We live in the North Bay and a movie on Shattuck took us to Berkeley. On my iPad I quicky checked “Yelp” for Italian restaurants & fortunately chose this newly opened one. Never looked at the menu but was attracted by the 3 owners being native born Italians but, more important, that Fabio’s Mamma, Luigina, was in the kitchen—not too many Italian restaurants anywhere anymore with native born Italians in the kitchen, maybe 1st & 2nd generation Italians or Latins, albeit trained by Italians, I’m prejudiced I know, but for me there is nothing like having an native born Italian in the kitchen. Why am I so biased, my grandparents, parents, aunts & uncles are all born in Italy and I go to Italy every year & mostly to enjoy the food. Enjoyable dining for me these days is more than the food, the service and environment are important too and I can’t recall a setting in a US restaurant where I felt more like being in Italia. And when I say Italia, I don’t mean Venice, Florence, Rome etc. where in the Piazzas they cater to tourists and there are barkers outside enticing people to come in. I see this too in SF’s North Beach & Italian sections in NY & Boston. Here is like being in a village in a remote part of Italia and an area not frequented by tourists. And I have been in B & B’s and Villa’s in these small towns in the mountains where the dining room had no menu. You ate what they served and that is "alla Casalinga” made home style and I couldn’t wait to arrive as I saw this on their sign”Cucina Casalinga” on their website.
It was Saturday and despite having no reservations, they accomodated us. Fabio was fabulous !!! We spoke Italian and I asked what he recommended on the menu & he said, "trust me, I’ll select dinner items for you”. There is a generous pouring of wine by the glass & I had Chianti. I must tell you that the “Torta Fritta Emiliana”, little fried bread dumplings were soft and exquisite. “Emiliana” although a female name, also means these are done in the style of the region of “Emilia-Romagna” where Fabio indicated are his roots, in Parma, a hour from Bologna. They were served with Prosciutto & 2 other Italian cured meats . Eating these little pillows I felt like I was eating potato chips, I couldn’t stop so asked for more. In Italian this is called “lo sfizio” and I recall my Mamma when I saw her continuing to eat something & I asked why, she said “per togliere lo sfizo” which not easy to translate sort of means to satisfy a yen. Also, I was reminded of another Italian saying which is “l’appetito viene mangiando”, the appetite increases eating. Then we had homemade Tagliatelle( a pasta cut a litle wider than Linguini) in a Ragu’ & this was the best Bolognese sauce I’ve had since Italia. I think this was Luciano Pavarotti’s( as he was from the Bologna area) favorite dish. Now come thin sliced pork medallions in a delectible lemon flavored sauce. Fabio, always busy, and the restaurant with a waiting line still returned to our table frequently and asked “Tutto Bene, Tutto a Posto” which means is everything OK ? We were never made to rush as happens in many places where they need to turn the tables as other customers(with reservations) were waiting.
I didn’t know what else Fabio planned to bring us but I said we were full so anything else would "da portare a casa”, go home in a doggie bag. They have their own pastry chef and we saw so many delectible items that I let them prepare a plate of an assortment and they melted in your mouth. I had a double espresso as I needed to drive. But when I asked if they had “Grappa” a very strong pressed skins and seeds of grapes or a winemaker's leftovers which is also a pretty good digestive, Fabio brought over 2 glasses and I told him to put it on my bill but he generously didn’t. I ended up drinking both and my wife, not liking to drive at night, needed to do so.
I see they are open for breakfast and I don’t know for a fact but with the convention center and huge Marriott hotel nearby, I would advise people to come here if they wish to eat in the morning as many Italians do with a strong coffee & “Cornetti”, similar to the croissant. I found that in the big cities in Italy that the ham & eggs on hotel menus are mostly for the tourists.
You people who live in the East Bay & business people who travel to Oakland are lucky to have this place nearby. If it were in Marin County, we’d be in there once per week !!!
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