Monday, October 18, 2010

RIVOLI (Berkeley) You say it’s your birthday!

Champagne Flight begins the meal

In July, we needed to pick a nice place to celebrate my Better Half’s birthday. He is the sort of guy who will consistently allow himself to be put on the back burner for any one of his three girls, someone who won’t ask for attention, but who deserves to have a fuss made over him as often as possible. After years of focusing on the distractions of parenting, we are again finding we have time for each other. With so much to celebrate, it really seemed important to take him somewhere nice for his birthday.

I gave him several choices from our “next good restaurant” short list, and after a bit of reflection he selected Rivoli in Berkeley. The next step was to secure a reservation, which was simple enough. I’m a planner, and one can almost always secure a reservation if one calls sufficiently in advance. Once that task was complete, we were set for another evening of family bonding over delicious food, provided of course that Rivoli lived up to its reputation.

Corn Spoonbread Souffle with

When we arrived at the restaurant, I was struck by the clean simplicity of the interior decor. It was pretty in this expressively neutral way, like it had been dressed in the restaurant equivalent of the perfect little black dress, simple, tasteful and chic. There was nothing about the interior that would get in the way of dining, no visual clutter. Rivoli’s was the perfect setting for an evening focusing on one’s companion, rather than one’s surroundings. Though I should note that Rivoli’s interior is not dark at all — rather it is the antithesis of black — light and uplifting, the surroundings echoing the colors of the sunset, maize colored walls, lovely curtains of rust and golden brown. One wall is comprised entirely of glass to showcase a beautiful blooming garden just outside the window. So far, so good.

Day Boat Scallops

We were a little date-night giddy upon our arrival at the restaurant, I think we may have even giggled a bit when greeted by the distinguished gentleman running front of house. The guy was charming and really good at his job. He made us feel welcome, like he was an old friend and we were guests in his home, yet he wasn’t the slightest bit overbearing. He was both a pleasant conversationalist and extremely knowledgeable about wine. These days, we have become almost restaurant ‘collectors’ so I confess that the opportunity to try out a new place to dine is a bit of a rush.

As we chatted about just how to begin our meal, Front of House guy told us that they had a flight of lovely champagnes they were offering by way of a special. The offer of champagne in any form sounded perfectly celebratory and the fact that they were offering us a flight of choices was enticing enough to provoke a yes. Soon he brought us two sets, three glasses each, of a variety of bubbly wines. One was a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene; the second a Cremant d’alsace Sparkling Pinot; and the last a Louis Roederer Brut. The Prosecco was crisp and fruit forward, the Cremant d’alsace (Pinot Noir) a little brighter, with more of the skin causing it to blush in the glass as well as on the palate, and the Louis Roederer Brut Premium Champange FR was dry and a bit spicy to the taste. A stellar trio of tingling liquids with which to toast our Birthday Boy!

Crab Lasagna with
Fresh Baby Tomatoes

BB (for today’s post we will re-christen him Birthday Boy) and I began with appetizers. I ordered the Corn Spoonbread Souffle. I would remind my readers that it was still the height of summer and there is nothing quite like sweet, summer corn. The subtle lightness of the airy souffle mingling the flavors of corn and cream, the delicious fresh vegetables that accompanied it in the nicely diced form of a summer succotash, and a beautiful helping of La Querai Proscuitto topped with a grilled peach relish. It was spectacular. I think I demolished it in some sort of record time, though I was trying desperately to make each bite last a lifetime. There was a drizzle of chile cream across the plate to give the veggies a bit of heat. This was one of the best corn dishes I have ever tasted. Perfectly balanced flavor profile and thoughtfully prepared. It was heavenly.

The BB orderd an appetizer of Grilled Day Boat Scallops. We are both regular scallop hounds, the lovely little crustaceans are buttery, sweet and enticing when fresh, and generally speaking, day boat is menu code for fresh. The arrived perfectly cooked, with that lovely golden crown on the top and the sides a glistening pearl. The fresh side of salsa verde a lovely enhancement to the sweet flavor of the seafood. BB gave me bites of his side garnish of chanterelle & porcini mushrooms which had been topped with a truffle cream and a sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs. Delish.

Chocolate Cake

For our mains, we ordered the same dish, which doesn’t happen often. But the had a Dungeness Crab & Ricotta Lasagna with buttered leeks. Who doesnt’ order crab lasagna? It came with fresh summer tomatoes, a sauce of shellfish fonduta, a cheesy sauce not unlike fondue, but with seafood. Add a dash of Chervil puree and voila! Take that, Mario Batali!

We of course ordered dessert, because after all, it was a special occasion. The BB had a lovely chocolate torte with a side of creamy ice cream, and I had a berry pie. Summery and light, my pie was the perfect sweet touch to end the meal. He loved his chocolatey goodness as well, though I prefer something a bit lighter after something as rich as lasagna.

Bottom line is that Rivoli was as good as its reputation, perhaps better. The food was inventive, well presented, fresh, everything upscale food is supposed to be. The atmosphere was quiet and romantic, just the ticket for our birthday date night. We both enjoyed our meal tremendously and cannot wait to revisit to see what else Chef / Owner Wendy Brucker has in store! She’s a force to be eaten with! Check it out for yourself, and Bon Appetit!

Berry Crisp

Rivoli Restaurant
1539 Solano Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 526-2542

Table size: adequate
Service: magnificent
Noise Level: 1 whispering bell
Moderately expensive