Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Oakland, California, March 18, 2013—
SOME LITTLE WHILE ago we arranged to have dinner tonight with a couple of friends downstairs at Chez Panisse. Alas, it was not to be: as all my world knows by now, a fire attacked that restaurant nearly two weeks ago, and it's out of commission for the time being.

For a longer time than we'd originally thought, too. Chez P. won't re-open a little at a time, as originally seemed possible. We've decided to complete all reconstruction before throwing the doors open, and what with bringing things up to today's codes, and rewiring and the like, not to mention rebuilding the front wall and porches on both levels, it'll be another two weeks before we even know when for sure we can set the date — sometime in June, I'd say, though things do change.

(In the meantime, the restaurant's website, or Facebook page is probably the best place to look for news. When I go to the website, I click on "Skip Intro", then on "About," then on the resulting photo. I don't know why it's so complicated.)

So, where to eat? At Claire's other favorite: Oliveto. We hadn't been there in quite a while, since before our friend Paul C. had left the place to open his own restaurant. (It's now open, by the way: Duende, and we like it, as I wrote here.)

The dining room at Oliveto has never struck me as particularly comfortable, except perhaps for the smaller room, where we've occasionally been seated for special events. The main room is upstairs, very open, rather crowded with tables, and often very noisy, even on a Monday night.

Last night's dinner, though, was quite nice. The new chef, Jonah Rhodehamel, seems to be leaning toward the Piemontese side of north Italian cuisine, and that's a favorite area for me. I began with a salad of little chicories, hazelnuts, and Castelmagno cheese, for example, a very nice combination.

My pasta course (photo above) continued the theme: Garganelli in a ragù of cocks' combs and veal sweetbreads, creamy and rich. I could have been in an upscale Torino restaurant.

Next came pan-roasted sea bass with spring onions, asparagus, watercress, and poultry sugo, again rich and creamy — I can no longer eat like this every day. A beautiful dish, if perhaps not the wisest choice after the pasta.

Dessert: a creamy (again!) Carnaro rice tart with poached apricots. Yes: Piemonte. I want to go there.

Prie Blanc, 4000 Meters (Vallée d'Aoste), 2009: flinty, resonant, a little austere.
Sagrantino di Montefalco, Colpetrone (Umbria), 2007: approachable, with good flavor.
Nacetta, "Anas-Cetta," Elvio Cogno (Piemonte), 2010: long, deep, memorable. A fine sequence of wines!
• Oliveto, 5655 College Avenue, Oakland, California; 510.547.5356

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