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C'era Una Volta, Alameda -- full report

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C'era Una Volta, Alameda -- full report

Ruth Lafler | May 16, 2004 01:30 AM

Time for a full-scale report on the newest addition to Alameda's dining scene:

C'era Una Volta
1332 Park St (in Redwood Square)
510-769-4828

So I rounded up my sister and BIL and we decided it was our chowhound duty to each order the four-course prix fixe (choice of any of the dishes in each category) menu and each order something different for each course. Since the menu is quite limited, that way we managed to taste all but one of the antipasti and one of the dolce, and all three primi and secundi.

Overall we enjoyed the food a lot. I heard second-hand that the chef-owner is straight from Tuscany -- that some friends in Alameda convinced him to come here for the express purpose of opening this restaurant with them.

So the food is fairly simple, but with rich, satisfying flavors. A few standouts were the freddo misto antipasto plate -- everything on it was outstanding, and the silky, smokey grilled eggplant had both eggplant skeptics (my BIL and I) swooning. The filling of my spinich ricotta ravioli was smooth and light, and the simple fresh tomato sauce was perfectly balanced. Both BIL's grilled herb chicken and my grilled pork tenderlion were cooked to the almost unobtainable cooked-through-but-moist stage, and the mashed potatoes that came with them were close to perfect. I even liked the strips of portobello mushroom on mine, and I generally don't like mushrooms! For dessert, the tiramisu was the clear standout: so light it almost floated onto your fork, but quite intensely flavored.

The wine list is exclusively Italian, but designed to be user friendly for Italian wine novices: each wine is identified by region, producer, name/variety and vintage, followed by a couple of sentences describing its character. Almost all the whites and about half the reds are available by the glass and are reasonably priced, with glasses at $6-7 and most bottles in the $30 range. Since none of us know much about Italian wines, we each chose a different white for our first two courses and had a mini-tasting. I particularly liked the Sicilian wine I chose, which I thought went particularly well with my ravioli. For our secundi my sister chose yet another white, and my BIL and I both chose a red blend that I thought was both delicious and went well with the food.

The downsides: as I suspected, the room is quite noisy, at the "leaning across the table to hear each other level" when full. And our waiter was charming but clueless. I suspect he was hired because he was cute and Italian, not because he had any experience waiting tables, as he seemed quite flummoxed by what to do when our next course was ready before the plates had been cleared from the previous one. The pacing of a couple of the courses was off. But I'm willing to attribute most of the service and timing problems to the fact that they've been open less than a month and they were completely full at one point in the evening.

Four courses and two glasses of wine for each of us came to $60/person, including tax and tip.

Now here's the crazy part: their hours. At least for now, they're open at 7 every morning (yes, *every* morning) for coffee and pastries, etc. Sundays they close after brunch, Monday and Tuesday they're open for lunch, etc. until 6 pm (nice place to drop in for an afternoon glass of wine), and they're open until 10 pm Wednesday-Saturday for dinner. Or:

Sundays 7-2
Monday-Tuesday 7-6
Wednesday-Saturday 7-10.

When I commiserated with the co-owner/hostess that these sounded like killer hours, she said at the early stages of a business "you want to be here all the time anyway" but admitted they might cut back the early morning weekend service eventually.

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