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Tales from the Truffle Trade – Chapter 3

Breaking News: Truffle Report

Tales from the Truffle Trade – Chapter 3

Truffle Dinners November 13 to 17, 2018

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Aldo Vacca, Dir. Produttori del Barbaresco, and Oliveto truffle advisor

I called Aldo Vacca our old friend in Barbaresco this morning to get a read on the season. It’s been warm and dry up until a couple of weeks ago, and the truffles had been few, expensive and not first quality. It has since become cold and wet, and the truffles have improved with prices coming down. A late season, not good for the October Truffle Fairs, but on November 13-17th, we’ll be in great shape.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve had a fair number of challenges—
A year of floods: slightly water-logged truffles.
Very wet years: limited truffle harvest because it’s difficult for dogs to smell.
Warm, dry years: fewer, less fragrant truffles.

And then there was 2007. An absolutely impossible year: very few truffles, very high prices. I was at the end of my trip, deciding to pay the price for a few decent truffles from a dealer, so we’d have something to serve at our dinners. Then, Giorgio got a call from a friend. We drove to Castelnuovo Barendenga, to wait for a call from a hunter.

The call came, we were to drive half an hour south to a supermarket parking lot below Bettolle. As we started out, a black blanket of clouds rapidly replaced the blue sky, and an extraordinary downpour followed.

Next to the shopping carts, protected from the deluge by the market’s overhang, was our hunter. He had big beautiful truffles, 60 to 80 grams—lots of them. He could have sold them for twice the price, thousands more, in Alba. But that was a 6-hour drive away. He had just gotten married and didn’t want to spend the next two days delaying the honeymoon. It was perhaps our greatest truffle triumph, except for that described in Chapter #4 of Tales of the Truffle Trade, next week.

Menu will also be posted next week.

Incase you missed them: Truffle Tales #1  &  Truffle Tales #2


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2018-11-09T15:23:48-08:00November 2nd, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Tales from the Truffle Trade – Chapter 2

Getting Down to Earth

Tales from the Truffle Trade – Chapter 2

Oliveto Truffle Dinners November 13 to 17, 2018

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When travelers want to experience white truffles first hand, they travel to the Piedmont region of Italy, specifically to the Truffle Festival in Alba. The Piemonte is a remarkable place to visit in late fall. Its vineyards are changing colors, with patches of reds, purples and yellows draping the already splendid landscape like a quilt. Alba is alive with smells and people and music.

Our truffle trips always began in Alba, rarely to buy, but mainly to understand that year’s quality and market. It’s a magical place to go in late fall, a sort of gateway to the truffle fairs in the rest of the country. I tried a selfie standup (never before shown) outside Alba’s newly developed truffle pavilion in 2010. Note the Hitchcock cameo.

Inside the fair, you don’t find much magic.

Common wisdom has it that the best white truffles come from Alba, largely because its PR machine has been going longer than those in other regions. But a bonafide fresh white truffle, just out of the forests of Tuscany or Umbria, can be every bit the match of a similarly fresh white truffle from Piedmont. Here’s a travel piece we wrote for the SF Chronicle Sunday Magazine in October, 2000.
It is magical experiencing the “truffle trail”, as everywhere that one eats along the trail, truffles are the focus of the menu. We try to uphold the integrity and magic of these forests in our dining room. With these dinners we’re able to buy in quantity, at a better price, and pass the savings on to customers.
November 13 to 17, superior truffles at modest cost, served humbly.


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2018-11-02T12:51:40-07:00November 2nd, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Tales from the Truffle Trade – Chapter 1

The Return of Autumn’s Greatest Gift

Tales from the Truffle Trade – Chapter 1

Oliveto Truffle Dinners November 13 to 17, 2018

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Some things don’t change:

  • Italian white truffles remain one of the world’s most wonderful intoxicants.
  • White Truffles are mysterious—they’ve never been farmed successfully.
  • The Oliveto Truffle Dinners are always the week before Thanksgiving. There’s a reason:

The Italian truffle fairs in Alba and many villages in Tuscany and Umbria begin in October and are pretty much gone by the second week in November, along with the tourists. Prices come down and quality usually improves with colder weather. And we’ve never wanted to compete with Christmas shopping. Hence this year the dinners are November 13 to 17.

Somewhat consumed by our new business, Community Grains, I no longer have the two weeks it takes to seek out truffles myself. Instead, we’ve found a trusted source to take over. We will, as always, offer the very best fresh truffles at the very best price, accompanied by Chef Jonah and Sous Chef Brian’s exceptional menu.

I’ve had such wonderful times sourcing truffles . . . experiencing great adventures and collecting exciting stories every year. Early on, before connecting with our beloved friends, truffle hunter Giorgio Sacchini and family, things were rather dicey. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote seventeen years ago for the LA Times—a trip down memory lane.


The Return of Fall’s Luxuries
Tales from the Truffle Trade
November 07, 2001 | BOB KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
I’ve never been a drug dealer, but a truffle trader has to be the closest of relatives. You drive down the lonely country roads of a foreign land, money bulging from every pocket, suspicious of any cars behind you, ready to take evasive action if required. You arrive at a nondescript storefront and pass into a featureless back room with a small precise scale. The merchandise is removed from a ragged kitchen towel. You scan the faces of the two or three men in the room, sniff and examine the goods and make the deal. Fistfuls of cash change hands. Upon your return to the States, the government’s drug-sniffing dog jumps all over you, and the metaphor is complete.


Truffle Dinners remain a favorite here. Menu to follow, as well as more… Tales from the Truffle Trade.

Giorgio’s haul for the day – truffles from 40 to 10 grams


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2018-10-25T12:51:43-07:00October 25th, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

We’re looking forward…

We’re looking forward…

It was chilly this morning, yes? We’re starting to look at sweaters in the closet—it has begun. We’re looking forward to our favorite season for rich, full-bodied, soul warming food—Ribollita with new olive oil, great braises, food that calls for Barolos and Barbarescos, and of course truffles, all in the weeks to come.

This weekendTortellini of Black Futsu squash and sage in poultry brodo.

Lot’s more coming and Truffle Dinners are scheduled for November 13 through 17, now taking reservations.


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2018-10-19T12:42:55-07:00October 19th, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Shelley’s finding her slice

Shelley’s finding her slice

Oliveto’s beloved maitre d’ and GM Shelley Mulhall’s last evening at the restaurant will be this Saturday, September 29th. For those who’ve gotten to know and appreciate her—her gracious and knowledgable presence in the dining room and true concern for the comfort and enjoyment of her customers—the next few days would be a good time to stop by, wish her the best, and bid her adios. For she and her Irish husband Seamus will be heading off to a new life in Galicia Spain, making her departure at once heartbreaking and joyful for us and those who know her.

Shelley Mulhall’s lovely, genuine face has been known about the San Francisco and East Bay food scene for some time now, ever since she moved from Southern California to San Francisco, where she helped open McCormick & Kuleto’s and Boulevard. After working at Farallon and Jardinière, she came to the East Bay to become manager at Chez Panisse, before she and Seamus established their own restaurant on Park Blvd, a gem of a place in every possible way, right down to its name, The Growlers’ Arms. Its superb food, exquisitely detailed setting, and wonderful service weren’t enough to overcome the “riddle of popularity”––a travesty of the first order.

Shelley came to Oliveto in the fall of 2015, and we’ve been lucky to have had her in our midst for a precious 3 years.

Now she and Seamus have found their perfect place in Galicia, in the northwestern-most part of Spain, with rooms and small guest houses for vacationers and groups who need the right spot for small retreats. In the heart of the green part of Spain, bordering on Portugal, near fine beaches and beautiful rivers, with the Camino de Santiago pilgrims’ route traversing it, boasting a cuisine the great chefs of Bilbao admire, the gorgeous Santiago de Compostela and other medieval towns and cities, myriad intact Roman constructions, cycling routes, vineyards and wineries, their guest accommodations will be ready for travelers beginning in May 2019. You can reach them at seamusandshelley@gmail.com.


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2018-09-26T13:03:01-07:00September 26th, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Our beloved pigeons

Our beloved pigeons are finding their way back.

On the menu tonight, through the weekend.

Soon after our good friend Roger Paine sold his pigeon farm to local farmer William Henpenn, the horrendous Sonoma County fires struck. The Paine Farm escaped the flames, but it made pigeon farming very difficult and production suffered. William is committed to maintaining the high quality of the birds, and it’s been challenging to keep us supplied consistently. At least for now, they’re back. These are exceptional, meaty, great flavored birds. We’re glad they’re back.

This weekend is also Rockridge Out & About

Sunday, September 16th, 12pm – 6pm

We’ll be featuring our Rosticceria with:
Roasted Pork with Calabrese Sauce & Polenta*
Roasted Vegetable Ragù & Polenta*
Lasagne alla Bolognese
Pipe Rigate* with Pesto (cold pasta salad)Sangria
Lemonade & Iced Tea

*Community Grains
Come have a taste!


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2018-09-13T10:53:25-07:00September 12th, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Tomato Dinners – Menu Highlights

Tomato Dinners – Menu Highlights

Tomorrow August 21st to Saturday the 25th

Last Year’s Menu

The Tomato Dinners menu was released last week, and here are some highlights. These dinners start tomorrow night, Tuesday through Saturday:

Some are dishes we know and love, with upgrades–

Fried green tomatoes made with our red flint corn polenta, with shrimp and lobster rémoulade

Salad of heirloom tomato with compressed melon, mint, red onion, and Beldi olives

Confit of hook-and-line-caught albacore with tomato “aïoli,” marinated sweet peppers, and basil

Along with hardcore favorites—

Spaghetti all’amatriciana

Sampling of this year’s best tomatoes

Tomato-braised beef short rib with Costato Romanesco squash crema, brown rice, and tomato jam

Tomato-braised honeycomb tripe with hot pepper, oregano, and fiore sardo Pecorino cheese


The whole menu is a knock out.


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2018-08-20T16:13:51-07:00August 20th, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

2018 Tomato Dinners Menu Released

2018 Tomato Dinners Menu

Next Tuesday August 21st to Saturday the 25th

Here is the first draft of the menu for next week. Some observations: We think the menu is particularly summery, and it is really all about tomatoes. We’ve named fewer of the varieties we’re going to be using here because we won’t make the final decisions until we get tomatoes in from our sources on Monday. Pastry Chef Andrew Chaney has also been working on several tomato desserts–more than we’ve had for a while.

Antipasti:  smaller items, soup, salads
Confit of hook-and-line-caught albacore with tomato “aïoli,” marinated sweet peppers, and basil
Sampling of this year’s best tomatoes –varieties to be determined Monday
Salad of compressed melon and heirloom tomato with mint, red onion, and Beldi olives
Antipasto of marinated peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber with eggplantcrema and pine nuts
Red flint corn polenta, fried green tomatoes, and shrimp with lobster rémoulade
Charcoal-grilled flat bread with Early Girl tomatoes, burrata, and basil
Tomato-braised honeycomb tripe with hot pepper, oregano, and fiore sardo Pecorino cheese
Soup:  due of gazpachos—German Red and Marvel Stripe tomatoes with opposingsalsas

Spaghetti all’amatriciana
Whole grain bigoli with ragù of Early Girl tomatoes, guanciale, Cranberry beans, and Calabrian chili
Ravioli of burrata cheese with tomato crema
Squid ink risotto with Tuscan sausage, concentrated cherry tomatoes, and fennel pollen
Listada di Gandia eggplant tortelli with Early Girl tomatoes, garlic, and basil
Saffron chitarra with smoked trout, cherry tomatoes, squash blossoms, and lemon verbena

Secondi:  grills, sautés, roasts, and rotisserie
Charcoal-grilled California swordfish with stewed tomatoes, mussels, and fennel;harissa verde
Charcoal-grilled pigeon with tomato mostarda, seeded crostone, purslane, and liver mousse (while available)
Braised Walla Walla onion with farrotto stuffing, garlic-studded Early Girl tomato, and pickled Chanterelle mushrooms
Tomato-braised beef short rib with Costato Romanesco squash crema, brown rice, and tomato jam
Chicken and lobster boudin blanc with sun-dried tomato pesto, peperonata, and Cranberry beans

Sorbetto of heirloom tomato
Red Zebra Stripe tomato jam ice cream
Mascarpone cheesecake with cookie crust of Edison whole wheat flour, toasted hazelnuts, and cocoa nibs
Tomato and black pepper jam, candied cherry tomatoes, and blackberry sorbetto
Bittersweet chocolate cake with tomato sauce, crème fraîche sherbet, and chocolate-pecan dentelle
Sungold tomato and raspberry cobbler with Edison whole wheat and oat crumble; vanilla ice cream

Menu will be à la carte. You won’t want to miss it.


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2018-08-20T15:27:39-07:00August 17th, 2018|Coming up..., Events, This Just In, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Introducing Oliveto Downstairs Public House Hour

We really liked this picture…

…so much that we thought we’d do something about it.

Beginning this Thursday, every night starting at 8pm, Oliveto Downstairs will offer a
Public House Menu:
  • $1.50 / Slice Pizza (first come, first served)

  • $6 seasonal punch special

  • Full Cocktail menu and Rosticceria menu available

Nothing fancy, just some simple, good quality food at a great price. No reservations needed downstairs.

And then Upstairs, we have the Tomato Dinners coming up. Starting Tuesday August 21st through Saturday the 25th. More to come on that menu soon, reserve now.


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2018 Tomato Dinners Announced, August 21st to 25th

2018 Tomato Dinners Announced

Tuesday August 21st to Saturday August 25th

We’ve been throwing tomato parties for 28 years—joyful exercises in balancing what works and what’s new, creating menus of tradition and innovation. The tomatoes have continually gotten better, as farmers advance their growing skills, develop their soils, and plant the ever-growing number of tomato types.

We used to try to time our dinners to when the most tomatoes were at their peak, but now farmers routinely do multiple plantings, taking advantage of a longer and longer season.  As we know, things are getting hotter—good for tomatoes, anyway.

We’ll have the greatest tomatoes from our favorite farmers from different microclimates around northern California. Menus will soon follow, they will be à la carte.

So join us for Oliveto’s 28th (gulp) Annual Tomato Dinners.


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