Gio’s Pizza: A Revival of Giovanni’s

People may recall Giovanni’s as an old school Italian restaurant that had been in business in Downtown Berkeley since 1961. In 2015, it closed its doors after a major fire caused serious damage. Today the restaurant has reopened as Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, playing homage to the former restaurant.  
As you enter the front of Gio’s, the fun begins. The open bar space is to the left and an indoor bocce ball court is to the right. The dining area and kitchen are located towards the back half of the restaurant.  I was invited along with my friends to Gio’s to try out their new food and cocktail menu. The first item to come out was fried calamari with lemon aioli, fried parsley, and citrus slices. I thought it had a nice light batter. I liked the fact that it had both the rings as well as the tentacles because our party each had our preference.  

The mushroom bruschetta arrived next. The toasts were topped with lemon ricotta, wild mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. As much as I love mushrooms, it was the mushrooms that brought this dish down for me. The texture of the mushrooms were tough. It tasted as if dried mushrooms were used and not soaked long enough. I am hoping that this was a fluke.
Karen’s Cucumber Salad was brought to the table. I don’t know who Karen is, but I wouldn’t mind attaching my name to this salad. The freshness of the farmer’s market cucumbers was apparent in the crunch. The salad included a variety of cucumbers, roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and a champagne vinaigrette.
My friends and I really enjoyed the mushroom and squash ziti that we were presented with. The pasta dish was cooked in butter, thyme, and white wine. Soft and delicate, these mushrooms had no resemblance to the ones on the bruschetta.  
Gio’s also includes two pizzas on their menu and you can order them New York style or Sicilian style. We got to try the sausage and mushroom pizza and the Margherita pizzas as single Sicilian style. I normally prefer red pizza over white pizza, but in this case, I preferred the sausage and mushrooms toppings. To me Sicilian pizza resembles a focaccia bread. I enjoyed the occasional crispiness from the bubbles that form in the dough.

Dessert is a polenta cake with ricotta creme, summer fruit, and kettle corn. To offer one dessert is a huge risk. I found it to be worth going “all in” because it was a highlight for me.  
Another area of focus at Gio’s is their cocktail menu highlighting Italian amaro and vermouth. The bar manager, Nick Stolte, spent time in Italy immersed in the culture and building relationships with vermouth and amaro purveyors. He designed and created a cocktail menu that highlights Italy’s best.  
The most interesting aspect of Gio’s is the secret back room. Behind the olive oil can door, is a private dining space that hasn’t changed since it was Giovanni’s. It is a cool space that makes your imagination of who would hang out here go wild. 
With a short menu and simple Italian food in a playful setting, I think Gio’s Pizza & Bocce will bring in a UC Berkeley crowd looking for some fun. However, I found meat offerings at Gio’s hard to come by so carnivores might be challenged.  

Advertisements

East Bay Bagels

It has been difficult to find a good bagel in the Bay Area until recently. In the last few months, two great bagel shops have popped up in Oakland.

20121202-221848.jpg
Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli on College Avenue in Rockridge serves bagels that taste much like a New York bagel. They boil and then bake their bagels which results in a crusty outside and a chewy inside. I have had their bagels with cream cheese and found them to satisfy my urge. This is my new “Go To” place for a bagel.

20121202-222126.jpg

I recently heard about Beauty’s Bagel Shop on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland close to Temescal.

20121202-222244.jpg
Beauty’s serve Montreal-style bagels which are boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-fired oven.

20121202-222326.jpg
Yelp reviews were reporting that there were thirty minute waits and worth waiting for. Thirty minutes for a bagel? I don’t think so. My friend and I were going to do a drive by earlier today. If there was a line outside, we would detour to Old Brooklyn. I think the earlier downpours discouraged people to go to Beauty’s so we had no wait.

20121202-222406.jpg
My friend got the breakfast bagel with egg and cheddar on an onion bagel. As a sandwich this was quite tasty, especially the egg and cheese. I’m not sure I was that impressed with the bagel itself. The consistency was dense throughout.

20121202-222450.jpg
Maybe I should have just ordered a bagel with cream cheese in order to test taste the bagel, but I was too intrigued by the After School Special. My everything bagel was filled with chopped liver, swiss cheese, iceberg lettuce & pickled onion. I felt the same way about my sandwich that I did for my friends. It was a very tasty sandwich.

20121202-222609.jpg
Beauty’s Bagel Shop is a a hip new place and I will be back to try some other items. One day I will have a plain bagel with cream cheese, but I am also curious about the smoked trout bagel sandwich, fried chicken bagel sandwich, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to spread on a bagel, deviled eggs, coffee cake, soups, etc. I see more visits in my future. If there is a wait, I’ll just order to go or make my way back to Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli.

Say Aloha to Hawaiian Shaved Ice

Last weekend I suggested a hike at Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond, California. My friends were skeptical at first, but gave in after a combination of the forecast for heat wave temperatures in the Bay Area (way cooler than hiking Mt. Diablo) and my offer to drive (they all have nice cars and wouldn’t want to risk having it broken into or stolen). We hiked 7.2 miles and afterwards were ready for something refreshing. My friend had read about a place that served shaved ice in the neighboring City of San Pablo.

I haven’t actually stopped in the City of San Pablo since I was a little girl. I used to go with my dad to his bowling tournaments at a place called Lucky Lanes. Last Sunday when we drove through San Pablo Avenue I saw what has taken over Lucky Lanes, Casino San Pablo. It’s kinda sad as I had fond memories of Lucky Lanes. It’s also where I learned to bowl as a kid.

20120722-230905.jpg
Aloha Pure Water + Shaved Ice is an interesting concept. You can purchase purified water by the gallons and get your Hawaiian style shaved ice. Many yelpers have compared their shaved ice to the famous Matsumoto’s in Oahu. When I was in Oahu, the lines at Matsumoto’s were too long for me so I never got a chance to try it.

20120722-230957.jpg
Hawaiian shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice. The process of shaving the ice produces a very fine ice that causes the fruit flavored syrups added to it to be absorbed by the ice rather than simply surrounding it. Hawaiian shave ice is traditionally served with a scoop of ice cream on the bottom and sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top. These choices are all available at Aloha Pure Water Shaved Ice.

I ordered a blackberry flavored shaved ice with vanilla ice cream and condensed milk. The texture of the ice was excellent and the ice cream was good, but there was a little bit of a cough syrup taste to this. Maybe blackberry was not the right choice.

20120722-231601.jpg
One of my friends had the li hing mui (salty dried plum) flavored ice with condensed milk. Although I was a little hesitant, it was a delicious flavor. I think I know what flavor I will have next time around.

20120722-232019.jpg
My other two friends shared a larger cup of ice. They had the works with three different flavors. They had lychee, melon, and POG (a blend of passion fruit, orange, and guava).

20120722-231731.jpg
What can I say? It was the perfect treat and hit the spot after our long hike. There aren’t too many places on the mainland that serve Hawaiian shaved ice. It’s nice to have Aloha Pure Water + Shaved Ice in the 510, but glad it’s still at least twenty minutes away. A quick tip for those near San Mateo: The Produce Stand, a family owned grocer has been offering Hawaiian shaved ice almost weekly this summer. Check them out!