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Friday, June 10, 2005
Pizzaiolo Fires Up the Oven

This past Tuesday night the long-anticipated (well, long anticipated by me anyway, I drove by there EVERY weekend for the past 2 months!!!) Pizzaiolo opened in Oakland's Temescal District, on an increasingly swank little strip that also includes Dona Tomas, Article Pract -- a fabulous knit shop, Porch Light, and a soon-to-open bakery (if anyone knows who is opening this bakery please let me know, it looks fabulous!). And a special thank you to Greg, the chef at BayWolf, for notifying me the second he found out about the opening!

Sadly (well, not too sadly), I had unchangeable plans (for a massive bachelorette party at Alma, yum yum!) on Tuesday, but Wednesday evening, we made a beeline for the place. Fortunately I decided to call ahead as they take same day reservations. [Actually, this has since changed, they no longer take reservations.] Even though this was only their second night, the place was packed when we arrived at 7:30pm. Remember, this was a Wednesday night.

Owner and chef Charlie Hallowell, a veteran of Chez Panisse, reinvented the space, transforming it into a beautiful, upscale yet comfortable neighborhood pizzeria, complete with a huge tiled wood-burning pizza oven set back at the end of the open kitchen. We were warmly welcomed by the hosts and seated in a roomy wooden booth quickly. And while there were a few minor service mishaps, being the second night and all, the service was exceedingly warm, friendly, and fun. Our waitress happily let us try 3 of the red wines by the glass before we decided to opt for a rose and a pint of Boont Amber beer. We were looking for a nice juicy full-bodied red, but the options seemed limited to bright, dry reds. At any rate, they are still awaiting some of their wines, so that shouldn't dissuade you from trying their current options.

Once we'd settled on our drinks, become friends with our waitress, and said hello to other friends seated at a nearby table (this is a neighborhood restaurant after all!), we checked out the menu. Short, seasonal, and changing daily, the menu is a mouth-watering combination of primi salads, pizza, and a sprinkling of pasta, rice, and side dishes.

Although I could have ordered nearly everything on the menu (it all sounded amazing) we opted for the rocket salad with hazelnuts and pecorino and the salad of the day: farro with cucumbers, beets, and mint. The rocket salad was light, fresh, peppery, and had just the right amount of toasted hazelnuts and shavings of salty pecorino. After one bite of the farro salad, I was disappointed that I had agreed to share. It was perfection. With two kinds of roasted beets, crisp cubes of cucumber, a sprinkling of mint, and nutty farro, this was my kind of salad: salty, sweet, nutty, fresh, yum.

Moving on to the pizza, the main event of course, we opted for 3 to share (um, there were only 3 of us at the table mind you, and these pizzas are not small): the Margherita (always my fave); a sausage, greens, and red onion; and morel mushroom with gremolata. The waiter explained that the marinara pizza and the Margherita pizza would be regulars but the other two pizzas would change seasonally. You can also add rocket and prosciutto to any pizza.

The pizzas arrived hot and blistered from the wood-burning oven. The Margherita pizza was simple and delicious. I would probably put it on par with Dopo and Pizzetta 211. The sausage pizza was good, but it actually was covered with broccoli rabe, a vegetable which I have not yet grown to love. I was a little disappointed and wished that it had been listed on the menu. It also seemed to suffer from too many toppings, making the otherwise flavorful crust a bit soggy (actually that seemed to happen across the board as the pizzas cooled, the crust became floppy when we wanted it to stay crisp). The morel pizza was over the top with generous amounts of freshly sauteed, deeply flavorful morels.

The dessert menu, while short, was filled with exactly the kinds of desserts I love: affogato, almond-olive oil cake, Frog Hollow cherries (an ode to Chez Panisse?), and a simple bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream (you know how I feel about vanilla) and strawberry sorbet. The desserts were okay, but definitely needed some work. The cake was surprisingly tiny (not that we needed much after all that pizza!) and served with only 3 cherries. It was also a bit on the chewy side. The affogato was fantastic, but when we got to the bottom of the bowl there were butter-like chunks in the ice cream.

All in all, for the second night of business, we were definitely happy, and although we agreed there were still some kinks to be worked out, we would absolutely return.

5008 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30-10pm


Blogger Fatemeh Khatibloo-McClure said...

Now, that is what I call a Scoop!

I've been waiting with baited breath for Pizzaiolo to open, and I'm thorougly jealous you got to try it first!

On the topic of desserts, there was a really interesting discussion in the comments section of a post over at Eggbeater (or was it Knifes Edge) about how difficult it can be for small restaurants to do dessert well since they often don't have the budget or space for a full-time pastry chef.

I'll be weaseling my way to Pizzaiolo this weekend. I hope they still have that farro salad on the menu!

6/10/2005 10:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm almost positive the bakery is going to be opened by Alison Barakatt, aka Bakesale Betty--the blue-wigged purveyor of scones, banana bread and the best damn ginger cookies ever--already familiar to farmer's market-goers in the East Bay.
I don't know many details, except that the shop is going to be somewhere in Temescal...so unless there are a couple new bakeries opening up there soon, it's gotta be Alison's. You must must must check it out when it opens--I'm serious about those ginger cookies. Best ever.

6/10/2005 11:08 AM

Anonymous Derrick Schneider said...

Yeah, that sounds yummy. And close enough to my neighborhood to count.

On a side note, I notice more restaurants using "rocket" instead of "arugula." Since most people likely to eat there have now heard of arugula, and it seems like the more common name now, why is everything switching to rocket? Is this a "make them think we're using something exotic" ploy or is "rocket" more common than I think here in the U.S.?

6/10/2005 6:30 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

confirmed, the bakery at the corner of Telegraph and 51st will be Bakesale Betty; opening tentatively set for Wednesday, June 15 (they're test baking tonite).

as for Pizzaiolo, it's a great addition to the neighborhood: relatively reasonable (certainly cheaper than Dopo), casual and satisfying. pizzas are simple and fine, apps, sides and salads a bit small but tasty, wine list is short but reasonably priced, and the team is cheerful. music is questionable (loud and busy) and the seats are less than comfortable, but hey, it's a pizza joint!

6/11/2005 9:52 PM

Blogger Kim Goodfriend said...

Awesome, Bakesale Betty! I'll make a beeline over there when they open. It's a really excellent space. That area just keeps getting better and better.

6/12/2005 3:07 PM

Blogger mmw said...

Yes it's Betty & husband who's name I forget, and they "soft-launched" yesterday, and they gave me a "sample" that consisted of an entire, and entirely delicious, apricot/almond scone, and they're sweethearts. It is right on the corner of 51st and Telegraph.

Note that the concept, and the charm, of this place and Pizzaiolo depends on scale. They are neighborhood joints, and they will be ruined when hordes of people from the Marina line up on the sidewalk in front of them.

6/16/2005 9:23 AM

Blogger Kim Goodfriend said...

I'm going this weekend! Good thing these restaurants are safely in Oakland, where hordes of Marina people don't tend to congregate.

Also, going back to the original topic--Pizzaiolo--I'm returning next Wednesday with another pizza afficianado. I'll give you an update afterwards!

6/17/2005 12:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I read this. I live in the Marina, and there's no way I would've known about this place if it hadn't gotten reviewed. I'm going this weekend, and I'm bringing all my friends from the Marina. Thanks for the heads-up!

6/20/2005 8:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thrilled when Pizzaiolo opened.The atmosphere is perfect. Sophisticated and warm at the same time. Salads and entrées were fabulous, Looking forward too next visit. I like the variety in their music. Desserts yummy. Hope Pizzaiolo incorporates a broader wine list/more CA. And I wouldn't mind some traditional toppings on my pizzas. This is a great addition to the neighborhood/town/Bay Area(although it would be nice if only locals were allowed in.) It is perfect.

6/22/2005 5:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I heard a rumor that Alma was closing on June 30... not sure if that's true or not. Has anyone else heard about this? But if it is, that's less than a week to get your Alma ceviche fix....

6/24/2005 2:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They DO NOT take reservations - day of or otherwise. Perhaps for restaurant reviewers they do, but for us civilians, it's wait in line like everyone else. Do your homework!

7/07/2005 11:16 AM

Blogger Kim Goodfriend said...

When Pizzaiolo first opened (remember, if you actually read my post, I went on the second day), they took day-of reservations. Apparently they changed their policy. Restaurants sometimes do that, and I have no control over their policies. Additionally, when I review a restaurant, I never tell them that I am there to review it, nor do I expect "special treatment."

7/07/2005 11:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great new pizza in town is at Club Deluxe in the upper Haight (1511 Haight Street, San Francisco). Yeah, I know it's the last place one would expect to find pizza-- especially pizza worth mentioning on the Bay Area Bites Blog. But it is definitely worth checking out.

The pizza artist, Jason Pearce, does a perfectly thin crust (crunchy and chewy all at the same time without being greasy) with organic unbleached flour and wild SF yeast. He tops with it just the right amount of cheese and flavorful fresh ingredients.

He usually serves 3 different kinds of personal sized pizzas with toppings like grape tomatoes, cilantro, andouille sausage, pancetta, and olives provencal-- organic when possible. Plus he's accomodating to veggies and will leave the meat off or substitute it with other non-meat items.

Though take heed, once you are addicted, you will be sad to learn that they only serve pizzas on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 7-11pm.

But don't take my word for it, check out what others had to say on Yelp.

7/07/2005 11:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had high hopes for this place unfortunately it turned out to be all hype and no substance. I've been there twice now. I will not go back. The service there was the WORST service experience I've ever had in my life. Not just bad but downright insulting.

My first visit --
The first time we were greeted by a very untrained host, who gigglingly admitted that he had no idea about anything on the menu and to ask the server.

The food was unremarkable. Very small salads - nothing amazing that you couldn't make at home, mediocre spaghetti, and a crazily over-salted pizza. But I thought maybe it was an off night and I'd try it again.

Second attempt--
The second time I went with a group and we put our name down at 6:45. By 7:10 we noticed that at 2 least groups had been seated ahead of us with approximately the same number of people.

I asked the host (who as it turns out is also the manager) why and he said, "They’re friends of mine and they have a baby." It's not the baby I objected to as much as it's the "they're friends of mine" which really set me off.

He looked for a seat and offered us a small table for two (there were 3 of us) in the very back of the restaurant. When we said no, he then drifted away to set up a table for 6 -- for a group that came in well after us! When we asked why, again other people were being sat before us his first excuse was that it was a booth meant for more people. But in fact, groups of two and three were already occupying similar booths all over the restaurant. Then he said it was for a party, and when I pointed out the website said no reservations, he said "well this is a special party."

My response was "so friends of yours get seated and special parties get seated, but what about regular people?" To which, he only shrugged. To which, we left and went to Dona Tomas and had a great dinner.

My suggestion: If you need an Italian food fix go to Dopo's or Fillipo's or even Pizza Hut. But don't go to Pizz-how-ever-you-say-it.

7/15/2005 11:25 AM

Anonymous Kelly from Walnut Creek said...

I'll definitely try Pizzaiolo!

RUN don't WALK to Bakesale Betty's. I just found her at the Walnut Creek Farmer's Market...she makes the BEST banana bread I've ever tasted and her shortcakes for strawberry or peach (whichever your fancy) were absolutely heaven! I can't wait to head to her store this weekend. I know she's going to be a big success!

7/15/2005 5:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

However wonderful Pizzaiolo may be it drove out a wonderful service to our neighborhood in the form of G & G Hardwear. I know the landlords, know the story. G & G, with Uncle Mike, Anna and her husband and daugther Sharon, were in business for 58 years. They lent tools out free, gave advise of all kinds and gave of themselves. Many of us miss them. I never had to go to Home Depot. I'll never eat at Pizzaiolo however upscale. He had the money and the landlords went for it and didn't care if he opened or not. They were getting their property renovated. We already have several fine places to eat in our neighborhood. We need our G & G. Cheese Board Pizza isn't far anyway.

8/13/2005 9:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here, Here! They ran G&G out of business, but wanted to keep their quaint little Dutch Boy neon sign.
Anyway, we mistakenly thought we'd try to check it out, and were turned away at an early 8:30 pm, not even an offer to wait, just a "we're not taking anyone else tonight". Fine.
Hopefully people in Temescal will see that this is NOT a neighborhood pizza place, rather its a transplant pizza place that gives preference to yuppies, and has zero business sense. Luckily, before they ever existed, Lane Splitters arrived in Temescal, and it IS a neighborhood pizza place, a very fun, tasty and friendly one at that. I can list ten Pizza spots where I would rather be.
Let's hope Bakesale Betty's doesn't follow suit. As long time Temescal resident, I can comfortably say that I will never eat at Pizzaiolo, and will do my best to steer people away. We Oaklanders do not need this kind of pretention in our neighborhoods.

9/18/2005 11:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i totally understand the sentiment of all those who are avoiding pizzaiolo because of g and g, however, before you hate pizziolo too much, talk to other businesses that have that same money-grubbing landlord. ive been working on that street long enough to hear the gossip, and i gather that she made them leave because she wasnt making enough money on them but claims that their window treatments were too unsightly. whether this is true or not, ive heard enough complaints from her upstairs residential tenants to not be surprised. as far as pizzaiolo goes, charlie is the young and green new guy. he works hard, is passionate about his food, and whether or not he moved in that spot fully aware of the history, it was his decision to keep that dutch boy sign up as a tribute to temescals history, however insignificant that seems in comparison.

9/20/2005 2:30 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mediocre service made worse by a poor design: the pizza making capacity is too low to support the number of customers that they seat. Not worth the hassle.

9/29/2005 2:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

my friends and I had a fabulous time at pizzaiolo, the pizzas are the best in the west, and our waitress was knowledgable, approachable and very friendly.
I will definately be going back.

10/03/2005 5:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say many people will never get "California Cuisine" and judging from many of the comments posted, they don't get that this is a good restaurant for many reasons. The pizza is good(made from scratch of the highest ingredients, all organic,with the philosophy of sustainable agriculture)and fresh.

Pizzaiolo is more than just a pizza restaurant it's a Bistro. Unlike it's neighbor Lane Splitters, Pizzaiolo serves a full menu. Don't get me wrong, I like Lane Splitters for the very reason that it exists. There is a place when one wants a slice pizza and a beer. But, when I want good cuisine. Or, food that I'm trully proud of taking my friends. I go to Pizzaiolo.

It's true this place has pretentions. But, every good restaurant has pretentions. They're teaching a community to "know your food" in the Chez Panisse spirit. So, we don't eat lettuce out of plastic bags delivered by the Sysco corporation.

11/29/2005 2:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pizzaiolo has become my favorite restaurant - but not for the pizza. The first three times I went there, the pastas and entrees consistently outshined the pizza. They are absolutely amazing. I don't even bother ordering pizza anymore - I just go straight to the phenomenal pasta and entree dishes.

7/21/2006 1:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pizzaiolo was not that great. I'm really sort of disappointed that I spent so much of my hard-earned money to eat very small portions of not-that-great tasting stuff.

What a pullaver! Definately a yuppie paradise. If you enjoy spending lots of money for yucky stuff, this place is for you!

2/06/2007 3:55 PM

Blogger ursweetniss said...

Letter to the Owner
November 20, 2007

Dear Owner,

After realizing that Arizmendi’s was closed yesterday, I asked my boyfriend to take a trip to Pizzaiolo (located in my old neighborhood) to get three pizzas for movie night with our friends in the City.

My boyfriend is a hard- working, blue collar guy (he gets up at 4 am every morning to transport Eastbay residents to Stanford and other parts of the affluent Peninsula) and, although generally satisfied with any ‘ole pizza as long as it’s affordable and hearty, he also appreciates fine eats.

We have eaten at Pizzaiolo once before and noticed how the restaurant drew folks likely from Rockridge and SF community and fewer folks from the immediate neighborhood. As you know, many of the residents near Pizzaiolo are African-American, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Middle Eastern yet my boyfriend and I were two of very few people of color in the entire restaurant.

I say all of this to set the stage for what my boyfriend experienced when he came alone to your restaurant yesterday.

He asked questions about the pizza (we had entrees last time) and he sensed impatience and frustration from the staff. And then a simple request—“Can you cut the pizza in smaller pieces?” The waitress asked the folks in the kitchen. He saw them talking it over—he saw them looking at him, he heard “no” and from the wait staff he heard “too bad.” And then there was a subtle bit of snickering from a group of waiters. The waitress tried to explain that they could not do what he’d asked but stumbled with no good explanation for denying the simple request or for the negative behavior that had transpired.

Now, my boyfriend has a diverse group of friends, can get along with everyone and is considered a friendly and likeable guy. I tried to persuade him to write this email but he simply stated: “they where probably frustrated with the 5:30 rush besides complaining isn’t worth it”. He is almost never confrontational (unlike me). He wanted to turn around and leave without his order.

But because our hungry SF friends were waiting and because he knows I’m a food snob, he arrived to movie night upset, refusing to ever give Pizzaiolo his hard-earned money again and, with three pizzas that we all agreed were delicious.

This experience resembled the Seinfeld episode about a “Soup Nazi” whose soup was so wonderful that he discriminatively rejected his customer’s requests. My boyfriend was rejected, and this particular, unsatisfied customer meant very little to the restaurant staff whose accolades are international.

It is difficult to say that discrimination by ethnicity exists in a place as diverse as the Bay Area—it’s subtle. But being Black all of your life affords you keen reconnaissance skills that help you become familiar with these subtleties. And with the North Oakland neighborhood changing, it’s just hard to believe that the general demographic of your restaurant patrons, those who have elevated the restaurant to its current status would ever receive the same treatment that my boyfriend received. And if ever so, they surely would confront the staff or choose never to eat there again.

What do I want you to do about this? There really isn’t anything you can do.

Thanks for listening.

11/21/2007 5:52 PM


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