This is my first, and somewhat sheepish, attempt at reporting on Chowhound. I love to eat but am unsure as to whether that makes me the woman for the job of reporting on Olivia, 1453 Dwight at Sacramento in Berkeley. www.oliviaeats.com (Menu posted daily.) But some of you asked for it, so I'll give it a go.
Circumstances: Party of five, including one visitor (my father) from out of town. We are lovers of food who had spent the morning at the SF Ferry Building and the afternoon at César in Berkeley. Translation: I was, unfortunately, rather full by the time I got to Olivia.
Space: Olivia is situated in a little house-like space that, according to our server, used to be a speakeasy in the past. The space is more quirky than elegant with a rather nice small bar, eight tables, plus a small room on the side for private parties. The tables solid and square, made of wood, and comfortable to sit at. No tablecloths were used. The space is small and intimate with warm lighting. Classical music was playing but you could hold a conversation with everyone at your table.
Service: The two staff members were very friendly but also professional. They could answer questions about the food as well as deftly fend off the silly jokes made by my father without making him feel, well, silly. Wine was poured when it needed to be. Because of the size of the space, the servers have time to attend to you--a definite plus in the world of Bay Area dining.
Appetizers: At the recommendation of another Chowhounder on this board, my husband and I shared an appetizer of a cornmeal pancake with bacon, smoked trout, arugula, and meyer lemon cream. The salty savory of the bacon and trout was toned down, perhaps a bit too much, by the cream and pancake. My father had the duck breast on spinach and endive. The four beautiful slices of duck, cooked perfectly, were perched on top of lightly dressed greens. The butter lettuce salad with apples, blue cheese, and walnuts was quite large, very fresh and, as usual, great combination of flavors.
Mains: I had the petrale sole, pan-fried topped with a romesco sauce (a coarsely ground sauce usually made of almonds or other nuts, tomato, bread crumbs, red pepper, olive oil). Also on the plate was a generous helping of Chinese greens, lightly steamed, and crispy potato halves. The sole was delicious and perfectly cooked. Husband had roast pork with white beans, wild mushrooms, broccoli, and fried sage. Father had the coq au vin which he couldnt stop talking about and sucked the bones dry.
Dessert: How we managed it, Ill never know! The chocolate-coffee custard was a dense, rich custard with a nice dollop of whipped cream on top. Just like the pot-de-creme's I've had at Oliveto. The strawberry-rhubarb crisp with strawberry ice cream had just the right amount of tartness that those who like rhubarb sweets to have. And crepes Suzette were the quintessential crepes Suzette. They dont have an espresso machine, so we were served decent coffee.
Analysis: All the food was well-executed and perfectly cooked. The servings were very generous. The ingredients were obviously top-notch and fresh. Amazingly, all appetizers are $7; main dishes $19; and desserts $6. The uniform price system is a great asset to the restaurant. We kept puzzling over how such a small restaurant, which obviously used top-quality ingredients, could be economically feasible to run. Then, we decided our problem was to enjoy it and let the owners worry! It is a fabulous deal. That said, the food will not surprise anyone: it is not particularly innovative nor experimental. This is a place to go when you want to be sure you will get an expertly cooked meal at a great value in an intimate environment.
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