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Sep 18, 2012 07:28 PM

How's the pizza at Benchmark Pizzeria? (Kensington)

Looks like it's been open since July in the spot in the Circle across from the Pub. The menu is small, basically pizza and some gluten-free flat bread. The toppings include fra'mani meats. There's wine on tap and lots of fancy sodas. Any reports?

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  1. I finally tried the pizza here. My take is that the toppings are very good, but the crust doesn't happen to be to my taste. We got the Fra'mani pancetta with radicchio braised in balsamico and the Fra'mani salametto salami with fennel and pickled onion. Both had an interesting balance of savory and sour/bitter. There's not a lot of meat, so the radicchio and pickled onions were pretty assertive.

    The pizzas were smallish for the price ($15), with about two inches of puffy bare crust around the edges, yet they were still floppy in the center. There was a bit of char that added to the bitter (in a good way, I think) flavor. The crust was flavorful, I just don't like puffy.

    There's wine and gelato, both on tap.

    The couple running the place met at Oliveto, and it shows. Worth trying.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Glencora

      Thanks for reporting in. Here's the menu on the website,

      GF is a boon to lovers of farinata and socca. I recall a few years ago when 'hounds were trying to find some locally to no avail. Now it's a good gluten free option and making more appearances.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I've been getting take out here once every couple weeks since they opened. I think the pizzas are wonderful. I don't know a ton about pizza but the style seems to be pretty close to classic neopolitan - very thinly rolled crust puffed up in an extremely hot oven, and judicious use of toppings. I think there is a sourdough element to the crust - it has a wonderful complex bready flavor which tastes like a mild sourdough to me, and it has a nice char on it as well.

        The toppings are excellent across the board.

        I usually order the calzone because I like to do takeout and find that the calzone holds up better than the pizzas. I also think the calzones are a little bit bigger which makes them a better value for the money.

        In general, the pizzas while very good are pretty expensive - 13 to 15 dollars for what is basically a personal pie. I think the value is absolutely fair given the quality of the pizzas but they are certainly at the more expensive end of the pizza spectrum.

        1. re: Truffle Dog

          Thanks for the evocative description of the crust, sounds like my kinda of pie. More comments in this thread too,

      1. re: wolfe

        Amazon Local Deals is offering a $30 value for food and drink for $15. May get one to check this place out. It's not far from Chez SambaMaster....

        Oh, regarding the "to go" thing...I can't abide by take out anything, except, well, no, nothing. It amuses me how many Yelp reviews are based on take out! Restaurant food, in my never humble opinion, is to be eaten in situ, NOT at home from some cardboard box! Jeeez....

      2. Berkeleyside has an interview. Says the chef developed the dough recipe at Dopo and was the main pizza cook, though the pizza in the photo looks quite different from Dopo's.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I enjoyed the pizza. It could have been cooked another close to a minute (not just for the floppy in the center but for the outside of the crust, too). Service was friendly. I'll go back. I would not get this pizza to go - I don't think it would hold up well at all.

        2. To my taste, the pizza's in the first rank in the East Bay, up there with Dopo, Pizzaiolo, and Nizza. It's more Neapolitan-influenced than Dopo's (wood oven cooks them in two minutes), crust has good chew, very slight crunch, nice scorch, good flavor. It's not very similar to any other pie I can think of. We had a rapini with tomato sauce, sausage, and fresh horseradish ($11) that was very good and a bianca with Fra'Mani salametto and balsamic-braised Treviso chicory ($12) that was excellent with the crust.

          The antipasto platter for two ($14) was really good and sort of reminiscent of Dopo in the wide variety of items: fantastic beet salad with fresh horseradish, garlic panna cotta, collards with pot liquor, shaved fennel and apples with pomegranate seeds, prosciutto, a little toast.

          That was a lot of pizza for two, next time I might order the antipasto and a large salad and get only one pizza.

          Tried five of the six tap wines, the Donkey & Goat ones are particularly good. They were in tumblers, looked like only the beer was in jars.

          They have soft-serve ice cream.

          Friendly place. I'm not crazy about the lighting, I don't think the ceilings are high enough for the fixtures they have.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Robert, thanks for the detailed info. Sounds good.

            I'll report back when I've cashed in my Amazon Deal...soon.

            But we want to get to Una Pizza Napoletana and visit Anthony this week, have not been since he moved west...was a frequent visitor when he was in my old 'hood....and still rank him among the best in the country. YMMV....

            1. re: sambamaster

              I'll be very interested in your take on UPN. To my palate, the pie is different than what he served in NY.

              1. re: sambamaster

                I think UPN is one of the best in the area if you like the tender Neapolitan style, but I'm not a big fan of that. I think the pizzas at A16 and Borgo Italia are quite similar, they're cheaper and take reservations.

            2. I finally made it to Benchmark earlier this week, and already want to go back. The flavorful, chewy crust sports perfect char, and each pizza has a different cheese combination, making for a great range of flavors if you’re having several. We had three pies, all of which were excellent:

              Marinated anchovy, parm reg, pecorino, marinara, garlic, red pepper, capers, Castelveltrano olives- that might sound like a lot for a Neapolitan-esque pie, but a careful hand ensured perfect topping distribution. The anchovy was a single, beautiful white fillet placed in the middle of each slice. The pizzaiolo is really paying attention to detail. This was the best pizza I’ve had in quite awhile. I’d go back and get another tonight.

              House made sausage, mozzarella and fresh mozzarella, marinara, parm reg, flamingo peppers, red onion: Again, perfect topping distribution ensured each bite had everything going on. The fresh mozzarella was a nice complement to the slight spiciness of the sausage and peppers. I’d never heard of flamingo peppers before; they were quite mild, small red rings.

              Roasted eggplant, Fra’Mani ham, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, parm reg: The small cubes of eggplant and ribbons of ham were perfectly proportioned. I’m not typically drawn to ham on pizza, but I was glad others at the table lobbied for this one.

              We also had both salads, a well-executed Little Gems Caesar, and a farm salad of cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil, which was probably the best summer salad I’ve had so far this year.

              The Skylark Red Belly Blend (Syrah, Grenache, Carignane) is a very nice wine, well-suited to the full range of flavors at our table.

              Four of us had 2 full salads and 3 pizzas, leaving with a few extra slices and no room for dessert. The slices were still great the next day (side-note on warming slices- I heat a cast-iron pan to medium-high, lay in the slices, cover and turn off the heat, leaving them in there for several minutes before re-melting the cheese briefly in the microwave).

              I had called to ask if reservations were needed, and was assured they weren’t, which was indeed the case- we were there until a little after 9 on a weeknight, and the place remained quite empty throughout our visit.

              Kensington’s off the beaten track, but this is destination pizza.