Tuesday, October 24, 2006

One of my very last meals before I came back to school was at Pizzaiolo, Chez Panisse alum Charlie Hallowell's relatively new restaurant in Berkeley. I had been wanting to try it over the course of the summer, but everytime I went, they were closed. I never quite got down their hours.

The store has no signage, so just look out for the place with a bunch of people waiting outside. They now take limited reservations, so be sure to make them.

Wild rocket & frisee salad with hazelnuts, saba and grana 8.50

We started off with a refreshing salad, which was super fresh and perfectly underdressed. I loved the hazelnuts, which were slightly sweet and crunchy. Freshest salad I've had in a while.

Spaghetti alla Norma 14

There were a few pastas on the menu that night, but the spaghetti alla norma was the natural choice, after my server informed us that the dish was meant to resemble Mt. Vesuvius. I rushed to take the photo right when it arrived; with the shaved ricotta and rising steam, the resemblance was uncanny. Of course, it tasted good too. The spaghetti was a perfect al dente, the eggplant was carmelized and slightly soft, and the tomato sauce captured the epitome of tomato season.

Gypsy peppers and housemade sausage 15

I was very excited to taste the restaurant's famous pizzas, but I was a little disappointed. The toppings were great -- fresh red peppers and onions and delicious sausage -- but the crust was too burnt, dry, and bland. It couldn't live up to the great pizza I had at Picco.

Margherita di bufula 15

The crust on the margherita suffered the same burnt downfall. I did, however, love the fresh tomato sauce and cheese. The fresh mozzarella was probably the best thing I ate that night -- I just wish there were more!

A Blossom Bluff Summer lady from the wood oven with vanilla ice cream 8

Reading the menu, I had no clue what a "Blossom Bluff Summer lady" was. But it sounded provocative, and anything from the wood oven couldn't be bad right? Much to my delight, a baked peach arrived; a ripe, juicy, height-of-summer peach, at that. Once again, I found it way too burnt, but that was easily overlooked with the wonderful peach juices swimming in the bowl, and the rich, creamy vanilla ice cream that accompanied.

Bakesale Betty’s plum pie a la mode 8

Bakesale Betty founder Alison Barakat is another Chez Panisse alum, and she recently opened a retail location right down the block from Pizzaiolo. Fortunately, I got to taste her goods even though her store had closed for the day. The pie was wonderful; the plum filling was juicy and tart, and the pie crust was flaky and light. However, some of the more flaky pieces and the rim suffered the same burnt fate, which rendered my favorite crusty parts inedible. What a shame.

I knew bringing my camera into restrooms would pay off one day; here, I've captured the great Chez Panisse seal of quality.

Pizzaiolo offers fresh, lovingly-prepared food at great prices, but it really needs to watch the temperature in that oven. Service was efficient, and atmosphere was warm and crowd-friendly.

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