Oliveto, one of the most lauded and influential Italian restaurants in the United States — and one credited with extending Chez Panisse's local-and-sustainable ethos to Italian cuisine — has announced it will close at the end of the year, after 35 years in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood.
While it hasn't necessarily been top-of-mind for foodinistas or frequently written about in recent years, Oliveto has remained a respected stalwart in the Oakland/Berkeley food scene following decades in which it was. The kitchen at Oliveto has been staffed over the years by chefs who became big names in their own right, including Quince's Michael Tusk — who now has three Michelin stars to his name — and Paul Bertolli, who arguably put Oliveto on the map when he took over in 1995 after a stint across town at Chez Panisse. (Bertolli went on to found Fra'Mani Handcrafted Foods.) Paul Canales (Duende), Jonah Rhodehamel, and Malachi Harland have also helmed the kitchen in recent years.
Berkeleyside broke the news this week that owners Bob and Maggie Blyth Klein are planning to retire at the end of the year, and Oliveto will serve its last meals on December 31, 2021.
"It’s never the right time," said Bob Klein to Berkeleyside of the closure decision, but "we’re stubborn, and we wanted to stick through the pandemic… we want to go out with joy."
Klein added, speaking to the Chronicle, "The restaurant business is really hard, and during the pandemic it’s really hard. We were pivoting every 10 minutes. I think we did a good job. But it takes its toll. We are in our 70s, and we had been thinking about retiring for several years."
Klein says that chef Peter Jackson will be overseeing a series special-event dinners in the coming weeks, adding that Jackson "is as good as anyone who’s been in charge of Oliveto’s kitchen." Those events have not yet been announced, but Klein told Berkeleyside that they would include "content rich" offerings like Oliveto has become known for — like the restaurant's white truffle menu series, which Klein says will return this month on dates still TBA.
Also, the well-loved Oceanic Dinner with Tom Worthington of Berkeley’s Monterey Fish Market will return as well, for Oliveto's dedicated fans.
Bay Area residents take for granted that stellar Italian food abounds around us, so it's easy to forget that four decades ago, "Italian" likely meant more of the old-school red-sauce joints you'd find in North Beach or elsewhere in California seaside towns.
The Kleins' influence can be seen in the growth of the California olive oil industry, as well as in the proliferation of excellent, often regionally focused Italian restaurants in San Francisco, including Delfina, Locanda (RIP), Flour + Water, SPQR, A16, and Perbacco. These restaurants, in turn, have helped shape a U.S. food culture where pasta is a many-splendored and endlessly variable category, not to be confined to spaghetti and lasagna.
The Chronicle notes that Oliveto's annual tomato dinners were influential in their own right, opening up diners' and chefs' minds to pleasures of little-known tomato varieties. And high-end olive oil producer McEvoy Ranch credits Maggie Blyth Klein's 1983 book The Feast of the Olive with inspiring the beginnings of their business.
You can expect more remembrances — and obituaries — for Oliveto in the coming months, as this place has a lot of ardent fans.
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