2635 Ashby Ave./College Ave., Elmwood District. L M-F, Sat-SunBr, D daily.
|exterior of Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
Once a car repair shop, the gigantic space that holds the Italian restaurant Donato & Co. is beautifully transformed into an airy industrial-chic decor with high ceilings, skylights, and seating that includes wildly spacious six-person booths as well as two long wood banquettes with matching polished-wood tables and also regular tables and chairs. Two oversized black-and-white photographs of Bergamo--the chef’s hometown in Italy--grace one wall, and a vintage Vespa is perched playfully in the back of the room. And an acoustic sound system from Berkeley’s renowned Meyer Sound makes sure you can enjoy some pleasant music but also still hear your companion. It feels good to be in this room, and it is a spectacular spot to celebrate a special occasion.
A showcase for rustic Italian cuisine with a contemporary twist, this restaurant produces housemade pastas and cooks locally sourced seafood and meats over an open fire. The seasonal menu takes inspiration from all regions of Italy, and the chefs use fresh, simple ingredients in inventive ways. In addition to some lovely local and Italian wines, craft cocktails are available. You need to ask for the complimentary house bread and spread.
The menu is organized into four sections. Farm & Fields offers a selection of appetizers and salads. From this section we tried a delectable chicken-liver Vasetto with quince jam and crostini bread. Salt & Water features seafood, shellfish, and cured items. We chose Pizzelle--three little saucer-size pizzas topped with broccoli and pecorino; anchovies and mozzarella; and burrata and sundried tomatoes (this last one was super colorful and tasty and our favorite). Pasta & Co. includes an array of housemade pastas, risotto, and grains. We enjoyed buckwheat ravioli flavored with sage and filled with Swiss chards, Casera cheese, and potatoes. Iron & Fire brings on meats and other items cooked over a wood fire. We had the Il Maiale house specialty, which includes pork cooked three ways--as sausage, ribs, and crispy belly--served over polenta and Savoy cabbage (my favorite of these was the flavorful sausage).
Many dishes are available in both small and large sizes, making it easy to try more items. We shared our choices and wound up with enough food left over to take home for lunch the next day.
Filled with Italian pastries and sweets that aren’t often seen here, the dessert menu is not business as usual. As chance would have it, just a few days before I had seen in a magazine for the first time “salami” cookies--chocolate and nuts shaped into a salami roll and cut in flat slices. And I was tempted by the Montebianco (chilled chestnut and cocoa paste). But we decided to share an artistically plated Semifreddo Al Agrumi made with Meyer lemon-infused meringue and slathered with orange crema and crushed pistachios around the edge, plus a few smushed up pieces of blood orange for color.
Lunch highlights include panini made with housemade bread, while brunch includes Ciambellone (an Italian breakfast cake), assorted pastries, and Italian-style egg dishes--including an absolutely delicious potato-and-cheese Frico cake with poached eggs.
|interior of Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|booths at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|bar at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|bread basket at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|chicken-liver Vasetto with quince jam at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|Pizzelle at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|cauliflower steak at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|buckwheat ravioli at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|Il Maiale pork cooked three ways at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
|Semifreddo Al Agrumi at Donato & Co. in Berkeley, California|
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images ©2018 Carole Terwilliger Meyers
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