After reading many good things about Oliveto, both in ba.food and on review websites, we made reservations for an October 1999 Sunday evening at 8 PM. All in all, we had a very pleasant dining experience, the service was generally good and most of the food was also very good. However, the dish I ordered wasn't particularly great, and I didn't find the experience in general to be "special" enough, so I'm not sure if we'll go there again.
Oliveto is located in Rockridge, very close to the Rockridge BART station. We didn't have a problem finding parking, but this may be a place worth BARTing to (especially if you want to order wine). The restaurant is on the second floor (there is a cafe below), and it's rather pleasant. It's dimly lit, which makes it somewhat romantic, though the tables could use a candle or two to make it even more so. We had a table in the middle of the room, but if I went again I'd try to reserve a table by the window - it would make for a more intimate experience, I think. Mike noticed that the restaurant was somewhat loud, though that might be a blessing for it covered any noises from BART or the street.
The service was in general very good. We were seated as soon as we arrived, given water and bread and butter. Our glasses were replenished frequently, and we were offered more bread and butter. Our waitress was attentive, she answered all our questions about the dishes, and came promptly when we signaled for her attention. The food came when expected, and we didn't have to wait for the bill. However, there were a couple of glitches. It seems that Oliveto does not offer bread plates (though it wasn't very clear to us that this was so, so we had to look around to see where others were putting their bread), so your eating area can get rather full with crumbs. We ordered three soft-drinks (there were three of us that evening), but we only got two of them - the third one only came after we flagged down the waitress. Finally, Mike's entree was brought to him much before the rest of us got ours. But in general, we were satisfied with the service.
The food was also pretty good. Mike ordered their prix-fix meal which consisted of salad, a prawn entree, and ice-cream ($32, I think). I had the pigeon (about $19), and my father had the oso-buco milanesa (about $20). We didn't order any appetizers, because we didn't see anything that we'd like - but it's just a matter of taste.
Mike's insalata paesana consisted of bitter greens with nuts (and probably other things). At first he thought it was "not bad", later he thought it was "quite good" and by the end he found it delicious, it really grew on him. He thought the prawns were also very good, and he was very satisfied with them. They came in their shells, however, so he was forced to use his hands to de-shell them. I'm not sure if that's what he was supposed to do, but we saw other people doing the same after unsuccessfully trying to do it with a knife and fork.
My dad had the oso-buco milanesa and he really loved it. The meat was extremely tender and melted in your mouth. It needed some salt and pepper, however (which we had to ask for, as they weren't at the table). The risotto that came with it was also good (though he says my mom's is better :). He was very pleased.
I ordered the grilled pigeon after reading that it was very good. I've liked pigeon when I've had it in the Middle East, but I think this was the first time I had it in the US. I was not happy with it. First of all, it was cooked too rare. I tend to like my food medium-rare because I think that meats need to be cooked at least a little bit for their full flavor to develop, very rare meat is often insipid and this was the case with the pigeon. Some salt helped, though it still wasn't that great. The pigeon also felt somewhat rubbery and fatty. Finally, it could have used some rice or other starch to soak in the juices (I hated wasting them). I would certainly not order this dish again.
We didn't order wine as we had spent the day wine-tasting in Napa, but the selection seemed to be good.
For desert, Mike had the Toffee Ice-Cream that came with the meal. It was good, with large pieces of toffeed nuts, but he likes Ben & Jerry's version better. I ordered the Chocolate Diplomatico, which consisted of chocolate ice cream (or very cold chocolate mouse, I'm not sure) framed by a coffee flavored cake. It was good but nothing extraordinary.
In all, it was a pleasant meal.
The whole meal, including tip, came to a little over $100.
5655 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618