Staying True to Italian Colors
Hidden in the Village Square complex of the Montclair district in Oakland, Italian Colors Ristorante might not be known to many, but stays popular with its regulars even after 18 years in business. Seasonally changing menus, sustainable local suppliers, and friendly staffers, most employed here for 13-15 years, contribute to its undying success assured by a dynamic duo of partners/owners Chef Alan Carlson and GM Steve Montgomery.
My first visit to Italian Colors started off with a few nice surprises: Steve greeting patrons at the door and making them feel like family; modern dining room design with colored glass chandeliers, cozy banquettes, and original oil paintings; and a young Russian server, Leo Lagno – knowledgeable, efficient, and bilingual.
And then the dinner came. Not only was it delicious and well-balanced, but also paired with great-tasting wines selected by Steve who prides himself on staying loyal to his long-term California suppliers.
Ahi Cones in crispy house-made dough were stuffed with guacamole and tuna tartar with aioli, and topped with black sesame seeds. They were paired with refreshing prosecco – truly a match made in heaven.
Soup of the day was duck confit tortellini in veal stock – a very special little darling.
I couldn’t abstain from trying Dungeness Crab Antipasti with avocado, papaya, cucumbers, scallions, and red bell peppers, formed in a tower and dressed with chili lime vinaigrette. The most popular appetizer on the menu, it was happily paired with crisp Sonoma sauvignon blanc.
Italian Colors’ dish extraordinaire is Red Abalone Dore, otherwise rare in Bay Area restaurants. Delicate pieces of fresh mollusk (farmed in Monterey) are dipped in egg, smothered in wasabi butter sauce, and served with seaweed salad.
A great pasta staple is Gnocchi Bolognese, made with slow braised beef, pancetta, porcini mushrooms, root vegetables, herbs, and tomato cream sauce.
Among the entrées, marinated and grilled porterhouse pork chops stand out, topped with read wine demi-glace, and accompanied by roasted butternut squash puree, mashed potatoes, and braised Swiss chard.
Desserts, all made in house by Chef Alan, include most impressive chocolate mousse cake and warm cherry cobbler a la mode, especially good when paired with some late harvest Navarro Riesling from Anderson Valley.
Italian Colors Ristorante is located at 2220 Mountain Boulevard in Oakland. The restaurant is open for dinner nightly, serves lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and offers a happy hour and off-site catering. Reservations and more information at 1-510-482-8094 or on their website.