APPARENTLY I don’t get out enough. For years, I have known about the eclectic cuisine on College Avenue but have ignored its siren calls. I’ve lived in an oyster, having rarely experienced the pearl. All that changed when I walked in the doors of a charming trattoria called Locanda Olmo. I was greeted warmly by a couple with a passion for food and a yearning to share it.
Charlotte Oculisti took us upstairs to an intimate place that her husband, Leonardo, had spent weeks creating. Rich earth tones and a vineyard motif gave it the feel of a Tuscan villa as we breathed in the sensuous smells of toasted bruschetta and rich herb risotto. Like most family-run restaurants in Italy, Charlotte was our server, running up and down stairs with the flair of a dancer. In fact, dancing was her profession in Italy, and she spent many a night in the spotlight, even dancing on stage during a Prince concert.
But these days, stardom is the last thing on her mind. Charlotte’s life is rich enough with the success she enjoys in the restaurant and as the mother of two young boys. Not to be outdone by mom and dad, the kids have boundless energy of their own and thrive on simple things like shopping for produce and darting in and out of the kitchen. And the love of family spills over to the customers who dine here.
Yes, we are blessed to be living in one of the culinary capitals of the world. Our restaurants are second to none. And while some people only dream of going to Tuscany, we can find it just minutes away, at Locanda Olmo, on College at Ashby in Berkeley.
ANOTHER TREASURE: Not long ago, a reader told me about Lucciola Children’s Bookstore on Piedmont Avenue. Lucciola means firefly in Italian and the shop is as illuminating as its name. Run by three women from Argentina, Lucciola celebrates culture from around the world with children’s books in several languages, including Spanish and Italian. But it’s not just for reading material.
The women also teach Spanish to customers as young as 2, with weekly sessions.
“We teach by singing and talking and dancing and reading to the children,” says Rosanna Sosa Payne, who does the bookkeeping for the shop while her partners Ines Tisker and Laura Juarez teach the classes.
The inspiration, she says, is the service they want to provide to their community.
“When we were raising our kids we tried to buy books and teach them our language,” she says, “but it was so hard finding books (Spanish) in the big stores.” So this is their way of giving back, of sharing the spirit of children from all cultures who call the East Bay their home. For more information on Spanish classes and books, call 652-6655 or see their Web site at www.Lucciolabooks.com.
EMAIL BAG: Reader Therese Brewitz wants to invite everyone to her upcoming show at the Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club (across from the library). Her five-piece band, Implied Five, is playing a concert at 9 p.m. Monday, March 21.
Brewitz is Swedish and says her band actually plays Swedish rap, as well as some smoky jazz and surf pop. Radio legend Scoop Nisker of KFOG is the host and the show is a bargain for just five bucks.
SPEAKING OF LEGENDS: Call this a blast from the past. Mark Abboud, a young guy who works at both Montclair Antiques and Montclair Hardware, showed me an old radio station album the other day from the 1960s. KYA’s 21 Golden Gate Greats had the top picks from some of San Francisco’s legendary disc jockeys like Gene Nelson and Russ Syracuse. Abboud snagged the album after someone brought it into the antique shop. Since I grew up with these songs (“Hang on Sloopy” by the McCoys and “Along Comes Mary” by the Association, to name a few) and later worked with Nelson and Syracuse at KYA –I guess that makes me an “oldie” too. An oldie, but a goodie.