.Italy in Point Richmond

Biancoverde brings Italian to the Hotel Mac

Before a leisurely Saturday lunch at the refurbished Hotel Mac, we strolled around Point Richmond’s town square—which is really triangle-shaped. Public art in the shape of aquatic animals lined the sidewalks on small pedestals. Uncrowded and quiet, a few restaurants and cafés showed signs of life inside and on their front patios.

Built in 1911, the Hotel Mac’s brick façade is anchored on the corner of Washington Avenue. The art deco interior conjures up the 1980s music video for “Only the Lonely.” With its ceiling fan and large potted plants, I half expected the Motels’ Martha Davis to begin singing behind the piano. Like the video, the downstairs lounge filters a bygone era through a contemporary lens. The hotel’s ghosts probably wait to appear after dusk when the guests start drinking gin and tonics ($15) at the bar.

Upstairs, the dining room is divided into two main sections. The front area is more densely populated with tables than the back dining room. Natural light from the street-facing windows gives the space a more open feeling. Stained-glass windows in the back room provide a diffused, medieval light which bounces off the tiled tin ceiling the color of egg yolks.  

While the room was nearly empty—apart from one other party of diners, a giant plaster bust of someone with a Roman nose and a pretty olive tree in a planter—my sense of claustrophobia was awakened and on alert. If the freshly painted walls had been darker than a soothing off-white, I’d have suggested we move our table to the front room.

Casting off all irrational fears, we scanned Chef Fabio Bucio’s Italian menu. Formerly the chef at Italy On Gilman, Bucio decided to retain that expansive approach to assemble his menu. No Italian dish has been excised from the list of items, which includes antipasti, pasta, pizza and calzone, insalata and zuppa, specials, secondi and dolci.  

For antipasti, we started with burrata frita ($14) and polpette ($13). The burrata’s crispy fried crust was golden and not over-salted. Served with warmed cherry tomatoes and an arugula salad with shaved parmesan, I smashed all the ingredients together on a crostini for a couple of perfect bites. Bucio also gets the ratio of beef and breadcrumbs right with his polpette. They’re tenderly bathed in a marinara sauce, then draped with melted mozzarella.

Many of the house specialties, or specialita, are composed with seafood. Risotto al frutti di mare ($29.95) included salmon, mussels, calamari, prawns and clams. We discovered the best forkful of scampi di gamberetti ($28.95), linguine with prawns, after digging to the bottom of the bowl. A tasty garlic-infused olive oil lay hidden in wait for the diners to drizzle a spoonful of the sauce over each pink prawn. Vegetarians will find a risotto ($24.95) made with mushroom, arugula, a balsamic porcini glaze and truffle oil, or an eggplant lasagne ($22.95).

While all of the entrées were rich, the richest one of all was a pork tortellini ($24.95) served in a creamy carbonara sauce, with prosciutto and green peas. I found myself pausing after every bite. The balance of cheese, salt, and cream wasn’t heavy but I missed a stronger vegetable presence. Double the amount of peas, say, or substitute in seasonal asparagus or thick slices of zucchini. Devouring at least two of the polpette may have contributed to my desire for many more greens.    

After successfully establishing their Mi Casa Grill on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond, husband-and-wife team Blanca Zepeda and Juvenal Magaña found the right chef to helm their second restaurant. I ate at Italy On Gilman shortly after the pandemic. At the time, the dishes didn’t leave much of an impression. There was a uniformity and a blandness that didn’t inspire a return visit.

Bucio and his kitchen are paying close attention to the details at Biancoverde. They prepare these old-fashioned, familiar dishes carefully, using fresh ingredients. Zepeda and Magaña held a Hotel Mac grand opening in mid-July. Close to two months in, they’ve managed to create a welcoming Italy On Washington Avenue.

Biancoverde at Hotel Mac, open Thursday to Tuesday, 11am to 10pm, 50 Washington Ave., Point Richmond. 510.374.6511. instagram.com/biancoverde_at_hotelmac.

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