Oliveto plots a special Mardi Gras party with a casual twist

Oakland’s famed Italian restaurant is going Cajun one night a week.

Prior to the pandemic, Oliveto’s dining room was the site of any number of parties, like this 2015 celebration with the visiting cast of Les 7 Doigts de la Main. Credit: Oliveto/Facebook

What: Oliveto’s Fat Tuesday celebration (5655 College Ave., Oakland)
When: 5:30-8:30 Tuesday March 1 
Menu highlights: Creole chocolate cake, short rib jambalaya 
Reservations: $60 per person via OpenTable, not including cocktails, tip and tax.

Oliveto, the famed Oakland restaurant that closed in 2021 then reopened with limited service in January, is plotting one more party before it really, truly closes down for good. This time, the 35-year-old spot is celebrating Mardi Gras with a special Cajun feast, a shindig that co-owner Bob Klein and chef Peter Jackson planned on the spur of the moment.

“When he started at Oliveto he’d do a Cajun special here or there, like an incredible gumbo,” Klein said of Jackson. The chef helmed Oliveto’s kitchen through its final months, then stepped back in to consult with the business when it quietly reopened earlier this year, for a limited run as negotiations continue with a prospective new owner. (No, the name of the potential new owner has not been announced. Yes, we asked.)

Speaking with Nosh, Klein said that a couple weeks ago, Jackson proposed a special Cajun pop-up dinner for Oliveto’s remaining Tuesdays. The first dinner was last week, with a menu based on the “serious time” that Jackson spent in New Orleans during his culinary travels, Klein said.

Looking at the calendar last week, Jackson realized that March 1 is a special day in Cajun culture and beyond: tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, the traditional Christian day of celebration and dining indulgence before the fasting and sacrifice of Lent begins. “He told me that it’s the biggest day of the year,” Klein said, “so we should have a party.”

When Nosh spoke with Klein, in fact, he was on his “way to Party City to get hats and beads,” he said, referencing the accessories typically associated with the holiday as it’s celebrated in New Orleans. There’s also a special menu (see below) with classics like crawfish etouffee and fresh twists like duck boudin corn dog bites.

Another fresh twist is the type of service this and every Cajun Tuesday at Oliveto. As opposed to a usual night at the nationally-recognized restaurant, Tuesdays are a $60-per-person buffet, where diners will scoop up their food themselves from the kitchen, as workers make sure all the family-style platters are replenished.

Part of the reason behind that break in tradition is due to staffing, and part of it is by design. “I’ve always liked the idea of getting rid of the pretense of fine dining,” Klein said, an idea that’s certainly gained a foothold at other restaurants across the East Bay. By making the Tuesday dinners a serve yourself affair, “we make it fun and break down any barriers between us and the diners. It feels really good!”

Reservations must be made online, and are still available as of publication time. Attendees must provide proof of vaccination, as is required by Oakland’s current mandate, and Klein said that there will be masked and unmasked seating sections to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable. 

“Lord knows we all need a party right now,” Klein said, alluding to the frightening headlines we’ve all read over the last several days/weeks/months/years, as well as the stresses he personally faces trying to transfer his longstanding business to its next (still unannounced) owner. “We’re going to have long tables, people getting their own food, maybe even dancing…it might not feel like old times, but we’ll still have fun.”

The menu for the March 1 Cajun dinner at Oliveto
Eve Batey (she/her) is the editor of East Bay Nosh. Email: eve@eastbaynosh.org. Twitter: eveb.