.  Or, if I felt threatened by late night, spontaneous, car-side dance parties at the Chevron station near Jackson Street.  If it bothered me when I am stared down by the patrons at the local Food Maxx, then it would make my life a bit difficult.  Instead, I try to embrace the run down shopping centers, to smile sincerely at the Walgreen’s checker despite his lack of front teeth, and to dodge the folks trying to sell me things outside my neighborhood Lucky store with gusto and without remorse.  And I try to be home, or far from it, before dark.

My point is: A Street sucks.  It’s old, it’s run down, and it’s not nice.  There’s the new Lucky shopping center which, except for aforementioned jerks who are ALWAYS THERE pedaling something outside the front doors (I just want to go shopping, and I thought that would have been fairly clear by the fact that I’ve pulled up to a grocery store*), has added a splash of modernity to this otherwise bereft stretch of downtown.  But the rest of A Street, from Foothill to Hesperian has been getting progressively older and crummier since I was a child.  So to come back to my originally intended point, this is an unexpected place for such a nice restaurant.

Back to the topic at hand.  Once you park your car (lock the doors), trudge up the sidewalk, and open the door to Buon Appetito, you suddenly enter another world.  It’s a world with clean floors, fun Italian music, fresh food, and *gasp!* tablecloths.  It’s a place made for another town, is what it is.  But, alas, Buon Appetito has chosen to grace Hayward with its presence, and for that I am grateful.

Buon Appetito restaurant review, Hayward

Seating area with bar behind inside Buon Appetito in Hayward.

The inside of Buon Appetito looks really great.  Everything is clean and classy, and the newest addition of the bar area makes it a lot more spacious and multi-purpose.  The service is prompt and helpful; our waiter could pronounce all the things on the menu that I asked him about.  The food is made by a chef with (assumingly) actual culinary training.  And it tastes like it too – no alfredo sauce from a jar here.  They know what they’re doing at Buon Appetito.

The bar at Buon Appetito, Hayward.

Since my mom ordered the Ravioli con Pomodoro e Limone: fresh ravioli pasta filled with spinach, Swiss chard, pine nuts & ricotta cheese topped with a lemon cream sauce – which I secretly wanted, I chose the Turtei di Zucca (I pointed to the menu instead of risking trying to pronounce that word): home-made ravioli pasta filled with roasted butternut squash & ricotta cheese topped with a cream sage sauce.  Boyfriend ordered one of the specials: Pasta Rustica, which was ear-shaped pasta with potatoes, onions, and fontina cheese, served crispy (I was intrigued by this, I’ll admit).  Oh yeah, and while you wait, they provide bread slices with heavenly garlic spread:

Complimentary bread with delicious and addicting garlic spread.

My ravioli was very good; I chose the cream sauce (the more popular sauce), though I also had a choice of a browned butter sauce (I wasn’t feeling adventurous).  My mom’s ravioli was also delicious – the cream sauce on this pasta is pure perfection.

Turtei di Zucca in a cream sauce at Buon Appetito in Hayward.

Ravioli con Pomodoro e Limone at Buon Appetito, Hayward.

Boyfriend’s pasta was good – the crispy-ness made it interesting.  Since it was not completely doused in a cream sauce, I didn’t love it quite as much (go figure), but it was good.  And it looked pretty.

Pasta Rustica at Buon Appetito, Hayward.

They offered dessert but we declined, thought I’m sure it would have been good.  The price of the dishes is a bit above the norm for Hayward, our pasta dishes were running on the order of $14 a plate.  So, it’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for, and it’s not horribly expensive either.  The meat dishes are a bit more expensive (as meat dishes are wont to be), but the salads are reasonably priced and so are the cocktails, of which a plentiful variety is offered.  I wish they had a happy hour or some early dinner specials to get people in the door before 6pm, but it’s a perfect place for a truly nice dinner in Hayward.

And hey, if you need a contractor, notary, and a lawyer, there’s a one stop shop right across the street.  Gotta love Hayward.

*Oh right, I’m not bitter, I forgot for a second.

Boun Appetito on Urbanspoon





Banchero’s

19 02 2010
Atmosphere: 2/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A million   ♦   Will I Return?: Anything for Family
___________

You know how every town has that restaurant that’s been around since the beginning of time?  Banchero’s is that restaurant in Hayward (one of them, at least).  The painted exterior boasts that this place was established in 1948, and I will not contest them on that.  I’m also fairly certain that the façade, the tables and chairs, along with every fixture and most of the gracious and wise employees are from right around then as well.  And, let’s face it, they’re all hanging in there.

I have to grade Banchero’s on a different scale than other establishments.  This is not a place that I, of my own accord, would probably ever patronize.  It’s a restaurant from a bygone era of leather booths, dim lighting, dingy tile ceilings, and uncreative food.  “Modern” is not in the vocabulary of the Banchero’s crew, and they’re working with that (though, curiously, they do have a pretty nice website).  In my own personal world, this place has about the ambiance of a dentist’s office, but when you enter Banchero’s, you’re no longer in your own world anymore.  You’re whisked away to a bar and restaurant whose heyday was 50 years in the past.

When Banchero’s was built, there was no Cheesecake Factory.  There wasn’t Applebees, or P.F. Chang’s, or even Olive Garden.  Can you imagine?  The very idea of “chain” restaurants may not have even existed yet (along with fire and possibly the wheel), so each local restaurant facility was left to their own devices as far as interior design, menu, and all the standard protocols of a money-making establishment.  And so, you get places like Banchero’s, where they made food that people liked and functioned well enough to make a bit of cash.  The thing is, there just aren’t many from that era that have made it into this century.

But Banchero’s has, which says something about the place in general.  Clearly they have a loyal clientele that spans more than one generation, they offer something that people respect and desire, and they function well enough to keep offering these things without undermining their own intents.  To own and operate a restaurant for sixty-some years, (assumingly) keeping much of the same decor, menu, and general appearance is a feat that few restaurants can claim to have conquered.

The interior of Banchero's restaurant in Hayward.

Now, what do I personally think of the food?  I’m not the hugest fan.  It’s diner style – the thick white porcelain plates with rounded edges, no garnishes, heavy with butter and sauce.  The choices are steak and chicken and (thankfully) pasta and offer nothing particularly vegetarian friendly nor terribly creative.  In short – it’s not my style.  But that’s not to say that flocks of people don’t arrive every night salivating over the ravioli, spaghetti, and rib-eye steaks. There is something about this place that keeps the people coming back week after week, decade after decade.

Chicken Marsala at Banchero's.

One fun thing about Banchero’s (that I can’t fully enjoy as a non-meat-eater) is all the stuff that comes with a dinner entrée.  You think bread sticks and all-you-can-eat salad are good at Olive Garden?  Try this: if you order a main meal that isn’t pasta, you receive salad, barley soup (yummy), hors d’oeuvres (olives, pickles, peppers, cauliflower, salami), spaghetti, and ravioli all on community platters for the table to share.  That’s before your meal – then you get a fillet of sole or chicken liver or whatever you ordered after all that!  And also an after-dinner ice cream included as well – choice of vanilla, orange sherbet, or spumoni.  And, don’t forget that you have to order the garlic bread (half or whole loaf) to help carb-up the whole meal (it’s delicious, can’t mess up garlic bread).  I typically order just soup and salad, as those are the most veggie friendly/healthy options, and since I can’t seem to manage to eat those appetizers and a whole fish meal also.

The interesting thing about Banchero’s is that they are filling a niche that I didn’t really think existed anymore.  There’s a reason that the diners of today don’t have off-white walls with nautical paintings from 19-hundred-and-something and lumpy leather booths.  We do the mood lighting, the color matching, the professionally theme-decorated nick knacks strategically placed around the walls for a reason – it looks nicer.  The art of restaurant decoration has been perfected and you and I are fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how you feel about it) to be able to enjoy these seemingly elaborately decorated facilities for the price of a standard dinner.  And though I’m describing chain restaurants here, I’m really just harping on the evolution of ambiance as a key role in a patron’s enjoyment of any setting.  Thoughtful, classy, modern, and creative are the new decors of choice, and we now have the ability to enjoy this in almost any restaurant.

For Banchero’s to hang on to it’s old world style, it’s old fashioned menu (I ask you, where else can you order Sauteed Chicken Livers, Ground Steak, Swiss Chard, or Spumoni Ice Cream?), and the same mid-1900’s decor and still maintain a profitable, competitive business is completely amazing.  Kudos to you, Banchero’s, I wish you many more years of success.

Note: To any of my family members reading this, please be neither surprised nor offended at this review.  I don’t mind going to Banchero’s as it makes me happy to see you happy.  And I don’t care if the food isn’t for me specifically, you probably already knew that anyway (“you’re only having soup and salad?”).  We can still go there and I’ll never say a word of complaint; I just like to hang out with you.  :)

Banchero's Italian Dinners on Urbanspoon





Oliveto (Cafe)

15 02 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 2/5
Times Visited: One  ♦   Will I Return?: Not Likely
___________

Oliveto is a fancy cafe and restaurant in Oakland, just off Highway 24, that has a bit of a reputation.  It’s a bit fancier than I normally shell out for,  but my friends had heard good things so we went to check it out.

The facility is on a corner lot on College Avenue just near a Bart station and it’s signage does not lend itself well to being seen in the daytime.  We arrived in three separate cars and no one saw it on the first try.  It has a larger (though I didn’t see the extent) restaurant on the 2nd floor and a very small cafe on the ground floor with an even smaller amount of outdoor seating.  We had wanted to try the restaurant proper but found that it was not open for lunch on Sundays.  So we settled for the cafe.

Oliveto's downstairs cafe.

I had a gander at the menu on their website before we left and noticed that it was both pricey and fancy shmancy.  The cafe is slightly cheaper than the restaurant, but both offer menu items described with unknown Italian words and a freshly printed menu daily.  Upon arrival (after finding the place), we were seated in their teeny tiny downstairs cafe and ordered our foods of choice.

First, as I mentioned the menu has fancy words on it.  This place is for real foodies or people who like asking dumb questions to their waiter.  Either you know what coppa de testa, biancio invernale, and panforte di siena are, or you get to sit there holding the menu up to the waitress for ten minutes pointing and mispronouncing.  It seems like an odd choice to me, but, again, I’m not used to this kind of class.

Oliveto's lunch menu.

The menu in general is nice – freshly printed for this day only with choices of appetizers, pizzas, paninis, and dessert.  Even though I didn’t know what many of the dishes were, I was looking forward to eating one of them.  There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of veggie choices, and the pizza seemed overpriced, so I ordered a vegetable and cheese panini (which was no doubt described with far more complexity on the menu).  My friends ordered (in layman’s terms): a turkey panini, a sloppy Joe, a tuna sandwich, and a sweet potato appetizer.

The sweet potato appetizers (2 people actually ordered them) were not particularly enjoyed by our table.  Both of my friends had ordered the cauliflower appetizer, but relinquished to the sweet potato when informed that there was no more cauliflower.  Keep in mind that this is a “normal”, unrefined person passing judgment here, but this was really just overcooked sweet potatoes with green raisins in olive oil.  It was something that was more of a one-or-two-bites dish rather than a six-dollar-appetizer plate.

Fried ceci beans with sweet potato appetizer behind.

The other appetizer ordered was fried ceci beans, also ordered by two persons at the table.  They thought it sounded interesting, and, let’s face it, it’s fried so it can’t really be bad.  We soon found that ceci beans are in fact garbanzo beans.  It was quite a let down even though they weren’t bad.  Quote from Friend #1, “Why wouldn’t they just tell me they were garbanzo beans?”.  Indeed, friend, indeed.

Veggie panini (left), tuna sandwich (right), turkey panini (behind), sloppy Joe (back right).

The “main” meals were pretty good, but also very small.  My veggie panini was actually quite good, while boyfriend’s tuna sandwich was a bit boring.  Friend #2’s turkey sandwich was said to be delicious, though I did not have any for obvious reasons.  Same goes for F#2’s Boyfriend’s sloppy Joe.  Even though the portions were small, I was still relatively satisfied afterward.

Bread pudding with orange sauce, oatmeal cookies, and honey ice cream were ordered for dessert and were all relatively good.  The ice cream was salty, but unique, the cookies were good but not terribly special, and the bread pudding converted me immediately.  There was some sort of custard in the pudding that was delicious and creme brulee-esque, and the orange sauce was just basically delicious sugary syrup.  This was my favorite item in the whole meal, for sure.  And I ate half of it even though I ordered the oatmeal cookies…

Oatmeal cookies with bread pudding behind.

Overall, this place wasn’t really my style: too fancy and pretentious and way too expensive for what you get.  The restaurant may be different, but I have a feeling the prices just become outrageous and the food is not a whole lot more impressive.  While good, I’d personally steer clear of Oliveto and go grab some delicious and cheap Indian or Ethiopian in nearby Berkeley or Oakland.








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