Even though I am not very impressed by their pizzas, Pizzaiolo is one of my favorite restaurants in the East Bay. The food is uniformly tasty and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun.
The dishes showcase locally-grown and raised organic foods. The decor is warm and inviting with a mix of old-fashioned tile, beautiful antique light fixtures, and avant-garde art installations. In addition to a ceramic canister filled with antique wooden pasta rollers, the bar is usually graced with an arrangement of some gorgeous vegetable that is the centerpiece of one of the daily specials. Tonight it was a bowl of cauliflower for the penne rigate with cavolfiore.
The hipster-grunge waitstaff wear t-shirts or tank tops and jeans (but they're pretty expensive jeans) with thinly striped blue and white aprons. The staff is fairly heavy on the tattoos. Our waitress was sweet and fairly attentive, if not very knowledgeable.
I was joined by my restaurant review co-pilot, Naushon. We ordered the:
Annabelle's mixed chicories caesar salad ($9) This was one of the best caesar salads I've had - the mix of lettuce and chicories provides a little tartness which is nicely balanced by the mild, nutty parmesan cheese shavings and the garlicy, salty dressing. The salad did have one unfortunately flaw, though, they gave us only one of the housemade crutons! It was quite tasty (we split it) but we would have preferred to have at least three more to nosh on. Cardoon soup with new harvest olive oil ($7.50) I had never heard of cardoon before but learned that they are a relative of the artichoke. The soup was very tasty. Our only criticism was that we felt it would actually have been better without the layer of olive oil they'd drizzled on top.
Strozzapreti with Willis Ranch pork ragu ($14) I think strozzapreti (Italian for "priest choker" - click here for Wikipedia's explanation of this rather odd name) may be my new favorite pasta. Pizzaiolo makes and dries their own priest chokers. The pasta has a satisfying slightly chewy texture. The ragu featured chunks of tender, ropy pork, tomatoes, and red onions.
Meatballs al Pizzaiolo ($14) Served in a red sauce, these finely blended meatballs were packed with whole pinenuts. Besides the pinenuts I thought I detected pork (and probably some other meats), eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese and parsley.Boylans cola ($2.50) I went really wild and ordered a Boylan's cola. Boylan's natural sodas are made with cane sugar and without artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
Glass of Corvina Valpolicella ($9) Naushon ordered a glass of this wine, which is her favorite. It has a pleasantly balanced earthy, sweet, and tiny bit spicy flavor which goes well with pretty much everything they serve. Although similar to Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, it's apparently a bit less common and a bit more interesting.
Pizzaiolo was opened in the summer of 2005 by chef and owner Charlie Hallowell who lives upstairs with his two kids. Charlie is one of the many Bay Area restaurant owners who got his start at Chez Panisse where he worked for 8 years.
Pizzaiolo is located at:
5008 Telegraph Ave (about three doors down from Dona Tomas)
Oakland, CA 94609
Web site: http://www.pizzaiolooakland.com/
Their menu (which changes daily) is available at: http://www.pizzaiolooakland.com/menu/
Pizzaiolo is open from 5:30 - 10:00 PM Monday - Saturday. You can call after 3:00 PM to make dinner reservations though walk-ins are welcome (but be prepared for a wait unless you get there before 6:00 pm.)