Margherita Pizza in East Bay
Over the past few years I've found myself bringing my pizza habit down to the basics--a simple margherita pizza, no meat, no extras. Somehow the combo of light, chewy crust, good tomato sauce, great cheese in the right combination just does it for me. (Oh, and don't forget some fresh basil as the pie comes out of the oven.)
My favorite in the East Bay is at Bucci's. Every time I go there I tell myself I'm going to try something else on the menu, but I simply can't resist that margherita pizza. Got one tonight to go and it was fabulous, though it lost somthing in transit. My only complaint is that they spread all the tomato sauce in the middle, leaving the outside with cheese only, but it's easy enough to spread the sauce around.
Another place I like the margherita pizza is a Cugini's on Solano. They tend to put fresh tomato slices on top even when tomatoes are out of season, which I don't get, but it's easy enough to pick the tomato off, and the rest of the pizza is perfect.
I went to Pizaiola when they first opened, very excied about the mozzarella di bufala margherita, but it arrived at the table cold and needed more cheese. Now that they're taking reservations, I want to go back, because after reading the raves here I'm sure my pizza there was not typical.
The margherita that really sticks in my mind was one I had in Venice. It was made with mozzarella di bufala and came with a sea of cheese that was almost the consistency of fondu. The cheese was so runny that it would start to fall off the crust as I brought it to my mouth, but oh my god it was good! Like nothing I've ever tasted.
Other East Bay margherita recommendations?
For a simple pizza like a Margherita, I think a wood oven is crucial. Wood-oven pizzas in the East Bay:
Chez Panisse, Berkeley
Nizza la Bella, Albany
Paradiso, San Leandro
Pizza Antica, Lafayette
My favorite Margherita is Pizzaiolo's. I've never had a pizza or anything else arrive cold, they're pretty good about getting the food from the oven to the table promptly.
For a reference standard Margherita, go to A16 in SF. But it sounds like you prefer more cheese than the Neapolitan original.
I don't normally expect the amount of cheese that was on the memorable bufala pizza in Venice, but you may be right, Robert, about me liking more cheese than the Neapolitan original. I had a pizza at Trianon in Naples (though not a margherita) and was expecting a religious experience. But it was a bit dry to my taste--the proportion of crust to topping too much toward the crust end of the scale.
I sill regret that we didn't make it to Brandi, which has a plaque announcing that it is the "birthplace of the Margherita pizza." My wife and I walked by it on our last day in Naples, and planned on going back. But we were running out of time and had to head for the ferry for Palermo without experiencing the "original."
Bucci's doesn't have a wood-fired oven, and the pizza isn't quite what it would be if they did, but it's still a very nice pie.
This post caught my eye because I too love pizza margherita — I grew up on them, with mozzarella di bufala, at Al Pruneto in Naples. Funnily enough, my favorite to date in the East Bay is also at Bucci's, which I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of. Now that Bucci's menu is changing regularly, there's enough variety to tempt me away from the margherita occasionally, but not often. I went to Pizzaiolo when it opened and was underwhelmed; will have to give it another shot and try all these others listed here.
Also, I just got back from Phoenix, where my husband I braved a two-hour wait at Pizzeria Bianco (before the restuarnt even opened) to try "the best pizza in America." Amazing wood-fired crust, excellent homemade mozzarella -- but somehow not as cohesive as I had hoped. The great pizza margherita search goes on.
Another vote for Bucci's margherita. I was also underwhelmed at Pizzaiolo but I will give them another try one of these days now that they take reservations. Oliveto's pizza is the worst in East Bay (even Lanesplitters is better!) and I say that as Oliveto's #1 fan and frequent customer.
Finally made it to Nizza la Bella tonight to try theri margherita. The crust was to die for and the cheese was excellent. Nice amout of garlic, too. My only complaint was that the tomato, which was in the form of pieces of whole canned tomatoes, had a bit of a stewed-tomato quality about it. Now if I could just get the Niza crust with the Bucci topping I would be in heaven.