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Albany - Cugini Restaurant – Wood-fired pizza & local organic produce

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Out of the few East Bay pizzas I tried so far … Lanesplitter, Nizza La Bella, and Beauregard’s. … I like Cugini’s the best. Maybe the toppings are more interesting at Cheeseboard and Gioia, but crust, of all things, at Cugini won me over.

The crust … thin yet yeasty … crispy yet pleasantly chewy with perfect char marks.

The linked review below put it perfectly “The wood smoke lends a subtle sweetness to the dough”. And if anyone remembers an old post, yes I know I once said pizza wasn’t about the crust. This was good though.

There is a higher cheese to sauce ratio and the top glistens with olive oil. I ordered the sausage and didn’t like the skimpy sausage too much. It was the ground type and the spice reminded me of the dried pepper flakes that are sprinkled on pizza. Besides the sausage, there was fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

I wish they used Molinari’s calabrese which they use in the rigatoni calabrese. The pizzas are served on a large white dinner plate and are enough for two.

The house-baked bread is wonderful, slightly warm and yeasty with a nice chewy crust that has a pleasant touch of salt. There’s a bottle of olive oil on the table. If you want butter, ask for it.

The oven at the back wall is used for most of the dishes. The Vongole al Forno sounds good - manila clams in a spicy white wine sauce and baked in that oven.

There are about a dozen beers, four on draft. The wines seemed pricy with some $8.50 a glass.

The menu says they support local organic farmers. Items recommended frequently on the web include

- Carciofi al Forno – artichoke stuffed with fresh herbs and ground meat and baked in the wood-fired oven.

- antipasto misto - cheese, various olives, roasted whole garlic, pickled peppers, and roasted vegetables’

- fried calamari
- Tiramisu
- Cannoli

My one reservation in reading the menu is that they use a lot of fresh tomatoes in dishes and since it is far from tomato season I might skip them at this time of year.

I read the name of the restaurant means “cousin” and that it is co-owned by three brothers and a cousin. Supposedly the specialty is the Sicilian dishes, but I’m no expert on Sicilian cuisine.

Service is ok, but they don’t really check back on tables often. It is a little pricy with pizzas running $12 - $14, Appetizers ran $8-$9 and pasta dishes about $14 - $16. The three entrees on special were about $20.

It gets mentioned as being dog friendly because of the outdoor tables on the front sidewalk. This old SF Gate review describes the décor very well. They must have repainted though. The walls are now pumpkin-colored rather than yellow.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

An old Chowhound post

http://www.chowhound.com/california/b...

Cugini
1556 Solano Ave
Berkeley, CA 94706

(510) 558-9000

Hours:

Closed Monday

5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
4-9 p.m. Sunday

Call though to confirm. I got the hours from the old SF Gate review. I know for a fact though they are closed Monday. The 50 seat restaurant can be reserved on Monday for a party.

Link: http://www.posthoc.com/eastbay_cugini...

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    Robert Lauriston

    Your description of the pizza itself seems pretty unenthusiastic compared with your overall take on the place.

    Did you try anything but pizza and bread?

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    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      The sausage is what brought down the enthusiasim level for me.

      There were four other pizzas that had fresh tomatoes on them and I wasn't interested in the others because the first time at a pizza place I like to judge the simplest version.

      I had a lunch pizza at Beauregard's which had fresh tomatoes (no choice) and I wasn't eager to have another out of season fresh tomato pizza in a place I never tried.

      BTW, glad you are reading this. You asked who else has a wood-fired oven a while back ... Beauregard's does ... but ick.

      Just had the bread and pizza ... but Robert, I'd even push this on you ... that bread was amazing and worth going to Cugini. I swear it stands up to anything Acme makes. I am going to try out the soup next trip and if the soup is anything at all, I can't imagine a more pleasant meal than that bread, soup and a glass of wine.

      Surprised you thought I was overall enthusiastic about the place because actually I didn't like the restaurant itself that much. It was pretty enough, but the surfaces were a little hard and, despite flickering candles on the tables and the roaring fire at the back, it felt a little cold in the decor sense, not temperature-wise. The complaint I read often was that it gets noisy when crowded. I thought the service was tolerable, nothing bad, but nothing special.