Restaurant Review: Corso Trattoria ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Monday, June 23, 2008

Restaurant Review: Corso Trattoria

Corso TrattoriaWhat better way to break weeks of blog silence than with a review of a brand-new Berkeley restaurant?

I've been eagerly awaiting the opening of Corso Trattoria ever since I first heard about it back in April. Apparently, whatever permitting snag they'd run into has been solved and eager diners have been flocking to Shattuck Avenue for a few weeks now. Diners can grab a menu outside to figure out what looks good while they wait for a table in this relatively small spot.

Yesterday evening, my friend Naushon (who you may remember from previous restaurant reviews) and my sister-in-law, Kara and I gave Corso a shot. The trattoria has taken over the space that was occupied by Misto, a failed Mediterranean bistro. It's a small, pleasant space with the bar and open kitchen at the back and tables for two to four stretching towards the tall windows in the front. The decor is understated but elegant and they've kept the tables and caned chairs that were leftover from Misto. Although we found the chairs to be a little uncomfortable, I applaud them for reusing.

Unlike many new restaurants, Corso has had no problem creating an instant following (undoubtedly owing to the famously good reputation of Rivoli, the owners' first restaurant which is also located in Berkeley.) The downside of their early success was that we had to wait for a table for nearly half an hour. We sat/stood at the bar (space was scarce) and ate some bread while Naushon enjoyed one of their half glasses of wine (they offer tastes, half and full glasses and carafes - the prices for each seemed appropriate.) The bread (from Acme bakery) is availably "by request" according to their menu and was very tasty - a fresh white loaf with a few squares of a salty, yeasty tasting focacia.


We questioned our pleasant server about a number of things, including their standards for meat, fish, and produce. Here's the skinny: they get all their produce from Monterey Market so it's a mix of local, organic and conventional; their seafood comes from Monterey Fish Market which participates in the Fishwise labeling program but carries the sustainably fished along with the not-so-sustainably fished stuff, and their meats come from the Golden Gate Meat Company. From what our waitress told us, it sounds like they buy hormone-free but not necessarily organic or grass-fed meats. While they're making some effort, Corso falls a bit short of the commitment to sustainability that many other Bay Area restaurants have made. As a result, we stuck to mostly non-meat dishes.

We started with their crostini trio - ricotta & chives, chicken liver & herbs, and white anchovy & peppers ($8.50) The chicken livers were really delicious and the ricotta and chives toast was tasty, too. I did not try the anchovy one but was told that it was good - doused in lemon juice and a nice contrast to the strip of sweet roasted red pepper.

Ricotta Crostini

We also ordered their lattuga romana - basically a caesar salad with a lighter, egg-free dressing. Although I was not initially impressed, the flavors grew on me as I munched and I found it a very good mix of sweet, salty, lemony and vinegary with a little crunch from the croutons (which we could have used more of.)

Lattuga romana

For our main course (forget primi and secondi - not only do I get full too quickly to eat in the traditional Italian style, we are also all too poor to afford it!) we ordered:

A margherita pizze - the classic tomato sauce, mozarella and basil thin-crust pizza ($9.) This pizza had the thinnest crust I have ever seen. As a result, it was too dried out (the little basil strips got too crisped to taste) and not very flavorful.

Pizze margherita

The panzotti con ricotta e spinaci - a ricotta and spinach ravioli in a browned butter and sage sauce ($11.) These two large ravioli were fresh and delicate but just a bit too subtle for all of us - tasting mostly of butter. We all felt that they'd have been greatly improved by adding some salt and garlic to the filling (that may not be traditional but it would definitely be more interesting!)

Panzotti con ricotta e spinaci

The garganelli - an interesting pasta (fresh? house-made? menu did not say...) with tomato, zucchini, basil and garlic in olive oil ($10.) Although ostensibly the simplest, this was hands-down the best dish we ordered! Fresh, light and flavorful.


Despite the fact that the portions were on the small size, we'd also eaten a ton of the yummy bread and were too full for dessert (though they looked good.) Our meal came to $62 with tax and a 20% tip.

On the whole, I found the food to be good, the atmosphere pleasant, and the waitstaff attentive and friendly (if a little unknowledgeable ,but it is a brand-new place so they're probably still learning.) But none of us were really wowed by the food and we were definitely disappointed that Corso is not as serious about using organic and locally-grown foods as say, Pizzaiolo in Temescal (which has a fairly similar menu and prices) is. Regardless, I get the sense that Corso will be a North Berkeley favorite for years to come and it's worth checking out.

Corso Menus

Corso Trattoria is located at:
1788 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 704-8004 (though the site was not up yet last time I checked)

Corso on Urbanspoon


Bonnie said...

So glad to see you back! I love this site and missed your posts for the last 3 weeks.

Anonymous said...

I was in Pasta Shop at Market Hall last week and someone from Corso ordering three pounds of pasta (linguini; in a rush!) so either they aren't making their own past -- or they are aren't making enough!

Eve Fox said...

Thanks, Bonnie!

And anonymous, I think that must explain the source of the pasta, which was clearly not dried but also not made in house. Thanks for clarifying!