Oakland, Berkeley, And East Bay News, Events, Restaurants, Music, & Arts
It was one of those rainy, windswept days in Berkeley - when the cold went through your coat, lodging deeply in your bones.
I didn't care because my friend and I were sitting comfortably warm next to a roaring fireplace at the ORIGINAL GIOVANNI's, a glass of amazing Sangiovese in our hands, dipping pieces of fresh-baked focaccia into a bowl of extra-virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar...
For those unaware, Giovanni and his family founded this restaurant in 1961 and quickly forged a reputation as being one of the premier Southern Italian (the family is Calabrese) restaurants in the Bay Area. About 17 yrs ago Giovanni decided to retire early and new owners continued the tradition quite successfully until a few years ago, when everything went downhill. Approx 6 months ago Giovanni's daughters, Sara and Anastasia, decided to take on the daunting task of reopening Giovanni themselves, and managed to talk their Dad and Mom (Anna) into helping out.
I personally think they hit a home run! The music of Sinatra, Buble' and Ella softly great you as you enter. There is a full list of great Italian wines - something for every taste at true value... and at lunch you get a free glass of wine (or beer) of your choice. Cool! Like the focaccia, the pasta is made in-house daily, and served simply with olive oil and fresh parmesan. If you prefer, rich and tasty sauces such as Alfredo, White Wine, Vodka and classic Red are all available and well worth trying (I've tasted them all).
On this particular day I had the Chicken Parmesan w/Penne Pasta and Alfredo sauce. I passed on the veggies and asked for a little extra garlic on the pasta. Being lunch my friend first considered the sausage & peppers on a role or the grilled eggplant sandwich, but finally ordered the Veal Marsala with Roasted Potatoes & Sautéed Veggies. The cheese on my chicken was soft, flavorful and not tough or stringy like so many places serve... the chicken was so moist and tender you literally could cut it with your fork. Pasta was to die for. I managed to get a taste of the veal marsala before it was gone - real, tasty veal (not the "imitation" so often passed-off as veal to save money). Well, I know that's my next meal here...
By the way, service is both welcoming and attentive, and either Mom or Dad are present at lunch or dinner, and the beautiful Sara or the dazzling Anastasia are always present --greeting you, making sure orders are right, and generally overseeing the smooth running of the restaurant.
Now back to the important part: Dessert! With more wine firmly in hand we ordered both the Cannoli and the Tiramisu... I don't normally eat cannoli in restaurants because I'm always comparing it to my Grandmother's (who originally was from Calabria before settling in New Jersey). I know some of the desserts are made in-house, and since this cannoli was like I remember Grandma's -- just so damn good -- I have to believe that Anna had a hand in making this! Oh, and the Tiramisu? I did what I always do: eat my share at lunch and then order another to take home for that late-night snack with my lady friend (I mean... what girl could resist mascarpone cheese, raw eggs, sugar, espresso coffee, ladyfingers, dark rum, chocolate shavings and whipped cream... light, creamy, smooth, the rich aroma of strong coffee and the tantalizing hint of the liquor? How seductive is that?)
ORIGINAL GIOVANNI may not be the perfect restaurant nor have a trend-setting, Northern Italian fusion-style kitchen that many Bay Area diners seem to prefer after watching the latest episode of Top Chef... BUT, if you want a place that's both fun and romantic, good for business meetings or relaxing with friends... a place where you get good ingredients in classic dishes, prepared simply and where the presentation is not more important then the taste, and where everything is done with true love and caring - then ORIGINAL GIOVANNI is for you!
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