Bellanico is on a tiny corridor along Park Street in Oakland that seems to have become an exciting dining destination. I hadn’t been in the area since the days of the now closed Purple Plum, and the two densely packed commercial blocks are now vibrant and bustling with activity. Bellanico is named for the owners children, which opened over two years ago and has established itself in the neighborhood as a family restaurant serving seasonal Italian cuisine.
We made reservations to sit outside when I read that they have heaters over the tables, but once there, we decided it was too cold and windy so we elected to sit inside at the bar. From the vantage point of sitting at the counter, it felt like we were in an upscale diner as we could watch the concentrated activity going on in the kitchen. I enjoyed a flight of Piedmontese wine, which had handy paper jackets placed on the base of the glass that identified the contents. This is a very useful device.
We split a salad made with Sausalito watercress, mountain gorgonzola, toasted hazelnuts, champagne vinaigrette ($8). This was Mr. K’s favorite dish of the entire meal. The water cress was impecably fresh with an addictive pungent peppery bite that went so well with the sweet toasted nuts and rich chunks of the heady, fragrant cheese.
The stalks of the watercress added a dense crunchy texture to the dish. The windows had screens to diffuse the sunlight, which unfortunately made the lighting dim, but I found that if I held my plate in my lap, the light was much better. My neighbors probably thought me very strange…
We split another appetizer of Grilled Monterey Squid, smoked cannellini beans, pancetta, arugula, lemon anchovy vinaigrette ($9), which initially I thought did not have very much squid, but Mr. K admitted to me later that he may have eaten it all… However, looking at the picture you can see that the ratio of squid is rather paltry when compared to the generous mound of the beans. However, the pieces I did sample were perfectly cooked, tender and succulent although the dish overall was a little bland.
I had to order a small dish of the Orecchiette ($9/14), when I saw that it was served with milk braised pork ragu. It was tossed with chewy strips of radicchio, grilled red onions, and grated grana padano cheese.
The pork was cooked down until it was tender and soothing, the velvety texture offered a savory, rich counterpoint to the firm rounded disks of orecchiette pasta topped with racy pungent cheese.
Mr. K was intrigued by the Ravioli ($9/15), filled with fava beans, spring pea and goat cheese, swimming in a savory pea brodo and, topped with fine shreds of fresh and fragrant mint. It was like a bowl of sunshine, brightly flavored and tasting of spring.
Mr. K enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of coffee, which arrived in a charming white cup and saucer, and the individual serving of cream was in a tiny ceramic milk bottle.
And we split the Afogatto, two scoops of resplendently rich chocolate gelato, a shot of espresso poured over and then topped with whipped cream. It came with a delectable piece of buttery shortbread, flavored with bittersweet chocolate and nibs of coffee bean. This was very good, the texture of the gelato was sticky/creamy, thick and addictive and I enjoyed dunking it into the rich bitter espresso.
The restaurant is cozy, I noticed a sign indicating a limit of 49 seats inside, and it was swarming with children, which lends a certain amount of background clamor. We enjoyed the casual and friendly atmosphere and thought the food was very well prepared and affordable. I’m glad to have made my way to this lovely restaurant, which is located in a part of Oakland that is very convenient to us from 580.