Saturday, July 03, 2010

Another look at Dopo in Oakland

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Neighborly Italian Gets Sophisticated
4293 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
Piedmont Avenue neighborhood
PH: 510.652.3676
Lunch, Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner, Mon.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays); closed Sunday
Major credit cards accepted, reservations only for parties of 5 or more
Web site

Original visit: September 2006

When people talk about authentic Italian food in the Bay Area these days, more and more are mentioning the 9-year-old Dopo in Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue.

This neighborhood restaurant—which I credit as the place that kick-started Piedmont Avenue’s revitalization as a dining destination—has been busy since it was opened by Oliveto veteran Jon Smulewitz. People came early for the thin-crust pizza but now many come for so much more.

Since Dopo is just 10 minutes away from my apartment, I sometimes forget that it’s there. But I was reminded about it way back when I did my review of Adesso, the popular wine bar up the street that was opened by Dopo as a place for diners to wet their palate before dinner at Dopo.

Dopo was also one of the restaurants I reviewed after starting this blog (back when I was too afraid to take pictures inside and just gave an exterior shot — now I bet you think there are too many pictures). So it was high time that I returned.

The restaurant doubled its space since I did my last review (they no longer place tables in the tiny alley along the side wall) and I came early for a seat at the marble counter since they don’t take reservations. Within minutes, the place was filled with regulars and other people from the neighborhood.

The menu has several appetizers and pesce crudo (raw fish dishes). Dopo is also known for its charcuterie, which has really expanded since it started Adesso. The changing menu also features pasta, pizza and large plates (typically three options for each category).

The ingredients follow the California slant of what’s fresh and seasonal, but it also introduces diners to interesting traditional Italian eats.

For example, I started with the roasted pigeon ($15), which was nicely seared and cooked perfectly. It was served with a parmesan sformato, which my server explained was like a parmesan cheese soufflé. The tiny sformato looked so cute and it was an enjoyable counter-balance to the intense pigeon. Also adding nice textures to the overall dish were braised radicchio accented with drops of wonderful balsamico.

Dopo’s pizza has always been one of its best features, so I ordered the pizza with prosciutto cotto, calabrian chilies and red onions ($16). It’s been a long time since I’ve had Dopo’s pizza and so many great thin-crust pizzas are being made in the Bay Area these days, but I was so entranced by this version.

The crust was thin, but still had a slight chew to give it some texture. But the flavors of the prosciutto (“cotto” means cooked so this was basically Italian cooked ham instead of the paper-thin prosciutto you might be thinking of) blended nicely with the tomato sauce. Everything was warmed by the perfect balance of the calabrian chili, warming my insides with heat.

Eating a whole pizza (not to mention the pigeon starter) didn’t leave me room for much else, so I came back another time. (Again, I came relatively early but this time the place was already buzzing and it had only been open for 15 minutes.)

I started with the yellowtail jack crudo ($12), a beautiful meaty raw fish dish that’s cured with a chili sauce (probably calabrian, which seems to be the Italian chili of choice) and plated elegantly with cucumber, red onions and radishes.

Trying something other than pizza, I ordered the special of the night, which was a roasted rabbit loin, or rabbit saddle ($18), stuffed with currants, almonds and pecorino.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I always like trying different animals like rabbit. I also ordered a side of little gems with lemon and parmesan ($7), which turned out to be a smart move because the plate of rabbit looked a bit small when it arrived.

There were four slices of the rabbit saddle, covered in a rich brown sauce. I enjoyed the meaty rabbit with the refreshing crunch of the almonds and currants, but I don’t know if this dish necessarily played up the rabbit meat. The brown sauce had a nice flavor, but it didn’t necessarily overpower everything. Each slice of rabbit was also wrapped with pancetta, which wasn’t necessarily crispy but more chewy.

Side note: Dopo offers a primarily Italian wine list, and I have to say I’m not a fan of the wine by the glass offered at both Dopo and Adesso. They generally lean more on the tannic side, unlike the full-body California wine. I know there’s a big debate about California wine makers cheating by blending various grapes while Italian wine are more pure, but I side with the blended California wine because it is more young, vital and drinkable, IMHO.

On both return visits, I didn’t have room for desserts. (And you really don’t have to worry about getting dessert since the neighborhood has several good ice cream and frozen yogurt options, such as Lush Gelato.) Overall, I found the service more friendly and professional than in the past, but the pricing still a bit high for the serving size (except the pizzas).

Still, Dopo appears to be more vibrant and sophisticated than what I remembered, which is a big achievement because most places turn routine and tired as it ages. Not here. Dopo is still delivering great pizzas with a lot more variety to make your meal complete.

Update experience (previously 2.5 stars): I’m raising it by a full star to 3.5 stars, partly because I think I was stingy in my early reviews and because Dopo seems to be getting more sophisticated and experimental as it ages.

Dopo on Urbanspoon

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