Last week I was in San Francisco for a meeting and visited Pizzaiolo http://www.pizzaiolo.us/
in Oakland and A16 http://www.a16sf.com/
in San Francisco.
I went directly from the Oakland airport to Pizzaiolo on a Tuesday evening around 7:30 pm. The restaurant is small, casual and very popular and doesn't take reservations. As expected there was a line at the door, however, since I was alone, the hostess seated me at the bar right away. The service at the bar was a bit slow, but nothing to really complain about as there was only one bartender serving a packed house The kitchen is open to the dining room and dominated by a wood-burning stove. While waiting for my Pizza Margherita I spoke with Charlie, the owner, who was manning the oven and seemed mildly impressed when I told him I'd travelled for 6 hours by plane to eat his pizza.
Virtually all the ingredients used in the offerings are local to California, although the buffalo mozzarella is imported. They use Caputo Pizzaria flour for the dough and the oven runs at 750-800 degrees, according to Charlie. The sauce is made using canned tomatoes, but I'm not sure what brand. The sauce has very little herbs or spices and tastes very clearly of tomatoes. Interestingly there is a little heat underneath as they sprinkle red pepper on the dough before adding the sauce.
The pizza was very, very good. The crust was thin, light and very flavorful with a nice char but without any burnt taste. The crust had excellent oven spring in the rim and was nicely complemented with the pure tomato and mozzarella flavors of the traditional Pizza Margherita toppings.
Other items on the menu change frequently with the seasons. I tried their fried polenta with a honey nut sauce that was very tasty -- crunchy on the outside with the sweet, soft flavor of the corn bursting through. All in all, it was an outstanding pizza -- well worth a trip to the East Bay. A16
The next day I tried A16. It was also crowded, but we were seated right on time with our 7:30 pm reservation. A16 also has an open kitchen dominated by a very large wood-fired oven. Their menu is also relatively brief focusing on fresh ingredients -- they note at the bottom of the menu, "We use sustainably farmed produce, meats, and environmentally sound seafood whenever possible."
Nate Appleman, the chef and co-owner since April, was very friendly and came over to chat. He noted that he lets his dough rise for 3 days and that the oven is "as hot as I can get it." Interestingly, the oven had two doors, one was being used for pizzas and the other for roasted meats and other dishes. I mentioned this website and that there as a great deal of interested in people recreating A16 pizzas at home, Nate noted that if anyone had questions about his recipes, he'd be happy to get an email. His address is at the restaurants web site. Because the restaurant was slammed, I didn't take too much more of Nate's time and didn't pry into details of the dough recipes.
Well how was the pizza? Good, but not great. I had a Margherita and a Salsiccia (spring onions, mozzarella, luganega sausage, garlic, chiles). The toppings on each were very high quality, nice low spice uncooked tomato sauce, good fresh mozzarella and delicious homemade sausage on the Salsiccia. However, the crust on the pizza particularly the Salsiccia had a bit too much char and a slightly burned taste. I don't know if this is intentional, or just the oven running too hot, or a fact of being very busy, but it detracted slightly from the pizza and masked some of the flavor of the crust. I didn't try anything else from the menu after the two pizzas, but the other items included seafood, pork, rabbit, lamb and beef. The wine list is pretty extensive and a bit pricey for the Italian reds, but in line with for SFO restaurants.
In comparing the two restaurants, I'd pick Pizzaiolo as the "winner," but would certainly try A16 again to see if they might have just been having an off night. Again, points to both establishments and chefs for being friendly and willing to chat with patrons.
One more thing, both chefs recommended Pizzaria Picco in Larkspur, across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. I didn't get a chance to go, but it sounds like a winner based on their recommendations.