May 24, 2013

May 24, 2013
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The rachetta pizza at A16 Rockridge. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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A special pizza with porcini, ricotta, spring onion, and egg. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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A look into the bar area and dining room. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The dining room area (during a pizza preview). Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The 20-foot marble bar (with custom cut-outs). Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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One of the commissioned art pieces by Kelly Tunstall. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Salsiccia e vongole (sausage and clams) pizza. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Slated to open on College Avenue on Saturday June 1st is ~A16 ROCKRIDGE~ from owner-wine director Shelley Lindgren and owner Victoria Libin, with chef Rocky Maselli leading the kitchen. Instead of being a cookie-cutter duplicate of A16’s menu in San Francisco, the team has decided to travel further eastward along the A16 autostrada into Puglia (on the Adriatic side). Chef Maselli is a Bay Area native, but his family’s roots are in the Puglia region, so it’s a regional style that is near and dear to him. Last June, he got his pizzaiolo certification by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana in Naples, and did a lot of recipe and dish research traveling along the A16. (Previously he was in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, most recently the chef-owner of Osteria Sfizio in Eugene.)

While there will, of course, be a variety of Neapolitan-style pizzas coming out of the handmade Stefano Ferrara pizza oven (tiled in gray and white), true to A16’s style, there will also be some innovative pizzas, like the rachetta ($20), a racquet-shaped pie (originally made by Starita in Naples) topped with green olives, pecorino, fior di latte, and basil, with ricotta and artichoke tucked into the “handle” like a mini calzone—the ultimate two-cheese pizza. It’s served with a pair of scissors so you can cut it into pieces yourself.

I swung by for a pizza preview party yesterday, the first time they were serving pizzas from the oven. The dough is incredible—great flavor and elasticity and softness. I particularly enjoyed a special with porcini, ricotta, spring onion, and an egg on top (oh yeah), and the salsiccia e vongole ($20), with Manila clams in the shell, sausage, shallot, lemon zest, and parsley.

You will also want to try the montanara Rockridge ($17), a version of the montanara—a pizza that is lightly fried and then put in the oven—that Starita makes in Naples, but instead of using smoked mozzarella, A16 is using smoked tomato sauce, plus burrata and basil. Delicioso. As Rocky passionately blurted as I took my first bite, “I wanna be famous for my fried pizza!”

The antipasti will include some appealing salads, like shaved artichoke salad with fennel, mint, and pecorino canestrato ($12), and there’s a section of crudi, like oysters, sea urchin, and geoduck clam (the menu will definitely have more of a coastal feel). I’m looking forward to trying the pastas here, which are entirely different from A16 in the Marina, like cavatelli with Sacramento crawfish sugo and cannellini beans ($13/$21); bucatini with ramps, mussels, white wine, and chile ($13/$21); and of course some orecchiette with lamb sausage, friarielli, and fried senise pepper ($12/$20). Secondi include roasted rock cod with radish agrodolce and pine nuts ($26), and pork polpettone ($25) with egg, spring onion, and roasted baby carrots. You can take a peek at a preliminary opening menu here.

The restaurant will be baking its own bread and building up an extensive bread program. While the famed chocolate budino won’t be on the dessert menu, there will be a chocolate-rum baba with dark chocolate budino, cream, and cocoa nibs, and a wood oven gratinata of Hamada farm cherries (both $9).

The open-feeling space (formerly Hudson) features around 100 seats: there is a lengthy 20-foot bar made of Carrara marble with some customized elements by Greg Lindgren (who collaborated with Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture), plus some high-top tables in the bar area and an exposed brick wall painted white. The main dining room has rustic wood tables, leather banquettes, and a beamed ceiling overhead (plus skylights), giving it an airy sensibility. True to A16’s legacy, there are some beautiful newly commissioned pieces by Kelly Tunstall throughout the space, featuring an ocean theme and characters and stories from Italian folklore.

The blazing pizza oven is in the back, with a curving 13-seat marble bar for those who want to watch the action while they eat. Since the weather on College Avenue can be so beautiful, a roll-up door was installed along the front of the building, and can be rolled open on warm evenings (there are also plans for sidewalk seating). About a month from now, there will additionally be a private dining room with room for 20.

Owner-wine director Shelley Lindgren is going to be doing her magic with a 1,500-bottle wine cellar highlighting Southern Italian varietals and East Bay-produced wines. A key difference at this location is the full bar, which will feature a number of Italian-inspired cocktails. There will be aperitivi, amari, and digestivi, as well as local beers from Oakland’s Linden Street Brewery. Knowing Shelley Lindgren’s passion for amari (along with her husband Greg), I can’t wait to see what they have sourced.

Accompanying the full bar is a bar menu featuring some pizzas and light snacks, like fried baccalà polpettine with Calabrian chili aioli ($11), and later in the night, you’ll be able to order fried calzone and zeppole. Uh-huh. The full bar and late hours are going to be a bonus for night owls in the area, industry folks, and those in search of a well-made cocktail. Dinner will be served Mon-Sat 5:30pm-1pm, Sun 5pm-10pm. The bar serves pizza and light bar bites Sun-Wed 5pm-11pm, Thu-Sat 5pm-1am.

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