Shelley Lindgren and Victoria Libin brought their upscale Italian concept A16 to Rockridge last month, infusing a bit of urban charm to the southside of College Avenue.
With a successful original restaurant in SanFrancisco’s Marina district and a Tokyo outlet, Lindgren and Libin’s Oakland outpost has a contemporary and refreshed decor, almost gutting out the previous Garibaldi’s/Hudson restaurant. The white walls offset the dark wood ceiling and trims, giving it almost a California tavern feel.
The menu is customized by Chef Rocky Maselli, who looks to put his own spin to A16’s winning concept of light antipasto, original pastas, wood-fire pizzas, and rustic but limited entrees. When I dined on a weeknight with my friend Jessie, we tried a variety of dishes that felt familiar but a few with a twist. I found the side dishes, or contorno, to be a bit ordinary, but Jessie’s pasta of geoduck clam sugo cavatelli ($12 for the small portion) and my rabbit crespelle (a crepe with cheese, that reminded me of an enchilada, $24) had a lot of flavor.
Side note: When you order an entree from the “Secondi” section, it comes with a choice of one side (or contorno). I got the escarole hearts with my rabbit.
One obvious distinction between A16 Rockridge and its city big sister is the Oakland location has a full cocktail program. I tried the “seventh circle” ($9). a sweet drink of rye and campari. I was intrigued by the addition of calabrese chili, but it actually didn’t have much heat, just mostly sweet.
Some of A16 Rockridge’s attempts to shake up the menu left me crying for more of the original. Even though I only visited the San Francisco location just a couple of months ago, I still fell in love with its chocolate budino I had for dessert, a whipped chocolate caramel pudding tart. The Rockridge location has a budino on the menu, but it’s actually a chocolate rum cake with a budino center.
Because I loved the San Francisco’s budino so much, I recommended it to Jessie. But the Rockridge dessert is more chocolate rum cake than budino. I don’t know if Jessie was as thrilled over this version.
The Last Bite
Despite attempts to create its own signature, A16 Rockridge does still carry the same charm and approach to cooking that was established in San Francisco, and that says a lot because it’s not easy transferring that level of success even though it’s just across the bay. Still, having dined at both locations in a short period, I have to give the edge to San Francisco’s Chef Christopher Thompson for the better balance of ingredients in the dishes.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
A16 Rockridge, 5356 College Ave., Oakland. PH: 510.768.8003. Open for dinner daily from 5:30 p.m. (from 5 p.m. Sunday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.a16rockridge.com
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