Monday, January 13, 2020

Where to Eat: My Very First Time at Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto @ Corso (Berkeley)

The Eats: Corso has Italian fare with Tuscan roots and a modern flare, featuring house-made pastas, house-cured salumi and nightly butcher's specials

The Location: Berkeley

The Vibes: Homely, intimate, inviting

Good for: Alone, dates, small groups

Opens daily at 5 p.m.; closes at 9 p.m., Sunday – Thursday, and at 10 p.m., Friday & Saturday

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $6 - $20; Entrees, $20+; Cocktails & Wine, $4.50+

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef/Owner Wendy Brucker and Wine Director/Owner Roscoe Skipper

The 4-1-1: Corso’s menu changes approximately every three weeks, with only the "classics" consistently remaining

Parking Situation: Metered and free street parking; also a couple of blocks north of the BART Downtown Berkeley Station

I’ll Be Back…: For the Tagliatte lamb & pork pasta!

As a self-proclaimed foodie, it’s been on my bucket list to visit Berkeley’s legendary Gourmet Ghetto every since I moved to the Bay.

Known as the alleged birthplace of California cuisine, the Gourmet Ghetto first made a name for itself in the 1960s and continued to grow in popularity, thanks to household names like Peet’s and Chez Panisse. Now, nearly five decades later, it’s still running strong, with a dozen or so restaurants huddled on or around the main Shattuck Ave. drag. They’re offering everything from Nepalese to French and Italian cuisines.

Bae and I were craving Italian one chilly Saturday evening, so after what felt like an eternity of debating which one of the Gourmet Ghetto Italian restaurants to stop by,  we settled on Corso. And I'm so glad that ended up being our choice!

The modest two-room space was packed to the brim, but luck found us a seat at the bar that overlooks the open kitchen. Warm subtle lighting and a casual ambiance made it feel so warm and toasty and homely inside. Soaring ceilings and dark wooden fixtures added a bit character, too.

We started off with the Olive Marinate (pictured below), one of the eleven different Antipasti selections. Olives come slathered in garlic, chile, lemon and other herbs. They’re a mix of colors and sizes. I was expecting something completely different — something more like a spread (my fault for not checking with the waiter!) — but was pleasantly surprised at how much flavor they had.

We then opted for the Tagliatte pasta, pictured below. A thick, hearty lamb and pork tomato sauce covers delicious house-made pasta. The essence of red wine and other herbs enhances the sauce nicely. This was so, so filling and tasty.

As an entrée, we selected the Spada, pictured below. Grilled swordfish is topped with a medley of olives, capers and fresh herbs. Surrounding it is almost what could be considered a stew of fava beans, tomatoes, garlic, carrots and other veggies. The swordfish was tender and you could subtly taste its grilled aroma. It went so well with the fava bean concoction, too.

While we saved absolutely no room for dessert, that didn’t stop us from taking home the flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream and caramel and chocolate sauces. And let me tell you about this cake. It’s beyond belief how decadent it is! I could only handle a few bites at a time, but it would be every chocoholic’s dream dessert.

No libations for us this time, but there’s a wine list and I peeped quite a few patrons with some sort of cocktail in their hands.

All in all, Corso hit the spot for satisfying Italian cuisine in a no-frills ambiance. Plus, the service was noteworthy; our server had a polite, reserved disposition and one of the chefs right behind the bar frequently checked in with us to see how we were enjoying each dish. I’ll definitely be back to try out some of Corso's other classics, such as the Branzino.

What about you? Have you already visited Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto? If so, drop your favorite restaurant in the comments section below and see you there soon!

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