It’s a real crime that I’ve only dined at Pizzaiolo just once since it opened more than seven years ago, especially because it’s right down the street from my Oakland apartment.
But that’s the life of food blogging when I’m always looking for the next great restaurant. It leaves me little room to visit regular favorites, but Pizzaiolo has lived on without me and has definitely become a home for neighborhood regulars. (The nightly crowds probably also served as a deterrent for me to grab a table.)
When I visited recently with my friend Jessie, who works nearby, Pizzaiolo had the feel of a well-worn shoe, with a lived-in feel from the purposely distressed walls.
The philosophy of chef-owner Charlie Hallowell hasn’t changed over the years, staying true to his years of experience working at Chez Panisse, which means an emphasis on clean flavors, seasonal ingredients, and local sourcing. Named for the Italian word for pizza maker, Pizzaiolo has a changing menu that supports several pasta and pizza dishes.
The pizza is a Neopolitan-style pizza with a chewy bubbly crust. Jessie and I tried the Monterey Bay squid pizza with cherry tomatoes and aioli ($20), an unusual creation that could only be made in California. While the pizza was topped with a lot of fresh squid, it was the tasty aioli that really took this pizza to another level.
Side note: Pizzaiolo opened a sister restaurant in the Grand Lake neighborhood called Boot & Shoe Service and I actually find the pizza there more to my liking, a little less chewy than at Pizzaiolo.
The antipasti is where you can see the clean, simple dishes shine through, like a beautiful seasonal plate of Da Di Stefano burrata with prosciutto di Parma, figs and hazelnuts ($14). A classic combination with the prosciutto and figs, the burrata just added an extra creaminess.
We also tried a pasta dish (and I was surprised that the menu only listed two choices). Jessie and I ordered the tagliolini with chanterelle mushrooms, wild nettles and crème fraiche ($16). I loved the combination of the ingredients but didn’t feel that the pasta itself was anything exceptional.
While the dishes aren’t pushing the boundaries like some of the new restaurants opening in the Bay Area, Pizzaiolo draws a regular crowd for its simple flavors and friendly, neighborhood vibe. I definitely need to come back more often.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Pizzaiolo, 5008 Telegraph Ave. (at 51st Street), Oakland. PH: 510.652.4888. Open for dinner, Monday to Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday), closed Sunday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.pizzaiolooakland.com
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