It’s no secret that the Bay Area is blessed with many highly-rated, world-renown restaurants serving fantastic food without a lot of attitude. To celebrate getting my cast off last month, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Rivoli, often rated as one of the best restaurants in the East Bay (aka Berkeley and Oakland). It did not disappoint, rivaling my experience at Chez Panisse Cafe. One bonus: relatively easy reservations. One negative: walking in with friends M & K, we (median age = 35) were half the age of most of the diners in the restaurant. Maybe it’s because we were there on a Sunday. Who knows? More importantly: who cares? This was one of the best all-around meals I’ve ever had.
To start: we ordered a bottle of rosé: Vin Gris of pinot noir by Robert Sinskey, Carneros 2008. We went with this particular wine because M & K were fans of Sinskey wines. It turned out to be a great choice — fruity, dry, and stood up well against most of the food.
For appetizers, we shared two dishes. First, we had the Bellwether Farm ricotta gnocchi with roast pear, fig marmalata, toasted walnuts and fried sage.
The gnocchi were the biggest gnocchi I’ve ever seen, and had a smooth velvety texture. They were really really good. However. Not to be gauche, but for $13.95 I better get some mind-blowingly awesome gnocchi. Either that, or serve me more than 3 pieces. This was the only “disappointing” dish the whole meal, and it wasn’t even that disappointing.
Balancing out the minor disappointment was the highlight of the meal (also, one of Rivoli’s signature dishes): portabella mushroom fritters with aïoli, parmesan, arugula and caper vinaigrette. OH MY GOD. This was heavenly… so much so, that I kept raving about them for a full 72 hours afterward. Perfection. That is all.
Next up: main course. The great thing about going to dinner with good friends and fellow foodies is that you can taste their food without shame. M ordered the grilled wild Alaskan halibut with mashed potatoes, spring vegetable ragout and chervil butter. Sometimes, grilled fish ends up too dry, but not this halibut. Tender and flaky, just the way I like it.
K went for the garlic and parsley tagliarini with braised beef Bolognese, porcini mushrooms, red wine, prosciutto, tomato, toasted breadcrumbs and parmesan. You might ask (as we did), “What is tagliarini?” It’s just a fancy name for a long, ribbon like pasta — wider than linguini but not as wide as fettucini. The sauce had that braised, slow-cooked goodness that was rich and hearty.
My choice was saffron and fennel risotto with dungeness crab, Prince Edward Island mussels, shrimp butter and salsa verde. I was craving risotto for some reason, and this really hit the spot. The seafood was so fresh and delicious, and the risotto broth was perfection.
Even though we were stuffed, we knew we couldn’t leave without ordering dessert. We ended up sharing the warm chocolate and hazelnut cake with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and orange caramel. It wasn’t terribly unique, but warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream is my definition of the perfect dessert. (Or, one of them anyway!)