Went to Pizzaiolo last night. With the exception of a couple of special events, we hadn't been in two and a half years. Well, we'd been, but didn't want to wait an hour for a seat, so always ended up at Lanesplitter or Dopo or somewhere less busy.
First big improvement: reservations. I happened to look at the menu because of a Chowhound thread about good places for squid (thanks, chocolatetartguy), and noticed that they had cotechino with lentils, which sounded very appealing given the cold rainy weather. I called around 6pm and got a reservation for 7:45.
Second big improvement: there's now a host station and a charming and professional hostess who seemed to double as sommelier.
Third big improvement: better music (or at least more to my taste, a mix featuring Cuban and classic jazz) at a reasonable volume. Some chill techno kicked in just before closing time but even that was relatively unobjectionable.
The server was as usual quite good: unobtrusive, professional, and helpful. The two antipasti and two secondi we ordered were well paced as four courses with share plates swapped as necessary.
I tried the gin and housemade tonic ($9), which I'd heard a lot about. At first I thought I'd gotten the wrong drink, as it tasted like citrus and some many-herb thing like amaro or vermouth, but the server said that's from all the herbs etc. in the tonic. Delicious apéritif, though not terribly food-friendly.
The cotechino with lentils ($10) was great, small portion, five slices about 1/4" thick and less than 2" diameter. It came with frisée and salsa verde which overpowered it a bit but were nice separately as a salad.
Spaghetti alla carbonara with English peas ($14), the guanciale was the star here. Pretty damned good, I don't think I've had better in a restaurant since Little Italy closed.
Pizza ($17) with tomato sauce, sausage, hot pepper, and panna (heavy cream) was easily the best pizza I've had at Pizzaiolo and one of the best Neapolitan-style pizzas I've had anywhere in the past few years. Nice char but not too much, dough had good flavor and a soft crunch, not floppy or soggy, excellent balance of flavors, good spice.
Buttermilk fried chicken with ceci ragù, roasted winter vegetables, and chile oil ($24) was really great: nice leg and thigh portion, moist, crisp batter, with a surprising touch of cumin and coriander in the chickpeas, giving it an Indian spin.
Grapefruit and blood orange sorbet ($7.50), if you ask me this was a granita. Right up there with Zuni's, great balance of bitter, sour, and sweet, a perfect ending for the somewhat rich meal.
Overall, just the right amount of food.
Drank Domaine de Fontsainte 2008 Corbières Gris de Gris ($8 glass), nice; La Cappuccina 2008 Madégo (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc) Veneto IGT ($9.75 glass), very nice (it's not easy to find good Veneto reds around here), Georg Mumelter 2008 St. Magdalener "Griesbauerhof" (Schiava with a little Lagrein, $35 bottle), just stunning, as lovely a light-bodied Alto Adige red as you could ask for, perfect with the rich pizza and chicken; La Favorite Rhum Agricole Blanc ($7) is like a very earthy grappa with molasses overtones, awesome stuff.
This was in several ways the best meal I've had at Pizzaiolo. Yay for reservations.
Full disclosure, I'm opening a restaurant up Telegraph in Berkeley and Pizzaiolo is arguably our most direct competitor. If I hadn't had a great meal, I would not have felt it appropriate to post.
5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
re: Robert Lauriston
I love a good gin and tonic. Yes, the gin is very important but the tonic can make or break the drink. In Singapore, I get the tonic in a small glass vessel so I can add as much or as little as I see fit. In Manhattan I drink my gin and tonics from a pint glass. Seriously good gin and tonic in an Italian restaurant that also makes seriously good pizza is more than I can wrap my head around. Mercy.
Best of luck on the new restaurant. Deb and I are back to our little rental in Rome next week. I think I'll stick with beer and wine when we hit our local pizza place Wednesday night. I'll ask for a gin and tonic but I'll be ready to duck if things get out of hand.