(A pizza I ate once in Naples. Pizzaiolo’s crust is the closest thing I’ve found here in the United States.)
It’s always the pizza. At least that was what lured me to the East Bay on Saturday. But first I had to help my boyfriend and his parents put up Christmas lights and shop for a tree. Actually, I love stringing up lights and I relished every cut and scrape from the cactus and a very curious cat. We covered the garden and garage in lights, easily outdoing the neighbors. And after hauling the tree inside and drinking a cup of tea, we washed up to head out to Pizzaiolo in Oakland.
Now there are several serious contenders for the best pizza in the Bay Area, and all of them pretty much deserve the hype. But Pizzaiolo is different. It’s a sizable place, much bigger than the cramped storefront I’d imagined (although the usually long wait for walk-ins makes this point moot). From the open kitchen with its centerpiece wood-fired oven, to the 3-d homespun art on the walls, and the tables of families and eaters chowing down, it’s clear from the start that Pizzaiolo is about community. And that’s awesome. Like the best pizzeria or trattoria in Rome or Naples, this is a place where people come together.
That kind of vibe is a cornerstone of Bay Area cooking, and because this is a pizza parlor–operated by veterans of Chez Panisse, that other cornerstone of Bay Area cooking–it seems to happen with more ease than elsewhere. Pizza is a staple that picky children will eat and that food nuts will relish. And good pizza just plain rocks.
We started with an awesome rendition of the classic Roman winter green, puntarelle (read about it here and here), and then moved steadily into the pies, pausing only to take in some pillowy meatballs that I swear were made from clouds. Meatclouds stuffed with pinenuts.
Pizza: wild nettles and ricotta salata; bitter greens and housemade sausage; al pizzaiolo, which is chef’s choice: this night, monterey bay squid with a spicy aioli. There are standards, too, a margherita and marinara, but this is really fusion pizza: crisp yet light and fluffy napolitano crust with Bay Area toppings. I’m sure they’d do a killer napolitano if they wanted to, but shit, why not squid and aioli?
We drank two bottles of Damilano’s awesomely fruity 2006 Barbera d’Alba, showing little oak and plenty of fresh, juicy fruit held up by firm acidity. Great pizza wine. Careful though, Damilano makes a second Barbera d’Alba that’s tarted up with oak. That’s usually held back a year, so the current vintage would be ’05. Skip it and go for the feisty ’06 instead. You’ll be glad you did.
Pizzaiolo; 5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; 510-652-4888; pizzaiolooakland.com