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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.