Ruth's epic annual birthday dinner thread reminded me that I quite liked Riva Cucina the one time I went a few years back, and with my parents in town, it was time to try it out again.
Overall, food was quite good, with 4 out of 6 dishes hitting the mark.
Burrata - their burrata is really stellar, maybe some of the best I've had in the Bay Area. Each generous mound is dotted with intensely caramelized cherry tomatoes and served on a simple and perfectly dressed green salad.
Arancini - perhaps I've been spoiled by the incredible, pork-ragu stuffed arancini at Adesso, but I found the arancini here bland and uninspired.
Tagliatelle Bolognese - perfectly textured pasta, sauce was coarser than I expected but the flavor was deep and complex.
Passatelli alla salsiccia - I haven't had this kind of pasta before - described as a "traditional Parmagiano, egg and breadcrumb pasta", it's like cross between spaetzle and semmelknödel, sauced in sausage, butter, Parmesan, sage and cream. It's delicious, and doesn't seem heavy at all, until about 20 minutes after you've eaten it, when it hits you like a bomb. I would order it again in a heartbeat.
Branzino - my mother murmured her concern when this came out nearly blackened, and I would say the fish was just the tiniest bit dry in places, but I have to say this was one of the best tasting, plainly cooked fish I've ever had. It was sweet, almost lobstery in flavor. There was other stuff on the plate but I don't remember what it was. Great piece of fish.
Braised lamb shank - undersalted and overcooked, this was the other miss of the night.
I have to admit, I couldn't help keeping score in my head:
New to Ruth - Y
Not too loud - N (it got pretty loud)
Not too expensive - Y
Enjoyable for both adventurous and nonadventurous palates - Y
Not too heavy - Y (if you don't order the passetelli)
Tablecloths - N
Easy to get to from the East Bay - Y
Easy parking - Y
Great desserts - can't say, but unless you're a huge fan of classic Italian desserts (panna cotta, torta alla nonna, torta al cioccolato) I'm going to say no
So, it scores a 6/9 on the Ruth's B-day Dinner scale. I think the noise would be the dealbreaker, and it might be a little casual for a special occasion, but it's a really good pick for a nice night out.
800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710