Monday, April 12, 2010

Impressions: Pizzaiolo

5008 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 652-4888

Four days in San Francisco means one thing in my mind: pizza crawl*.

(all photos by Adam Lindsley)

First stop was Pizzaiolo across the bay in Oakland. The restaurant is tough to spot, tucked between a Mexican restaurant and a craft shop with only a small, hand-carved wooden sign indicating the pizzeria's presence on the block. My friend Christa and I showed up ten minutes before they opened and we weren't even first in line (an increasingly common experience with the new wave of upscale pizzerias).

We selected a table in the far corner of the restaurant's back room, a cozy brick-lined area lined with small tables dimly lit from candles and the rustic, sparse light fixtures dangling from overhead. It's a nice space away from the pizzeria's main crowd, and were it not for the Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits playing back to back over the house speakers--rather loudly I might add--it could be considered for a romantic evening with a significant other.

Christa and I started with a simple Caesar Salad ($8). I almost never order Caesar salads, so I'm hardly one to judge, but I found this one quite palatable. The lettuce was fresh and crunchy, bathed lightly in sharp shaved grana padano and a creamy dressing that was thankfully mild on the garlic. It was served with very, very salty croutons that would have been overpowering on their own, but broken into smaller pieces they suited the rest of the dish admirably.

Our Margherita ($13) arrived shortly thereafter. As you can see by the photos, the crust was cooked and charred to perfection (I'd expect no less from such an establishment by this point), with a pleasantly airy cornicione. The crust was good, though it would have benefited from a touch more salt. Then again, after those croutons, nothing could seem half as salty.

The copious amount of tomato sauce on this pie delivers a swift, spicy kick to your mouth, which you usually don't get in a traditional red sauce, and I guessed some sort of chili powder had been mixed in. A quick check with our server confirmed this: each pie, after the dough is spread but before the other toppings are added, is given a light dousing of olive oil and freshly ground calabrian chilies, which becomes infused in the heat of the wood-burning oven. It gives the sauce a smoky bite that sets it apart from other, simpler blends.

Best of all is the cheese. The mozzarella is very creamy and very soft, almost like butter. I don't know how Pizzaiolo gets the cheese this soft, but I want the secret. It's nutty and flavorful, and every bite fortunate enough to include it is ten times better than one that does not. Frankly, I'd be happy if they covered the whole pie in this cheese rather than just the occasional pool.

We wanted a cool, crisp dessert to follow the surprising spiciness of the Margherita, so we opted for the Tangelo Sorbet & Vanilla Ice Cream ($7). The sorbet was far too icy and tough to break apart with the spoon, but the vanilla ice Incredible. Maybe the richest and most full-flavored vanilla ice cream I've ever had. Vanilla can often be ordinary and forgettable in the wake of other, more inventive flavors, but that simply was not the case here. Simple puff pastry sticks were served with it, but these were improved by the ice cream, not the other way around.

A very satisfying meal all around, fantastic service from the attentive staff, and a very good pizza I can heartily recommend. Just one suggestion: show up early, or make a reservation. Their reservation book was filled that night, and this was a Monday. Just imagine how slammed they get on a Saturday. Better yet, don't. Just call ahead. The food's worth it.

The indulgence continues tomorrow with Pizzeria Delfina and Pizzeria Picco.

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: Margherita (anything with red sauce, really)

*Okay, maybe "pizza crawl" isn't quite accurate. I'm hitting five (maybe six) pizzerias, but over the course of three days, not one. I guess technically that isn't a "crawl," per se, but it's still manly, right?


  1. I just went here and to Flour + Water on my last trip to SF. I've been to A16 and Pizzeria Delfina also, among the high end pizza joints. Prices made me happy to live in Portland, but I liked the pizzas here better than the others, I think.

  2. Hey Adam, it was cool meeting you @ Delfina's today. I Just got home, we continued our tour to Emilias and then to Pizzaiolo. Emilias was amazing, some great pizza, to the point unpretentious pizza. The sauce was so, very tasty. We weren't as impressed w/ Pizzaiolo. It was good, I would definitely try it again but our Margherita didn't have enough of that delicious cheese on it, a couple of the slices had none. Our favorites of the tour were Picco and Emilias, then Delfina, next Pizzaiolo, and dead last: Howie's artisan Pizza (this was the only "Bad" pizza of the tour).
    Next time we have to try 211, flour and water, Una Pizza Nap (When it opens). Hope you enjoy the rest of your "Crawl". I look fwd to reading your blog. Time to sleep and digest- Jason

  3. Really good meeting you and Alicia (Elisha?) today, Jason! Sorry to hear you didn't dig Pizzaiolo, and that they apparently stiffed you on the cheese, as that was the best part of the whole pizza. Oh well. Maybe next time. Still can't decided whether to hit 211 or Tony's for lunch tomorrow. Maybe...both?

  4. @extramsg: I would like to hit A16 and Flour + Water as well, but so much has already been written about those two places that I doubt I'd bring anything new to the table. Still want to try them, though it'll have to be next time.