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Mar 21, 2010 10:18 AM

Nizza La Bella - Wow

This is one of those "every once in a while" places, where the food is always good, but last night we had just really exceptional food. There were 4 of us, and we ordered a variety of things.

Starters -
Mac & Cheese (now available in a small portion) - Haven't had this one in several years, just great.
Mussels - the compound garlic butter on them was so incredibly good, and the mussels were very tasty.
Balsamic roasted mushrooms - Mmm mmm good
PIzza (Napolitana) - Oh, if we only had wood ovens a few blocks away in Berkeley. Well, good for them. Their pizza is great.

Mains -
Steak Frites (mine) - really good.
Hamburger - Didn't taste, but was a hit
Roasted chicken - also didn't taste, but was a hit.

No desserts. We were ready to pop. Everything was spot-on. Bought a bottle, brought a bottle. The bill was really reasonable.

On the way out, we learned that brunch/lunch hours are starting soon (4 days/week).

Nizza La Bella
827 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

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  1. PIzza (Napolitana) - Oh, if we only had wood ovens a few blocks away in Berkeley
    Already prepping for Laconda da Eva? Although, it's all the way cross town.

    1. Nizza makes really good pizza. The owner literally wrote the book on the subject:

      Chez Panisse Cafe has a wood oven.

      Chez Panisse
      1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

      1. Next time try the "socca" - a yummy flatbread they make from ground chickpea flour. It's quite unique and tasty,

        15 Replies
        1. re: escargot3

          The socca's good but quite rich--lots of olive oil. I prefer to share with several people.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            i always get it as an appetizer to share.

            1. re: escargot3

              Yeah, for me preferably with more than two people. I've learned from experience that after half a socca I don't have appetite for my main course.

              1. re: escargot3

                Wow! I've had a different experience with the socca. I've had it twice, albeit a couple of years ago, and both times it was gummy and blah. My friend and I were very disappointed. We went back a while later and tried it again....same result

                Maybe I just don't like socca. I have had it in Nice and loved it, but that was a while ago.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Did you ever try it at the place in the Epicurious Garden? (It's gone, now) I did, once, and thought it was blah. Like, intrinsically, blah. I've never wanted to order it at Nizza.

                  Epicurious Garden
                  1513 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                  1. re: Glencora

                    How Gregoire was ever convinced that a socca stand in the Epicurious Garden was a good idea is beyond my ken.

                    Epicurious Garden
                    1513 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                    1. re: Glencora

                      I like Nizza's socca and Rose Pistola's farinata, which is basically the same dish. I didn't like Socca Oven's and wasn't crazy about the version at Socca in SF (John Caputo's place).

                      When hot, the edges are crisp. Once it cools off it's not so good, if that happens it's best to reheat it.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Could that have been because Nizza and Rose Pistola have wood ovens?

                        Rose Pistola
                        532 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133-2802

                        1. re: lmnopm

                          Now I am going to have to try these. My husband ran a study in Nice for 2 months, and the kids and I hung out there. Since socca was one of the few cheap foods I could eat, I tried them all. There is huge variation. some are really meh and some are fantastic. I tried one farinata at the street food festival in Oakland that wasn't great compared to what I had just had in France, but others really liked it. The wood oven does make a huge difference, although I make them at home on a socca pan I brought back and a large grill that claims to get up to 600 or 700 degrees. NOT the same as the wood oven, but works for weeknight quick meal. I will try Nizza when I can get up there and report back.

                          When does Rosa pistola serve farinata? i don't see it on their menus...

                          1. re: jsaimd

                            Huh, I guess Rose Pistola dropped it. It used to be under the hot appetizers.

              2. re: escargot3

                Sheesh, I already wrote complaining about this 6 or more months ago. I guess the memories were so strong I had to write about it again.

                Wow! The only time I ever ate at Nizza la Bella we ordered socca and it was so awful we never went back. This was about 5 years ago.

                Have they changed hands? Did we just get a bum socca because the cook went home sick?

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Same owner and chef since they opened. I've found the food quite consistent.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    My husband loves the socca. I'd say you got a bad one. We've had it many times and always enjoyed it.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      What was wrong with the socca? I've enjoyed it lots of times. If it weren't so filling, I'd always order it.

                      1. re: oakjoan


                        perhaps socca ain't your thing?

                    2. Nizza has started their brunch/lunch service, Wed-Sun, 11-3. The menu (not on line yet) is fairly extensive, with many of their dinner items in addition to breakfast dishes. I've enjoyed two of their breakfast pizzas recently. "Pizzetta Bonjour Bella" has confit tomatoes and an egg on top; I like it with some sausage added. And the classic "Al Cyclops" is back, with potatoes, onions, sausage and an egg. Next time: baked eggs with ham and potatoes, or maybe steak-frites with an egg on the side, at a sidewalk table.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: ernie in berkeley

                        Thanks for the tip. I'd missed that Cyclops pizza. Great breakfast dish.

                        Sign on the door said 11-4.

                        1. re: ernie in berkeley

                          I forgot to mention the reasonable prices. The Cyclops was $8, eggs Benedict with fried potatoes $8.50.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Went for brunch today. The Cyclops was very tasty.

                          2. re: ernie in berkeley

                            It was our first time here today, as we wanted to try out the breakfast pizzas, and, wow, these were great and a bargain at $8 a pop. We had the Bonjour Bella and the Cyclops, which both had nice runny eggs on top and a delicious (and crisp) garlicky crust.. I especially liked the Cyclops, which you can get with either sausage or bacon--they accidentally gave me both, and it was an absolute knockout.

                            The pizzas were maybe 6 or 8 inches in diameter? Perfect size for brunch or lunch. Tough to get a much better brunch for just over $20 (before tip and including two coffees). Next time we'll get one pizza to share and then try something else on the menu. Petit dejeuner (eggs, potatoes, and toast) only $5!

                            I haven't ever been for dinner, but the prices for brunch/lunch are so reasonable (e.g. $12 for steak frites), and the menu so packed with French bistro-type classics I love, that I'll definitely be back to check it out.

                            There were hardly any customers at around noon today, I guess b/c not too many people know about the brunch/lunch service yet, so I figured I'd do my part to help spread the word. Great addition to the local brunch scene.

                            1. re: abstractpoet

                              I was going to start a new thread, but found this one, so here goes. Seems to me this is a restaurant that doesn't get the respect it deserves. It's not trendy or hip and has pretty traditional French fare, but, damn, they do it well, and the atmosphere is as pleasant as it is distinctive. I stopped in for a late drink last weekend and perused the menu, noting that they do a boullabaisse. Somehow I'd never noticed this before, and tonight my wife and I went there for dinner so I could try it.

                              Going in I wondered if it could rival Wood Tavern's boullabaisse, and I'm here to tell you it did. The broth exploded with flavor and the rouille, which was surprisingly spicy, took it to another level. It's different from Wood Tavern's, which has more broth and is closer to a soup de poisson, but they're both fabulous.

                              Before that we shared a beet salad with blue cheese, and my wife had the roast chicken, which was moist with crispy, almost caramelized skin.

                              I had made a reservation, and we got one of the booths, which I love. Nizza la Bella is a treasure, whether for bouillabaisse, steak frites, moules, or pizza. They're now open for lunch too. I checked out the lunch a few weeks ago and had a memorable salad nicoise.

                              Wood Tavern
                              6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                              1. re: TopoTail

                                We've been doing our best to keep the lunch/brunch going. It's a GREAT value and an interesting menu. I was surprised when they started offering it when many other restaurants quit offering lunch because of the great recession.

                                But Nizza La Bella needs support if they are going to continue with lunch. When we eat lunch there, there are invariably few customers. It's a damn shame. I'm afraid the restaurant can't keep this up forever unless lunch traffic starts growing. Come on everyone, support your local neighborhood restaurants!

                                Nizza La Bella
                                827 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                1. re: dlglidden

                                  Looks like they need to add the brunch and lunch to their website?

                                2. re: TopoTail

                                  I think their boullabaisse is brilliant.

                                  And the socca is a unique treat not to be found elsewhere in the Bay Area, as far as I know. Especially great for vegetarians (it's a crepe made from garbanzo bean flour).

                                  1. re: escargot3

                                    There's a daily socca on the menu at Encuentro in Oakland. Don't know enough about socca to tell if it's authentic, but it eats good.

                                  2. re: TopoTail

                                    They just recently cut the hours back to Friday, Sat and Sun for brunch/lunch. Which is too bad cause their brunch is awesome!

                              2. I am a huge fan of Nizza. The food is consistently great and the staff is always friendly. The drink menu is wonderful with the bartender also able to make whatever you ask for--and make it well! I try to stop in once a week for dinner and drinks.