Each day of the weekend has its own special ethos. Friday is Friday, thank God, the night to forget the week's myriad disappointments with your favorite brand of post-vocational poison. Saturday is the day to get things done: laundry, gardening, a trip to the dump, sowing the back forty. It's immediately followed by Saturday night, a genre unto itself, the night to dress up, go out, and get down.
But Sunday is the day to relax. It's the day for sleeping late, for lounging around the house with the newspaper supplements and several lovingly brewed cups of coffee, for recharging the physio-spiritual batteries at the dawn of a new week. It's also the perfect day for tucking into a nice, celebratory champagne-fueled brunch, because any day of relaxation is a day to celebrate.
Garibaldis, a venerable temple to New American cuisine in Oakland's tony Rockridge district, is a good place to do exactly that. In appearance, the place harks back to the halcyon days of the late '90s, when dot-commers celebrated their tenuous wealth at high-ceilinged, pastel-sponged gathering spots where Mediterranean-based small plates were the common currency and the sound design was made up of equal parts shaking ice, high-decibel discourse, and middle-period Ella Fitzgerald. Now that everyone's gone home to Iowa, the milieu is more attractive than ever, the ideal spot, in fact, for a late-morning culinary pick-me-up.
Kick things off with a big bowl of dense, creamy Greek yogurt — "chewy" isn't an absolutely inappropriate descriptor — topped with housemade almond-cranberry granola and slivers of Hosui pear. Next, choose between steak and eggs, eggs Benedict with applewood-smoked bacon, French toast with pink lady apples, or — my personal choice — a mind-clearing, positively salubrious chorizo scramble in which sharp white cheddar, caramelized onions, piquillo peppers, and spicy Spanish sausage revivify the most lethargic and hungover. The Olympia pear omelet isn't as successful; although the pear slices are sweet and supple, they aren't incorporated into the bland eggs enough to create a unified gustatory statement. Luckily, there's the delectable lamb tenderloin salad to fall back on — a bushel of greens; hazelnuts; persimmons; goat cheese; and thick, smoky, meltingly tender lamb.
At dinnertime, Garibaldis transmogrifies into a darker, sleeker — though still noisy — gathering spot. Cosmos and lemon drops are sipped over platters of inventive antipasti like the tuna confit with tapenade, a sort of glorified tuna-salad sandwich with a pungent after-kick. Still, there's something merely competent about some of the dishes that could be a sign of age or simple inertia.
Another antipasto, the truffled arancini, features three globes of heavy, ponderous risotto wrapped in a tough deep-fried crust. The baby beet salad is perfectly attractive and nutritious, but it's also earthbound and stolid (remarkably bland blue cheese notwithstanding), and we've seen it all before. The kabocha squash soup, on the other hand, is tart, luscious, and brightly flavored with lemon, Fuji apples, and a drizzle of crème fraîche. But the prix-fixe dinner menu is three courses of adequate cookery unredeemed by zest or dash or a pioneering spirit: a plate of butter lettuce with a few pomegranate seeds, a duck leg confit cooked to the point of tastelessness and served on an unharmonious combination of creamy polenta and bitter endive, a cold slab of tart shell layered with red stuff that bears a passing resemblance to cranberries.
Two other desserts are absolutely praiseworthy, however. The panna cotta is just about the silkiest I've tasted, a brick of pure velvet touched with vanilla bean, raisins, currants, and the tang of crème fraîche. It's served with a slice of rich, slightly salty pine nut shortbread that ideally complements the cooked cream. Even better is a platter of cookies, warm and gooey from the oven — a perfectly executed Toll House, a buttery oatmeal raisin, a spicy fragrant ginger, a brownie-like triple chocolate — served with a shot glass of vanilla ice cream and milk.
Garibaldis offers several options for the vegetarian diner. At brunch, there's fresh fruit, French toast, two salads, rigatoni with three kinds of mushroom, the aforementioned squash soup, pear omelet, and Greek yogurt. In the evening, fleshless foodies can begin their meal with hummus, baba ghanoush, sage-roasted chestnuts, flatbread with goat cheese and apples, three salads, the squash soup, and the truffled arancini before tucking into a platter of Yukon Gold gnocchi with hedgehog mushrooms. Vegan options, however, are practically nonexistent.
The wine list reflects the restaurant's dedication to green-friendly ingredients by offering a number of vintages made from organically farmed grapes, as well as a wide array of boutiques and imports, many of them on the agreeably affordable side. Nineteen are available by the glass. The impressive beer list features more than a dozen microbrews, and for the teetotalers there's a freshly squeezed lemonade that's bright, bracing, not too sweet, and redolent of Chula Vista in the springtime. The big, affable bar, meanwhile, is a fine place to nibble antipasti between sips of one of the house cocktails (try the Bengali Gimlet). A happy hour featuring $5 cocktails and half-priced pizzas, burgers, calamari, and other bar snacks takes place daily from 5 to 7 p.m. and from 9 to 11 p.m.
Garibaldis, named after — why not? — the great 19th-century progressive and unifier of Italy, began life as a Potrero Hill cafe in 1985. Five years later, owners John Hurley and Daniel Martes opened their still-popular Presidio Heights gathering spot; Garibaldis on College opened in 1997. "We want our customers to have a wonderful experience with their family and friends," says co-owner Ann Hurley. "Our goal is to provide a place where people can be happy with food and with each other in a beautiful environment." Certainly a goal worth pursuing every day of the week ... but most especially on Sunday.
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