Friday, July 14, 2006

Dopo - Oakland, Ca

Everyone loves it.

Me and girlfriend Charlie.

The Space:
Cramped, stylish space--beautifully yet casually appointed. 20-some seats in the dining room, another 6 or so in front and eight along an indoor/outdoor side patio. There was a wait (had to cockslap some durf who tried to cut in front of me in line) but only 15 minutes or so--enjoyed a glass of wine on Piedmont Ave. Charlie and were seated at one of the thick wood two-tops on the side patio which was great. Open-air but secluded from traffic and the waiting crowd. Each table has a personally adjustable heater.

The Wine:
Had a 2004 Canayli Vermentino di Gallura. It wasn't until I got the bottle that I remembered that I had had the 2003 vintage (and reviewed it here, no less). If my notes from 2003 are accurate, the 2004 is infinitely more interesting. Dry and acidic with a long finish--there was an unplaceable floral character on the finish. Dopo's all-Italian wine list is small and well-priced, topping out at $38. Corkage is $8, perfect if you wanted to bring in a more nuanced wine from your cellar.

Started with the calabrian salumi. This had the best texture of any hosuemade charcturie I've had. It was soft and fatty, not the slightest bit waxy. Good flavor but I would've liked it to be quite a bit spicier, especially for a calabrian. Following that we had a fresh mozarella and tomato burrata. The cheese was soft and flavorful--not the flavorless tofu-like discs that pass for fresh mozarella at some Italian places. The slices of tomato were okay but a bit watery. The halved cherry tomatoes were great, however--sweet, tart, and mildly acidic. The entire dish was dressed with olive oil and very fresh herbs. This proved to be a recurring flavoring theme at Dopo.

I had a gypsy pepper and red onion pizza with added house-cured anchovies. The pizza was pretty damn good--not because of the toppings (which were good but scant) or the crust (behind Pizzeria Delfina and Pizzaiolo) but because of what is oft-missing in California Cuisine: flavor. The pizza was generously topped with basil, oregano, thyme, and fresh olive oil. Oh yeah, and salt. Charlie had the housemade lasagna alla napoletana with a beef-pork ragout and fresh vegetables. Reports were that flavors were good and that the pasta itself was fresh, thick, and (once again) actually salted.

Opted for the delicato--sort of like tiramisu on meth. Sponge cake is layered with chocolate mousse and soaked in espresso and a liqueur that I don't remember. The slice was topped with whipped cream and chocolate nibs. It was pretty tasty--the chocolate mousse rocked and the flavors were well-balanced. Nothing extraordinary, but extraordinary desserts are had to find.

In Conclusion:
Great spot. I'll be back. Romantic, casual, but beautifully and elegantly set. It's a trendy SoMa or Mission spot without the annoying yupsters and at half the price.

Cuisine: Italian
Price range: Appetizers: $4-$10 Entrees: $10-$16
HFF's cost for two (one anitpasto, one primo, one paste, one pizze, one bottle of wine, two espressos, tax, generous tip): $100
Reservations: No.
4293 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, Ca 94611

Sunday, July 09, 2006

HFF's Best

Here're some of my random best picks for eating in the Bay Area.

Best $4.75 you can spend on food: Salt Cod and Potato Cazuela at Cesar

Best falafel (by a huge margin): Sophia

Best $7.00 you can spend on food and beer: 7/10 Split at Lanesplitter (two slices and a beer)

Best fried squid: Magnolia Pub

Best sandwich: Grilled Yam sandwich at Magnolia

Best late-night: Zuni and Emmy's Spaghetti Shack

Best super late-night: Daimo

Best flatbread: Coco500 (sorry A Cote)

Best desserts: Eccolo

Best dill pickle soup: Old Krakow

Best breakfast: La Note

Best pancakes: Sam's Log Cabin

Best anchovy-stuffed olives: Magnolia (sorry downtown)

Best on-the-go meal: Smoothie from Tazo at SFSU (chocolate peanut butter banana in particular)

Best place to view health code violations: Mediterranean buffet at Bacheeso's

Best place to have to bad food in a beautiful space: Cafe Rouge

There'll be more.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Rivoli - Berkeley, Ca

'Cause it's my birthday. And I'd never eaten here before.

Me, girlfriend Charlie, and my parents.

The Space:
Homey (if a bit tacky) facade on Solano Ave entering into a wine bar area. We continued down a service corridor ("Guests in the hallway!" is a common refrain from the manager) into the dining room. The dining room was a crowded but well-spaced single room overlooking an aesthetically overgrown garden through floor-to-ceiling plate windows. Tables were nice and well-appointed. Chairs attractive but a bit uncomfortable.

The Wine:
Perhaps the most perfect wine list I've encountered. Great selection of full and half-bottles from a diverse global distribution. The small list is beautifully priced with many bottles for under $35 and almost the entire list is under $50 with a handful of exceptions. Wines that I've seen on other wine lists (Navarro Gewurztraminer, for instance) were consistenly $5-$8 cheaper on Rivoli's list. Wine service was great with funky chilled marble bottle holders to keep the wine at a nice temperature. Service temperature for the both our white wines was a nice 45-50 degrees. A 2004 gruner veltliner from Hiedler ($26) paired well with our appetizers. It was brisk, minerally, tart and acidic. A Herze Avo Chablis ($32) from 2004 worked well with our seafood and chicken heavy entrees. It had a nice full-body complexity with a touch of oak and a lingering mineral finish.

Four appetizers: a baby lolla rossa salad with beets, avocado, and green goddess; lobster sausage on braised savoy cabbage; portabello mushroom fritters, and bellwether ricotta and pecorino gnocchi with grilled figs. All were good, nothing was astonishing. The salad was a server error (we had ordered the OTHER baby lettuce salad) but was nice anyway--succulent lettuce, delicious avocado, and a great green goddess dressing. The beets were cut too damn small to eat. The lobster sausage was pretty good, though it was spongy and fishy making it taste like the $2 fish cake you get at Japanese markets (and which I love--but not for $12). The braised cabbage was quite good. The mushroom fritters, a Rivoli signature I'm told, were great. The portabellos stay plump and firm while still being cooked through. The breading is crunchy and the aioli is well-balanced. The gnocchi was the most disappointing of the quartet--more gnudi than gnocchi. They were underflavored and undersalted balls of cheese and air paired with some relatively unremarkable figs.

I had grilled halibut with fregola, saffron, grilled calamari, and a cucumber and mint sauce. The flavors were quite good but the halibut was overcooked. Not just a bit, but pretty substantially--almost to the point of squeaky dryness. My dad had grilled day boat scallops--the smallest day boats I've seen. The scallops were great and cooked perfectly and the accomanying potato and corn mix tasted good too, but the presentation was unappetizing--six of the scallops sort of mushed into a monochrome vegetable mush. Mom had a chicken roulade with prosciutto, hazelnuts, scamorza cheese, spinach and bing cherries. This was probably the most complicated and most interesting dish--strong and contrasting flavors with everything cooked nicely. Charlie went with the Bufalo mozarella ravioli with an artichoke and onion mix on top. This was odd because the ravioli themselves were just lumps of mozarella encased in a flavorless (salt?) pasta pocket. Pretty bad. Eating a bite of that with all the sauteed flavors that they're topped with was pretty good. Why some of that topping wasn't made into a filling and why the pasta was gummy and flavorless remains a mystery.

This was where Rivoli shone. We had the hot fudge sundae--delicious actually warm hot fudge in a parfait glass with great vanilla ice cream (not homemade, I'm told) and perfectly toasted nuts. We also had the hazelnut chocolate cake with a flavored ice cream that I can't remember. This was a truly bittersweet chocolate cake and was quite tasty, albeit a bit dry. The cake itself was so bitter that a bite wihtout the ice cream was almost too much to stand--but I liked it. We also enjoyed the strawberry shortcake. The strawberries and cream were good if nothing remarkable, but the shortcake was buttery and a little smoky--a perfect savory counterpoint to the strawberries and cream. Pairing up with our desserts we had a glass of a delicious full-flavored Tokaji and a late-bottle Riesling from Yuba County that was also nice and bright although just a touch too syrupy for my tastes. Basically, desserts were fucking great.

In Conclusion:
Rivoli was exactly what I expected--great ingredients well-prepared, though I was surprised at the number of kitchen slip-ups at a three-star perennial Top 100 restaurant. I don't feel compelled to go back for dinner, but I could easily see myself returning for dessert and a bottle of wine at the wine bar.

If you want boring, well-prepared food at a pretty good price, go to Rivoli. Of the Berkeley Cal-Med powerhouses I've been too, I'd still rank the food below Chez Panisse Cafe and Lalime's. I definitely appreciate what they're doing with their menu pricing and wine selection. I hold no ill will, I just found Rivoli dull and predictable.

Cuisine: Cal-Med
Price range: Appetizers: $7.50-$12.25; Entrees: $16.95-$23.50
HFF's cost for four (four appetizers, four entrees, three desserts, two bottles of wine, two glasses of dessert wine, one coffee, tax, tip): I don't know--it was my birthday.
Reservations: 510-526-2542
1539 Solano Ave
Berkeley, Ca 94707