Borgo Italia calls itself a bar and café, and at times it seems to be straddling the two identities, serving up an array of pastries behind a glass counter adjacent to a bustling bar scene at night.
The restaurant opened less than two months ago in the former B Restaurant spot in Old Oakland. One of its partners comes from the family behind Italian gourmet grocer A.G. Ferrari, which probably explains the old world Italian aesthetic sprinkled throughout the large dining room.
Borgo served as a gathering spot for dinner with my regular foodie dining partner Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging, and my new foodie friend Christina a.k.a. the East Bay Dish. We sat at the center of the restaurant at one of the wooden tables facing the pastry counter. I had dessert on my mind all evening.
Borgo means “village” in Italian, and the restaurant (with a chef recently from Italy) plans to serve cuisine from the various regions of Italy. While the online menu looks quite extensive, the kitchen actually doesn’t produce every dish every day. So the menu that I reviewed at the restaurant was slightly condensed from what I read beforehand.
No matter, we were still perplexed about what to order. But Sandy had her eyes on probably one of Borgo’s emerging signature dish, a deep-fried dough called torta fritta ($12). They were liked puffy pillows, nicely fried and slightly salted and served with three types of charcuterie – prosciutto, coppa, and salumi.
Christina, being a loyal reader of my blog, knew I don’t eat deep-fried foods so she and Sandy handled much of the plate while I nibbled on one just to test the airiness. It definitely was, but I could smell the freshly fried oil smell so I turned my focus on the meats. The prosciutto and salumi were nicely done, but the coppa was oddly chewy.
We shared a variety of dishes, including a special tagliatelle al ragu ($15) that featured freshly made pasta cooked too al dente IMHO, and a couple of side dishes of peperonata (sautéed bell peppers in tomato sauce) and zucchine trifoliate (sautéed zucchini with parsley and garlic).
Our server raved about the pizza margherita ($13), which is the classic pizza of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. I’ve had some amazing margherita pizzas lately in San Francisco and Borgo Italia’s version was far behind the pack. The tomato sauce was nothing special and the basil was relegated to a garnish. As for the crust, it was on the dry side with a dusty texture from over-flouring. It didn’t have the chew or taste that others are doing much better around the bay.
My overall impression of Borgo Italia is the dishes are definitely rustic but it felt like the chef was holding back. It’s not emerging as a destination restaurant but more of a neighborhood one, where if you lived nearby it would be nice to stop by for warm pasta or one of the delicious pastries.
In fact, it’s the café side of the restaurant that I believe has something special. The pastries in the counter were all delicious-looking, with some unusual items not seen in other bakeries in the bay.
For example, for dessert we ordered a couple of the ciambella ($5 each), an airy pastry that’s shaped like a bagel and then filled in the center with flavored cream. We tried the coffee flavor (loved it) and a milk and honey one. If I drank cappuccino or lattes, I could see myself in the afternoon at Borgo Italia with a cup of coffee and one or two or three of those ciambella.
As a dinner destination, Borgo Italia is drawing a lot of interest and the crowds, but it doesn’t distinguish itself from the many other Italian places in San Francisco. But do check out its Italian pastries, which could really be Borgo Italia’s future.
Rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
Borgo Italia, 499 9th St. (at Washington), Oakland. PH: 510.251.1008. Open Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.borgoitaliaoakland.com
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