Berkeley restaurants

Oliveto throws a special Mardi Gras party with a laid-back twist

Before the pandemic, Oliveto’s dining room was the location for many parties, like this 2015 celebration with the guest cast of 7 Fingers. Credit: Oliveto/Facebook

What: Oliveto Mardi Gras Celebration (5655 College Ave., Oakland)
When: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1
Menu highlights: Creole chocolate cake, short rib jambalaya
Reservations: $60 per person via OpenTable, excluding cocktails, tip and taxes.

Oliveto, the famed Oakland restaurant that closed in 2021 and then reopened with limited service in January, is cooking up another party before it really, really shuts down for good. This time, the 35-year-old spot celebrates Mardi Gras with a special Cajun feast, a shindig that co-owner Bob Klein and chef Peter Jackson planned on the spur of the moment.

“When he started in Oliveto, he was doing a Cajun special here and there, like amazing gumbo,” Klein said of Jackson. The chef ran Oliveto’s kitchen for his final months, then returned to consult with the business when it quietly reopened earlier this year, for a limited time as negotiations continue with a potential new owner. (No, the name of the potential new owner has not been announced. Yes, we have asked.)

Speaking to Nosh, Klein said that a few weeks ago Jackson offered a special Cajun pop-up dinner for Oliveto’s remaining Tuesdays. The first dinner was held last week, with a menu based on Jackson’s “serious time” spent in New Orleans on his culinary travels, Klein said.

Looking at the calendar last week, Jackson realized that March 1 is a special day in Cajun culture and beyond: Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, also known as Mardi Gras, the traditional Christian day of celebration and culinary indulgence before the start of Lenten fasting and sacrifice. . “He told me it was the biggest day of the year,” Klein said, “so we should have a party.”

When Nosh spoke with Klein, in fact, he was “on his way to Party City to get some hats and beads,” he said, referring to paraphernalia typically associated with the party as it’s celebrated in New Orleans. There’s also a special menu (see below) with classics like crayfish etouffe and fresh twists like corn duck pudding.

Also new is the type of service this Tuesday and every Cajun Tuesday in Oliveto. Unlike a typical night at the nationally-known restaurant, Tuesdays are a $60-per-person buffet, where diners pick up their own food from the kitchen, while workers ensure all family-style platters are replenished.

Part of the reason for this break from tradition is down to the staff, and part is down to the design. “I’ve always liked the idea of ​​getting rid of the pretentiousness of fine dining,” Klein said, an idea that’s certainly caught on at other East Bay restaurants. By making Tuesday dinners a service-to-self affair, “we make it fun and break down all the barriers between us and the diners. It feels really good !”

Reservations must be made online and are still available at the time of publication. Attendees must provide proof of vaccinations, as required by Oakland’s current mandate, and Klein said there will be masked and unmasked seating sections to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable.

“Lord knows we all need a party right now,” Klein said, alluding to the scary headlines we’ve all read over the past few days/weeks/months/years, as well as stress. which he personally faces trying to transfer his long-time experience. company to its next owner (as yet unannounced). “We’re going to have long tables, people are going to get their own food, maybe even dancing…it might not be like the good old days, but we’re still going to have fun.”

The Cajun Dinner Menu for March 1st in Oliveto