A Taste of Florence in Berkeley
1788 Shattuck Ave. (at Delaware), Berkeley
Edge of Gourmet Ghetto
Open dinner nightly from 5 to 10 p.m.; weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; weekend brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Rustic Italian is a sure-fire hit for restaurateurs these days with popular spots such as A16 and SPQR in San Francisco. Across the bay in Berkeley, you can count Corso among the latest.
From the same people behind the refine Rivoli (not too far away on Solano Avenue), Corso is the casual new offspring that comes off like the big brother because of its bold personality.
I got together with my friend Laurie to check it out, and we didn’t have a problem getting a table since the restaurant started taking reservations on OpenTable. (When they opened last year, it was walk-in only.) I arrived early and the host kindly seated me at our table even though Laurie hadn’t arrived yet.
The restaurant is oddly split into two sections like two little restaurants abutting each other. On the left there was a flat screen TV near the bar, giving it a sports bar feel, while on the right you could see into the kitchen, giving that side a feel of a small family restaurant.
When Laurie arrived, we looked over the menu that was broken into sections very traditional to Italian dining: start with an antipasti, then a primi (first course) and secondi (second course). There was also a pizza section and sides.
Laurie doesn’t have a big appetite, so she ended up just ordering the Barbabietola con Mozzarella (roasted beets with arugula and fresh mozzarella, $13) and a side order of Verdure Arrostite (butternut squash, parsnips, and turnips, $6).
I ordered the Tagliatelle al Sugo (braised beef and pork pasta, $14), which the waitress said was the house specialty and something everyone should always try on their first visit to Corso. I totally agree. While I was tempted to order the braised duck pasta, I’m glad I went with the sugo because it was just so perfectly done and comforting. The tagliatelle had just the right “give” and the sugo clung perfectly to each strand.
I also ordered the Hoffman Farms pan-fried chicken breast ($10), which was just one of the four offerings in the secondi section. The breast, which comes out in a small copper fry pan, was golden brown and glistened in the brown butter sauce made of plugra butter. The meat was tender and the skin was crisp, what more do you want in a chicken breast?
I should note that I would have appreciated a reminder from the waitress that the secondi dishes were ala carte because my chicken breast looked lonely and it would have been nice to have some greens with my meal. Overall, I was disappointed at the service. While efficient, our waitress lacked any charm or friendliness. Her demeanor would fit well in a fine-dining establishment, not a casual trattoria where the flavor of the people plays as much a part of the meal as the food and wine.
We ended our evening by splitting a dessert. Laurie and I settled on the Pera Arrosto (Passito-poached pear with whipped cream, $7). It was nicely done with an interesting flavor and small scoop of cream, but I wished they had peeled the pear before poaching it instead of serving it all naturale. It just gave the dish that weird paper feel and made it tougher to cut into the pear with your fork.
The menu by Chef Rodrigo de Silva is straight-forward and simple, using locally sourced ingredients as one would expect in Berkeley. The execution of the pastas and meats are done so well that I can see why people keep returning despite the limited offerings. On nights when it’s not so packed, I can see how it could be fun to order a pizza and antipasti with a glass of chianti and just hangout.
Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Hearty Italian)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Thursday, March 05, 2009
A Taste of Florence in Berkeley