Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dish on Dining: Garibaldis

Reduced in Size but Still Going Strong
5356 College Ave., Oakland
Rockridge neighborhood
PH: 510.535.4000
Open for weekday lunch, Sunday brunch, and dinner nightly
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Web site

One of the early pioneers of the trend of San Francisco restaurants crossing the bridge to Oakland is Garibaldis (original location still on Presidio Avenue). More than 10 years ago, it opened its Oakland restaurant on the far end of College Avenue in the up-and-coming Rockridge neighborhood.

I used to live right around the corner from the shiny new Garibaldis Oakland and was excited to call it my neighborhood spot, where I could always get this amazing seafood paella dish with saffron. But after I moved to New York and then returned to Oakland, Garibaldis didn’t seem to be the same (and the paella dish was no longer on the menu). While it still had the impressive wood bar, the crowd seemed to be a bit older and sedate.

The owners also jumped on the artisan pizza craze and opened Marzano in Oakland’s Glenview neighborhood last year. It became so popular that they decided to bring the Marzano concept to Rockridge—in the same spot as Garibaldis.

So last fall after a complete renovation, Garibaldis reopened as a split restaurant with the old concept on one side and a Marzano concept on the side that once showcased the giant wood bar.

I visited the new restaurants recently to see how the dual restaurant concept was doing. This will actually be a two-part review as I review each restaurant separately. Today I start with the grand lady Garibaldis.

While the restaurant is smaller, it still maintains the sophisticated elegance of the original Garibaldis with a few splashy art pieces and a large communal table added for good measure. It’s the type of restaurant one would call “handsome.”

I visited first for Sunday brunch (Garibaldis is the only one opened for brunch) with my nephew Chris and his girlfriend, Mary, when they were visiting from out of town.

I started off with a Bloody Mary (because you know I only order them at brunch), and Garibaldis’ version was extra spicy with a kick.

The real treat was the complimentary bread basket that arrived after we ordered. It didn’t offer bread, but instead had a few Madeleine cakes and blueberry scones. I tried one of the blueberry scones and they were probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I would have paid top dollar for them, but these were free! The light scones had a crispy edge but were delicate and airy inside. I would go back just for them.

For our brunch, Chris and Mary both ordered the Chef’s Omelet, which was made with applewood smoked bacon, spinach, cheddar and cherry tomatoes, topped with avocado slices with a side of breakfast potatoes. But Chris got his omelet as part of the prix-fixed brunch deal ($19), which came with the omelet, a fruit cup and a glass of mimosa.

I ordered the Salmon Benedict ($15), which for some reason came with a sauce that was strikingly orange. On the menu, the sauce was called a “tomato chevre sauce” so I’m thinking maybe it was the coloring of the chevre cheese? Anywho, it made the whole dish look a bit fake. As for the taste, there was a nice smoked salmon flavor and the eggs were done just right. But I was probably still dreaming of those scones.

I returned by myself on another night to check out Garibaldis’ dinner service. The dinner menu by executive chef Scott Sasaki is a mix of California cuisine with some Spanish flair. For example, one of the interesting dishes paraded through the room was the Calamari ala Plancha, which came out sizzling on a platter. The smell of sizzling squid was amazing, but the platter looked quite big so I went another route for my selections.

I started with the Hamachi Crudo ($12), which came out beautifully plated with thinly sliced English cucumbers and topped with daikon sprouts. The hamachi was dressed with a Calabrian chile and capezzana olive oil. The fish was nice and fresh, and I got a nice kick from the chile (but it wasn’t overpowering). I gulped down this dish quite quickly.

For my main, I ordered the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, sunchokes, cipollini onions and black truffles ($18). What was impressive about the dish when it arrived were the thick slices of black truffles on top. I’ve had black truffles in the past, but often the low-end with just a few grated sprinkles that really tasted like nothing. I was excited that these truffle pieces were big enough for me to see, for one, and thick enough to really impart a truffle flavor, for another.

The gnocchi were big but fluffy, and they were accented nicely by the slight broth made of the mushrooms, sunchokes and onions. The black truffles gave the overall dish a nice woody flavor, almost musky but in a good way. While I felt the gnocchi texture could have been a tad more delicate, I still felt satisfied that this was a perfect winter dish.

Because I had such fond memories of the scones from brunch, I wanted to try dessert since I knew the pastry chef had just joined the new Garibaldis. So I got the Chocolate Budino ($9), which is the thick Italian chocolate pudding cake. Garibaldis’ version was huge and tasted almost like a big warm brownie. (It’s not as dense and interesting as Flour + Water’s famous chocolate budino.) The budino was served with espresso ice cream (divine) and a lot of candied nuts (maybe a bit too much). This was a huge dessert that definitely should be shared.

Side note: The restrooms are shared between the two restaurants, so if you’re at Garibaldis, you need to cross over to Marzano to use the bathroom, giving you a peek at the popular Marzano side of the restaurant.

Garibaldis has a different feel than what I remembered, but in a way the new Garibaldis seems more relevant and up-to-date. Walking by these two restaurants, I can safely say that Marzano always seem more pack than Garibaldis, which is probably benefiting from Marzano’s overflow. But Garibaldis shouldn’t be considered a backup choice because it offers a refined but approachable meal that’s worth seeking out.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (New Memories)

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

Garibaldi's on Urbanspoon

Click here for my review of Marzano.

Other Rockridge restaurants:
Wood Tavern: “A Year Later, It’s Still a Hot Spot in Oakland”
Oliveto Café: “Rustic Italian fare in the heart of Rockridge”
Somerset: “Miss Millie’s Takes New Form in the East Bay”


Velva said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

Hungry Dog said...

The dual restaurant idea is strange but intriguing...

Both your brunch and dinner sound quite good. I'm thinking that the orange color of your eggs was due to the tomato component--perhaps they used yellow or orange heirloom tomatoes? And the gnocchi sound incredible, I've been craving that recently. Nice review as always!

Carolyn Jung said...

The bread basket has scones and madeleines? Oh man, that is MY kind of bread basket. Why can't all restaurants surprise us with something so wonderful? ;)

jack said...

I love chocolate budino. We have a restaurant up here in Seattle, Spinasse, that makes a fantastic version.

Definitely sounds like Garibaldi's has updated itself--good to hear.

wella said...

The chocolate budino is my favorite. I used to live walking distance from Garibaldi's and I'd come in regularly just to get this dessert. Back when it was only $6, ha ha!