My Oliveto saga started back in September when I first laid eyes on the illuminated (restored), 3-group Faema E61 machine (yes, another one) peeking through the open folding doors to the patio seating. I knew Oliveto had recently completed a remodel, installing some new cases for their Fra’Mani Salumi, but didn’t know for sure whether they were sporting a new (to them) machine or whether they had simply perched their current machine in a location better suited to show off its splendor. I made a mental note to return when I wasn’t running for the BART but later that week, my question was answered. I spied (with a critical eye) this post on Eater SF, practically begging me to go check it out since there clearly is a lot more to good espresso than the machine. The Faema E61 is a beauty, but merely eye candy without good beans or good barista skills behind it.
Another month or so passed when I received an email from Luigi, co-owner of Coffee Bar, and part of the Di Ruocco family that owns and runs Mr. Espresso, the supplier of Oliveto’s coffee. It may be that he sensed my doubt about coffee quality or the fact that I seem to get frequently delayed visiting establishments serving Mr. Espresso (just see my review of Coffee Bar). O.K. Perhaps he merely wanted to share the news of this spiffed up machine that happened to be in my neighborhood. I let him know that I had seen it and that it looked beautiful and that I try it out soon.
And all that brings us to the present, which happens to be yet another couple of months later. Through sheer force of will (and despite the fact that it’s in my neighborhood), I finally managed to get myself to Oliveto. The first visit was a quick, espresso-only stop. But as a way of making up for lost time, I arranged a second visit for lunch, along with Greg of The Shot and Coffee ratings. I figured it was time for a reunion run of our Dynamo Donuts review, the upscale Donut Shop in San Francisco. Only this time it involved upscale Italian food, on my side of the Bay.
Overall, I enjoyed my espresso without being particularly wowed. It was a good, medium bodied shot with dark, medium thick crema. It tended towards the darker side of the spectrum: smokey with brown sugar and raisins. It finished with a slight hint of blood orange acidity peeking through and just a hint of something scratchy. It turns out that this isn’t the usual Neapolitan Blend that I’m used to trying from Mr. Espresso but rather the Organic Neapolitan, which Luigi himself described as “a bit sweeter and earthier than the signature Neapolitan Espresso.” At the same time, I should point out that the shot I had a couple of weeks before was a bit more on the mark I think: a little brighter, sweeter and more gentle.
The brewed coffee, which the waiter saw fit to pour into my empty demitasse (like a mini depth charge considering the espresso dregs), seemed like slightly too dark roasted coffee, brewed commercially. Not really to my tastes or probably the best it could be either.
I think the take-away for me is that while this may not be the best espresso available in the east bay (although it certainly isn’t bad), it is quite good for restaurant espresso. This may say more about sorry state of restaurant coffee than it does for Oliveto’s espresso. As Greg and I (and many others) have discussed, restaurants might more routinely do better with a French Press service and no espresso. That said, Oliveto does an admirable job of their espresso service and serves a very nice lunch while they’re at it.