Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dish on Dining: Corso Trattoria

A Taste of Florence in Berkeley
1788 Shattuck Ave. (at Delaware), Berkeley
Edge of Gourmet Ghetto
PH: 510.704.8004
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

Corso on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

"plugra butter (or brown butter)."

Uh, not the same thing. Plugra is a style of butter. Brown butter is...well you should know what brown butter is.

I kind of like your blog, but why do you refer to yourself as 'Chef Ben' when you are clearly not a chef, and make so many mistakes in your posts like the one above?

Single Guy Ben said...

Hi Anonymous. Thanks for pointing it out. Yes, sorry, I meant to say it was a brown butter sauce and that they used plugra butter. But I guess when I was doing this review late at night, I just typed it up quickly.

Yes, I'm not a chef. But I am human so there are going to be mistakes on my blog. And I do this for fun, so I don't have proofers I can hire to fact check or clean up my typos.

I call myself Chef Ben just because I started this as a food blog and when you have to come up with a user name, it can be a challenge thinking up something. I would have just gone with Ben but then that's unfortunately a pretty common name, so I couldn't use it with Blogger because other people have already claimed that. And as creative as I think it was to call myself "The Single Guy," that was already taken too. (Surprise!) So since it was a food blog, I decided to call myself Chef Ben or Single Guy Chef because that combination wasn't taken already as a user name by others in the Blogger community. Just like if I started a blog all about mushrooms I might have called myself Foraging Ben or if I started a blog on football I might have used Coach Ben. I wasn't trying to pretend I was something I wasn't. This is just the challenges of registering to use free host blogs when coming up with original user names can be a challenge.

So I'm glad you like the blog. But really, if it offends you that I don't know what I'm talking about, then take it with a grain of salt and move on. I hope you don't and I hope others enjoy what I write about because, really, as the only contributor to this blog you're coming to get my viewpoint on what I think of food. So if I'm wrong, yeah, you're getting the wrong viewpoint, but it's my viewpoint nonetheless.

(BTW, I did make the correction in the review. When people point things out, I do my best to make any fixes. But unfortunately, I don't know the style to do a strikethrough so people can't see the original mistake. So for people reading later, yes, I had a typo. My bad.)

Anonymous said...

You went with someone who doesn't eat much?? What's up with that? You should have gone with me instead. We'd be pigging out to the max. ;)

Passionate Eater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Passionate Eater said...

Chef Ben (you are definitely a CHEF and don't let anyone tell you otherwise). As a blogger, I make huge mistakes and typos on my blog all the time, and in fact, you corrected me several times before (when I said that Maverick was in the Castro and not Mission district). Similarly, I sometimes go back on my own blog and read a post I did a year ago, and realize I forgot to use correct English. And just like you, I do not have several hours to spend on a post. Do not let "ANONYMOUS" commenters get you down. "ANONYMOUS," do you have a blog? Do you know how much effort it is to post on one, take and modify pictures, and painstakingly write for them? Get off your high pedestal and quit judging. Chef Ben has one of the best blogs around, and you can just tell him and us about the "correct" butter terminology without the attitude.

By the way, "ANONYMOUS," you made some grammatical mistakes too. (As I probably did, but I am just saying that we can nitpick everyone's writing apart, but that really doesn't reflect on the person.)

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks PE, your comment made my day. :)

Anonymous said...

PE and Ben,

I am not currently a blogger, but I AM a chef. Chef is a profession, not just a title that 'passionate' home cooks can fling about. The problem is that Americans still don't know anything about food, and as a blogger, while you may have the right to say what you want, I think you have a responsibility to be honest about it. Say I were someone newly interested in food, and I randomly found your blog, and saw that you refer to yourself as 'chef.' I would most likely take your words seriously, thereby contributing to the continuation of our mediocre food culture. This is what the 'foodies' of the Bay Area keep doing, by supporting terrible restaurants like Foreign Cinema because they serve 'ingredient-based' cuisine. It's also the problem with most of the Food Network 'stars', who continue to teach Americans bad cooking techniques and terrible dishes in the name of entertainment.

Your football coach analogy doesn't work, simply because no one would be confused by a blogspot blog written by a 'coach' and think it was actually the blog of an NFL or NCAA coach. Chefs tend to run in more modest circles, and I know plenty who have blogspot/wordpress blogs. And don't tell me it's because you couldn't find another name. That's a ridiculous excuse.

I used to have a blog, and I know what it's like to write one. I don't really care about grammar and spelling errors (well, I care a bit, but I don't comment on them). However, you continually make FACTUAL errors, asserted with your adopted chef's authority. I like your choice of restaurants and your pictures, and your recipes, though quite flawed, are ok. However, I don't appreciate the name you give to chefs (and it's not just you, believe's every home cook who has some idiot friend who told them they 'cook like a chef').

And by the way, it's not a brown butter sauce. It's just brown butter. And you should capitalize Plugra, since it's a brand name. And about a million other mistakes.

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks Anonymous, your comment ruined my day. :(

Anonymous said...

Who cares what Chef Ben calls himself? Anonymous, you are a snob and damn rude, too. Where exactly are you a chef? How do we even know you are a chef? You're what's wrong with the Web today -- hiding behind anonymity to ridicule somebody else. Great, you know all about Plugra. You still sound like a miserable person.

Anonymous said...

awwww :( Chef Ben I love how your blog stirs things up! Anonymous, you need to vent your frustrations on your own abandoned blog, not someone elses blog.

back to the food, that pork sugo sounds delicious and looks like a good sized portion. Did you see any of the pizza's? I might go just for that sugo...

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, I didn't actually see many pizzas being ordered the night I was there. But a lot of pasta orders! Mmmm, SUGO!

Single Guy Ben said...

Hi everyone, I'm closing off any more comments about me as a blogger. Any future comments that are unrelated to the original Corso review will be removed. Thanks for your support!

Anonymous said...

Chef Ben,

I currently work at Corso (I did not at the time of you original blog), and appreciate many of the points and observations you've made.
It's to bad that the comments on this post veered so faar away from your actual experince; I'm just glad you liked the chicken!

For the record, your blogging ID is not misleading. Perhaps if you included your last name in the tag, but no.....



Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks AdmiralFang for your comment. And who knew a restaurant would hire an admiral? ;-)

A year later reading this post, it was one of the more controversial one focused on my user name, and when I read the actual post, it would have been more nice to hear people reacting to my take on the restaurant, which was a very nice experience indeed.

But thanks for posting, because now it reminded me I have to go back for another visit! :)