Chef Charlie Halliwell is one of the many Chez Panisse alumns opening restaurants around the Bay Area, and his Pizzaiolo in Oakland’s Temescal District has quickly became a local favorite. After heaping tons of praise on L.A.’s Pizzeria Mozza and Larkspur’s Pizzeria Picco for their amazing wood-fired pizzas, I thought I should pay Pizzaiolo a visit since it’s much closer to home. Pizzaiolo has received its share of rave reviews, including a nod from San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer and mentions in Food and Wine and Condé Nast Traveler.
Pizzaiolo is committed to supporting locally grown, seasonal, and organic meat and produce, so the menu changes daily based on what’s available. We decided to split an appetizer, a pasta dish and two pizzas for our party of three.
We started off with an order Il Fortetto Buratta di Bufala, which was served on toast with olive oil and sea salt. The burrata wasn’t as smooth as the burrata they serve at Mozza, but it was still delicious, and I really loved the toast.
Our primi was the potato gnocchi with braised lamb ragu. The gnocchi was light and fluffy, the lamb was tender and the ragu was smooth and rich. This was by far the best dish of the night, and I’d love to curl up with a big bowl of this on a cold winter’s night.
The Long-cooked Greens and Sausage Pizza was the first to arrive and it was okay. I thought the sausage was a little bland, especially when compared to the strong fennel flavor in the sausage served at Mozza or Picco. The crust was really good though…crispy in the right places and it had a really nice bite to it
The next pizza, a Pizza Margherita with anchovies and an egg was really good. The tomato sauce was really vibrant and fresh and I loved the salty kick from the anchovies. Unfortunately, there was only one egg on the pizza (you can also add an egg to any pizza for $2), and we didn’t want to break the egg and spread its yolky goodness. Luckily, I got to eat most of the egg, including the yolk, and it was great. Egg on pizza is something everyone should try if they get a chance. (Come to think of it, a nice egg can enhance almost any dish—burgers, fried rice, lomo saltado.)
If you don’t have a reservation, you’re likely in store for a lengthy wait during peak dining hours. They take reservations as far back as a month, but I called about 5 days ahead and got a reservation for 7:30pm on a Saturday. If you encounter a long wait, and you’re there before 7pm, I’d suggest walking to the end of the block to Bakesale Betty for a snack if you need something to tide you over. (More on Bakesale Betty in a future post.)
While Pizzaiolo didn’t surpass Picco or Mozza in the pizza department in my book, it’s still great pizza. If their other pastas are as good as the gnocchi with lamb ragu, then I’m definitely going back for more. I hear their fried chicken is to die for, and you know how much I love the fried chicken…