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It’s Complicated: Tomato Tasting 101

tomtasting_480

September 16, 2012

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An essential part of Oliveto’s long tradition of Tomato Dinners is the preliminary tasting by the chefs of available local tomatoes. That is the only way a perfect menu can be created, with the best applications of each of the most exceptional tomatoes reflected in a wide spectrum of dishes.

Chef Jonah Rhodehamel and members of his staff assemble all the best tomatoes from our local sustainable farmers, and categorize them by acidity, flavor, size, color, and texture. They select the most exciting varieties, they speculate on possible uses for each and cast them in a prelimary Tomato Dinner menu, then they select the best of each selected tomato variety.

This year that tasting will be public, with samples made available to attendees.

Panelists

Chefs: Oliveto Executive Chef Jonah Rhodehamel, Oliveto Chef de Cuisine Luciano Duco, and Oliveto Pastry Chef Jenny Raven.

Farmer: Tim Mueller, Riverdog Farm

California Produce Expert: Bill Fujimoto, Produce Consultant for Diablo Foods and former produce buyer and owner of Monterey Market.

2017-09-12T15:48:01-07:00August 22nd, 2012|2012, Events, Happened already...|0 Comments

This Sunday’s Family Style Supper: Napoli

August 12, 2012

At the north end of the Bay of Naples, along the Tyrrhenian seaside of southern Italy, lies the capital of Campania, Naples, a teeming city with close to four million inhabitants in the greater metropolitan area, surrounded by the fertile farmlands of Campania. Its climate is similar to ours, but with some summer rain. An ancient city, it’s had plenty of time to develop its own home cuisine. Pompeii’s mosaics depict the abundant fish, fruits, and farm animals of the area. More recently, it is the Neapolitans who invented the thin-crusted pizza and the espresso machine. Inland, the more rural parts of Naples depend on simple ingredients such as pasta or rice, vegetables, legumes, and only occasionally meat. Mainstays of home-cooked Neapolitan cooking include zucchini, eggplant, endive, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

There are two famous ragùs in Italy: Bolognese and Neapolitan. The Bolognese ragù is made with finely chopped meats, butter, diced vegetables, meat broth, and cream, is long cooked, and depends on the development of residues and deglazing for deep flavor. The Neapolitan is much different, and more closely associated with the Italian-American dish we know. A large piece of braising meat is slowly cooked with tomato paste, diced vegetables, meat broth, garlic, and stewed tomatoes. It too involves deglazing. But when the meat is tender, it is removed whole from the cooking liquids and set aside for the main course. The sauce is reduced and passed through a food mill, the resulting sugo served before the meat with a favorite durum pasta.

Caponata caprese
a piquant summer salad of heirloom tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and basil

Two-course ragù alla napoletana
pasta with ragù of tomatoes and meat juices, followed by . . .

. . . a main course of braised meats and vegetable contorni

Dolci
seasonal Neapolitan dessert TBA

Prix fixe $40.

Served family-style. For groups of one to twelve. Whole table must order prix fixe menu. A modest and appropriate regional wine will be available as perfect accompaniment to the meal. Please join us!

call 510-547-5356

or reserve online

2017-09-12T15:48:02-07:00August 8th, 2012|2012, Events, Happened already...|0 Comments

More From Our Celebrated Piedmontese Chef and Chef Jonah

Street view of Osteria Lalibera in Alba, Italy

Street view of Osteria Lalibera in Alba, Italy

Friday, April 20, 2012
Chef Marco Forneris of Lalibera, Alba, and Chef Jonah Rhodehamel of Oliveto create a collaborative tasting menu of the Langhe — a dinner of nine samplings of essential flavors of the Piedmont.

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Produttori del Barbaresco’s Aldo Vacca will pair some of his most exceptional vintages with a tasting menu of Marco’s and Jonah’s Piedmontese menu. Piedmontese a la carte menu also available throughout the dining room.

As our event gets closer, and more ideas express themselves over the internet among the chefs (Pastry Chef Jenny Raven has joined Marco and Jonah with an opinion and query about the Piemontese bunet), a postable, but not-quite-ready-for-prime-time, menu is taking form. Added to the below menu will be the collaborative dishes Jonah and Marco come up with once Marco arrives.

(Preliminary) Menu may include:

      • Salad of asparagus and purple artichokes with hazelnuts and their oil
      • Sardine e gelato di “bagna cauda”
      • Tajarin al raout di coniglio
      • Gnudi with ragù of spring vegetables
      • Ravioli with wild herbs and ricotta
      • Ravioli di gallina nel suo brodo ristretto
      • Pan-roasted scallops with …
      • Roast local king salmon with..
      • Charcoal-grilled quail with…
      • Charcoal-grilled pigeon with…
      • Spit-roasted suckling pig with…
      • Charcoal-grilled beef ribeye with …
[Piedmont specialty contorni depending on what’s just come in from the farms]
  • Chocolate-hazelnut bunet
  • And here’s the e-mail Pastry Chef Jenny Raven sent:

    Ciao Marco,
    I am so glad to hear of your return to California! . . . I have recently been annoyed by all of the fusion-y takes on the Piemontese bunet al cioccolato that are currently trendy in San Francisco, and would love to serve a really authentic one while you are here. I ate a few in the region some years past, and do what I hope is an accurate version, but was wondering if you would honor me with your recipe for the dish.
    Jenny Raven, Pastry Chef

    Marco’s response:

    Ciao Jenny,
    I still remember very well our meeting in Oliveto, you with your child in your arms… I tried to dig deeply into the history of bunet and I’m pretty sure that this recipe is very close… I mean this Langa dessert was not very sweet and of course with a strong taste of hazelnut. I remember that my grandmother used to cook it in the bain-marie, finish it covered with foil and with hot ashes just to have the crispy top!!!! Wow, it was great-still soft and never dry!
    Marco.

    More about Chef Marco Forneris from Aldo Vacca:

    “Marco was born and raised in Borgo San Dalmazzo at the feet of the Piemonte Maritime Alps. He grew up as a young chef in the Langhe region. Both areas of Piemonte played an important part in shaping his personality and skills as a chef. He has deep knowledge of both products and recipes from the Alps (the herbs, beef, cheeses) and from the hillside (vegetables, truffles, small animals such as rabbit, chicken, pheasant, wine, olive oil, etc.).

    This wide and deep experience meets with his brilliant style, creative but not crazy, modern but with deep roots in tradition, with great knowledge and passion for the food and the wines of the region. His cooking reflects his personality, humble yet confident.

    I do believe that Lalibera, the restaurant that Marco opened 15 years ago, is still nowadays the best dining experience in Alba.”

    Friday, April 20, 2012:

    Piedmontese Tasting menu
    9-course $130
    5-course $88
    Great vintage Produttori del Barbaresco wines by the glass, 1/2 glass, & bottle

    Saturday, April 21, 2012:

    9-course tasting menu paired with Produttori del Barbaresco vintages

    from ’79, ’85, ’90, ’95, ’99, ‘2001

    $245

    Or
    á la carte Piedmontese menu

    Please join us!

    call 510-547-5356

    or reserve online

    Announcing Two Evenings with Two Very Special Guests from Piedmont

    Friday, April 20, 2012:

    Chef Marco Forneris of Lalibera, Alba, and Chef Jonah Rhodehamel of Oliveto will join forces to create a tasting menu of the Langhe — a dinner of nine samplings of essential flavors of the Piedmont.

    Saturday, April 21, 2012:

    Produttori del Barbaresco’s Aldo Vacca will pair some of his most exceptional vintages with a tasting menu of Marco’s and Jonah’s collaborative Piedmontese menu.

    Marco Forneris

    Marco Forneris

    For the past decade-and-a-half, after asking any winemaker (or local with the usual piedmontese passion for food and wine), “Which restaurants should I absolutely not miss for a true and exceptional Piedmont experience?” visitors to the Piedmont would first be directed to Marco Forneris‘s La Libera in the city of Alba. We are delighted to announce that Chef Forneris will be our guest, cooking two collaborative dinners in the Oliveto kitchen, in just a few weeks.

    A gastronome and friend of Marco’s described him thus: “Marco Forneris is the best chef I’ve ever known . . . and I met him when he was my next door neighbor in Tetto Valentino Trombetto, Borgo San Dalmazzo

    [at the foot of the Maritime Alps]. He was 8 years old and already had a passion for the kitchen.”

    About the menu

    Oliveto Chef Jonah Rhodehamel’s preliminary e-mail and menu suggestions from Marco read thus:

    Ciao Jonah, I was thinking to do a Peperoni-alici fresche or sardines e gelato di “Bagna Cauda-like starter. About the salad we can play with artichokes, asparagus and some radish, hazelnut and hazelnut oil. For the pasta I was thinking Tajarin al raout di coniglio or a filled pasta that could be Ravioli di gallina nel suo brodo ristretto. The meat course probably a maialino arrostito con cime di rapa. What we need is a suckling pig. We could also make a starter of Merluzzo in sfogliata di patate con crema di acciughe with cod preserved and potatoes. Tell me your thoughts Jonah. Marco

    Winemaker Aldo Vacca says Marco’s “wide and deep experience” meet “with his brilliant style, creative but not crazy, modern but with deep roots in tradition, with great knowledge and passion for the food and the wines of the region.”

    Our relationship with Marco began when Oliveto co-owner Bob Klein discovered La Libera; he has since spent many evenings there over the years. Chef Jonah first met Marco in the chilly, rainy days of early spring 2011, and started planning this April’s visit at the end of last year. The two chefs are excited about the idea of two prix fixe tasting menus: “a nine-course menu of some of Marco’s favorite dishes, and an abbreviated five-course version for the evening of the 20th of April. (April 21st will be Aldo’s event, where he’ll host a multi-course dinner created by Jonah and Marco to be paired with exceptional wine vintages. More about that event and Aldo Vacca in the next posting.)

    As the menu-making process has just begun, with many choices dependent on what comes to market in the next few weeks, Jonah’s response to Marco’s e-mail and further details will be revealed in our next posting on this once-in-a-lifetime event.

    Chef Marco Forneris, Chef Jonah Rhodehamel, and Aldo Vacca collaboration:

    Friday, April 20, 2012:

    Piedmontese Tasting menu
    9-course $130
    5-course $88
    Great vintage Produttori del Barbaresco wines by the glass, 1/2 glass, & bottle

    Saturday, April 21, 2012:

    9-course tasting menu paired with Produttori del Barbaresco vintages

    from ’79, ’85, ’90, ’95, ’99, ‘2001

    $245

    Or
    à la carte Piedmontese menu

    Please join us!

    call 510-547-5356

    or reserve online

    Sunday Farmhouse Suppers: March 18

    Tuscan Farm-Style Rabbit Supper:

    Chef Jonah has long wanted to do a dinner with these beautiful Jones’ Farm rabbits as the center of the meal; the family-style format gives him the opportunity.

    We’ll start with an assortment of wood-grill-toasted crostini and local Cannellini beans with pancetta, rosemary, and Tuscan varietal-olive oil.

    Rabbits will be roasted, then braised, yielding:

    Rabbit sugo to be served with hand-cut long, narrow pappardelle

    then

    Braised rabbit in bianco to be accompanied by early-spring vegetable contorni

    Dessert: Tuscan bread pudding with pine nuts, Marsala, and lemon zest

    Prix fixe $40.

    For groups of one to twelve. Whole table must order prix fixe menu. A regional wine will accompany the meal at $40/per bottle.

    Please join us!

    call 510-547-5356

    or reserve online

    2017-09-12T15:48:11-07:00March 7th, 2012|2012, Events, Happened already...|0 Comments

    Convergence

    DINNER FOR NEW TUSCAN OLIVE OIL “OLIO NUOVO” AND PANEL DISCUSSION ON OLIVE OIL WITH OLIVE OIL PRODUCER ROBERTO STUCCHI, AUTHOR TOM MUELLER, AND HOST MAGGIE BLYTH KLEIN

    Saturday, January 14, 2012

    Discussion: 4:30 Dinner: 5:30 throughout evening

    Athena smiled on us when the schedules of two internationally known olive oil experts enabled us to invite them to participate in a special afternoon and evening steeped, so to speak, in olive oil.

    One is our old friend, Roberto Stucchi, of Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany, who celebrates the semicentenary of Badia a Coltibuono Extra Virgin Olive Oil’s first bottling. Before 1962, there was quality oil available locally in Italy but no one was distributing it. Badia a Coltibuono, then headed by Robert’s father, Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, modeled the extra virgin olive oil business after what he and others were doing with Italian wines — introducing traditionally made, world-class products to consumers in the US and Europe. Piero was an innovator, one innovation being the selection of the distinctive 1-liter square bottle (called a “marasca” because it was originally used for maraschino liqueur).

    The other is a new friend, Tom Mueller, whose Extra Virginity: “The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil has just been published by Norton. His book has received acclaim for its fascinating, scholarly, and “ridiculously overdue” exploration of current olive oil production, marketing, labeling, chemistry, and consumption (as well as its important history and culinary attributes). And Tom is a passionate advocate for true extra virgin olive oils.

    Oliveto’s founder and co-owner Maggie Blyth Klein, author of The Feast of the Olive (written in 1983 after her visit to the Badia), will host the two experts in a discussion ranging from the history of olive oil in Italy and America, to the state of government controls, to discerning a good olive oil, to the quandary of the conscientious producer whose beautiful olive juice must of necessity be expensive, and to the nutritional and flavor characteristics of olive oil and different olive varietals.

    A dinner featuring new oil straight from the Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany will comprise the evening’s menu, paired with a selection of the Badia’s wines, including a ’99 Chianti Classico Riserva, half bottles of Roberto’s specially blended Chianti Classico “RS,” and a ’99 San Gioveto.

    Every year, Oliveto celebrates the arrival of olio nuovo, the first oil of the season, made from just-pressed, partially ripe olives, whose peppery, vegetal qualities last only a few weeks. California oils usually arrive in November; the Italian oils follow a few weeks later. Their production continues through the first month or two of the season. This year, alas, much of the California olive crop was wiped out in unseasonable spring storms.

    But for the special dinner following our Saturday afternoon discussion, Chef Jonah Rhodehamel will have at his disposal several liters of Badia a Coltibuono olio nuovo, which Roberto will have brought directly from his frantoio. Jonah will have limitless dishes from the olive oil regions of Tuscany and, indeed, most of Italy, from which to devise a menu. (For millennia those who’ve lived close to olive orchards and presses have celebrated the arrival of the vibrant new oil by pouring it over suitable cold weather dishes, some as simple as a crust of bread toasted over a fire, others as complex as a hearty spezzatino.)

    For more information and reservations call 510-547-5356

    2017-09-12T15:48:12-07:00January 4th, 2012|Events|0 Comments

    Chef Jonah At One Year

    This Friday, December 16th will mark the 25th anniversary of Oliveto Cafe and Restaurant. More personally, we are celebrating Chef Jonah’s first year as Oliveto Executive Chef. We thought we’d take a moment to give you our impression on this past year.

    What Chef Jonah Rhodehamel has accomplished in one year here at Oliveto doesn’t seem possible. Unless you consider: Jonah is the hardest working chef we’ve ever seen. Up until a few months ago (when he began taking a day off here and there), he worked seven days a week, many of them 16-hour days. And that work has been so well directed that every minute seemed productive. The focus and energy, complemented by Jonah’s skill, experience, curiosity, and innate creativity, brought a clarity of purpose and direction which transformed the kitchen and menu, as well as enlivening the Oliveto Café downstairs. And those characteristics have brought a quality that is utterly essential: consistency.

    Chef Jonah has the ability to be creative and fresh while meeting (or exceeding) the expectations of guests (many of whom are returning after a several-year-long absence), and at the same time keeping within the general, albeit grandiose, Oliveto philosophy of food based on the best seasonal local ingredients, cooked within the Italian idiom and Italian principles of cooking. Even for Jonah, with his considerable internal drive, and whose experience is consistent with Oliveto’s demands, the job was a big one. But the results after one year have been quite remarkable. Some customers describe his cooking as more delicate. Others say the dishes sparkle with their pristine ingredients, while others feel that his cooking really gets at the essence of traditional Italian dishes such as agnolotti dal plin or walnut sformatino or vitello tonnato.

    We are often perplexed and find ourselves wondering, “how did he do that? How could he know that? He’s only 28 years old”

    He continues to enlarge the Oliveto whole-animal project, maintaining and deepening relationships with sustainable ranchers, in particular with Mac Magruder of Mendocino County, who provides cattle from 26 to 30 months of age, boar, boar-domestic pig crosses, sheep, and lamb. Jonah has studiously observed what practices affect marbling, age-ability, texture, and flavor and has created a meat system around that knowledge. His unconventional approach to different cuts of meat appears frequently on the menu, as, for example, a choice among three cuts and ages of steak. He rethought the salumi-making process, improving mold casings, introducing a new proofing box for exact temperature control, making each salame type distinct and unique, and taking particular interest in cured whole cuts. (Lately he’s liked his bresaola and coppa.)

    He took on the job of perfecting our pastas, introducing more Community Grains whole wheat varieties and blending them for flavor and texture with conventional flours, becoming adept at making them all himself, extruded and laminated, with and without egg (and with yolks only).

    By phone, Jonah stays in touch with many of our farmers several times a week to discuss what’s growing best, and what the farmer anticipates peaking within the next few days or weeks. During problematic growing periods, he goes to the farmers’ market himself to make selections. He introduced us to Fred Hempel of Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol, and with two assistants fed 140 persons at Fred’s Outstanding In the Field event.

    2017-09-12T15:48:12-07:00December 13th, 2011|Olivetians|0 Comments

    Dinner With Patricia Wells

    wellscover

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    World-famous cookbook author and expert on French cooking Patricia Wells will be dining at Oliveto at 6:30 on Saturday, November 12, 2011, as she celebrates her latest book, Simply Truffles. A precursor to our own white truffle dinners, which will commence on November 16th and continue through the 19th, the dinner will feature several dishes inspired-by recipes from Patricia’s book. As you can see from the items listed below, the dishes will overlap nicely with Oliveto’s Italian cooking.

    Customers who wish to make an all-Wells dinner for themselves will be able do so with ease. And it will be fascinating to compare the French black truffles we will be sourcing for this event with the Italian white truffles co-owner Bob Klein will be bringing back from Italy the following week for our Truffle Dinner blowout.

    We will have a supply of her book on hand should you wish to buy one and have her sign it.

    Chef Jonah Rhodehamel will intersperse a number of dishes inspired-by Wells’ recipes on that night’s á la carte menu.

    First courses:

    Salad of oil-poached potatoes, frisée, and black truffles

    Poached truffled farm egg with Chanterelle mushrooms and black truffle zabaglione

    Pastas:

    Tajarin with black French truffles

    Cannelloni of leeks, house-made ricotta, and French black truffles

    Main courses:

    Truffle-studded breast of hen with potato gratinata and Parmesan cheese

    Alaskan halibut with truffled brandade and wild nettle risotto alla pilota

    2017-09-12T15:48:13-07:00November 8th, 2011|2011, Events|0 Comments

    Truffle Dinners 2011

    kneeling truffle

    Wednesday, November 16th through Saturday, November 19th

    SEE THE FULL MENU

    call 510-547-5356 or reserve online

    We first got the idea of going to Italy to obtain the truffles for our truffle dinners sixteen years ago, after a shipment of specially selected truffles with Oliveto’s name and address on it got lost in Heathrow Airport. Although the truffles were located within a few hours, the following year we went to Italy for the truffles ourselves and have been doing so ever since. By so doing, we stay in good touch with Giorgio (our principal truffle hunter), know that our truffles are fresh and salubrious, get the best prices, and have a wonderful time to boot.

    This will be Chef Jonah’s first truffle event at Oliveto, and we can’t wait to see how he intersperses the traditional with the creative in his menu. Because our white and black truffles are harvested in Piedmont, Tuscany, and Umbria, many of the dishes will derive from a northern Italian sensibility.

    The flavor and aroma of truffles being utterly of those places, the most evocative truffle dishes are traditionally based and composed of ingredients grown close to where the truffles are found. Fortunately for us, we live in an area which has access to those ingredients and Oliveto’s kitchen practices the same artisanal methods of food preparation practiced in northern Italy.

    Please join Chef Jonah Rhodehamel and the staff at Oliveto and allow us to shave a few grams of white truffle (Tuber magnatum Pico fresh from the Crete Senese) over some tajarin al burro right under your nose.

    We will be posting reports from the hunt as Oliveto co-owner Bob Klein and General Manager Shane Walker pursue this year’s bounty — conversing with truffle hunters, cooks, and our old Italian friends along the truffle road. Follow along here.

    2017-09-12T15:48:14-07:00October 20th, 2011|2011, Events, Happened already...|0 Comments

    Announcing Oceanic Dinners 2010

    June 9 – June 12

    At a time when many of us worry about what sort of fish we should be eating, one Californian reader kindly sent me the exemplary menu from a special seafood dinner held at Oliveto restaurant in Oakland.

    It’s a fine example of a restaurant taking great care.”

    -Nicholas Lander, Financial Times of London, Aug. 2009

    MK fish510-547-5356
    or reserve online

    Oliveto’s Chef Paul Canales and fish purveyor Tom Worthington of Monterey Fish Company, in their yearly collaboration for our now widely-known oceanic event, have described June’s menu thus: it will be less sprawling than in previous years and more focused, a “curated” (as Paul says) event where each fish or sea creature will be chosen for some extraordinary characteristic or quality. Some thoughts they tossed around: “We’ll balance rustic and refined. Some dishes will be more composed, developed, conceptual, fussy, or edgy. Some more traditional. There will be great fish you don’t want to mess with-you keep that simple.” Tom will undertake a “culinary study”of one fish, using different cooking methods and accompaniments. Diners will catch subtle reflections of Paul’s 2009 trip to Japan; Tom’s recent sojourn in Spain likewise will inform some of the dishes.

    Here are bits of the discussion that illuminate why we don’t know at this point what will be on the menu. “We get these great black cod from Josh Churchman, who fishes out of Bolinas. He goes six miles out, fishes hook and line 1,500 feet down. Last week he came back in one day with 1,000 pounds of cod. Yesterday he was out there and came back with 100.” “Local halibut is on a run, and there is no better raw fish.” “Rex sole is a great, under-appreciated local fish, and is delicious now.” “Water temperature is low, and local fish are less active.”

    What we do know about the menu is that only the best of sustainably caught fish will be served, prepared thoughtfully by creative, passionate, skilled cooks with, in the main, an Italian sensibility.

    Much of the à la carte menu will be available online a few days before the event’s start.

    Two special wines on the list for Oceanic Dinners:

    Alvarinho, Soalheiro, Vinho Verde, Portugal 2009-Unlike any Vinho Verde I’ve tasted before…significantly reduced yields resulted in amazing richness and density. Aromatic floral and nectarine notes interlace with intense minerality.

    Listan Negra, “Maceración Carbónica,” Los Bermejos, Lanzarote-Canary Islands, Spain 2008-Made from the indigenous grape, Listan Negra, this has fantastic complexity and a delightful freshness. Pure, bright cherry and strawberry fruit are complimented by an herbal note and a distinctive smoky, ashy tone surely derived from the unique volcanic soils of the island.

    -Chris Ryerson, Oliveto Wine Director

    2017-09-12T15:48:43-07:00May 26th, 2010|2010, Events, Happened already...|0 Comments