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A90 - Berkeley [now "Build"]

The Chron reported last week that a Roman-style pizza place called A90 (for the Grande Raccordo Anulare that rings Rome) will be opening in the former Pasand space. Chef is coming from Tony Gemignani's Pizza Rock Sacramento.

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  1. Now they're going to call it Build: Pizzeria Roma. Diners will "build" their own pies a la Geoff Deetz's old California Topless Pizza.


    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Signs in the windows say help wanted and opening in April. Ad on Craig's List says 60 open positions so I guess the place is big.


      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Berkeleyside has a long preview with photos. One of the owners lived in Rome and promises thin crust like they do there. 14 wines and 16 beers on tap. Hand-cut ice cubes. Arancini. They plan to open next weekend.


        1. Signs in windows today say they plan to open April 16, 5:30 pm.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chocolatetartguy

            Ugh, hope you didn't go too far out of your way. Guess TastingTable didn't read the 4/8 update (nor did I till now).

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Not to worry. It's half a block from my office. I was just walking past on a return trip from visiting Ici and Cheeseboard in N Berkeley.

              I peeked into the windows and it looks like they have a lot of work yet to do.

          2. I stopped by for lunch today, but they're understaffed and won't be open for lunch for at least a month (the door was open and the manager was inside). Prices look very good, $7.95 for a base-level tomato and cheese pie.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ernie in berkeley

              The press release landed in my inbox this afternoon. Rattles off lots of names . . . Chef de Cuisine Clara Yun, consulting mixologist is Scott Beattie, beer curator is Brandon Borgel, designer yada yada. A dozen wines on tap. Wood fired oven temperatures range from 800 to 1000 degrees. Otherwise, most everything else has been picked up by other media.

            2. Menu here:


              "100 hour hickory smoked" mozzarella- wonder how that works.

              1. One thing I hadn't heard before in the Inside Scoop post today: it's a prototype for a projected chain. Initial hours Tuesday-Sunday 5:30-10:30.


                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I stopped by on my way home from work, as I was really hungry and surprised to see this new place open. It definitely has the feel of a prototype chain with the walk through the toppings and salad bar, pay, and be seated setup. I initially thought it was pointless, but I didn't like the looks of the (precooked) sausage I had planned on ordering, so I guess the walk-thru has its benefits.
                  I don't know that I would call the pizza Roman-style without prompting (and I spent a semester in Rome in college), but with the subtitle I agree--not as thick and soggy as Neopolitan style, and less yeasted dough as New York style. All in all, I thought it was good but not great. There was very little char on the crust, which could probably have been solved by a bit longer turn in the oven, and as a whole, even though one of my toppings was sopressatta, it was undersalted and tasted much better with the addition of parmesan. Even though I found the crust undersalted and undercooked, my biggest complaint would be the sauce, which was virtually flavorless, but quite wet. My preference in pizza is Roman-style (the wood-oven personal pie kind, not the al taglio (by the cm, cut from a long, thin pizza)) which relies on a fresh (uncooked before the pizza oven) tomato puree with minimal seasonings (certainly not the heavy dried herbs of American pizzas), but this sauce was too watery and flavorless.
                  I will likely be back, as it isn't overly expensive and the employees seem a bit inexperienced, so likely to improve.

                  1. re: ...tm...

                    Do you mean they screwed up their sauce R o s s o,
                    San Marzano tomatoes, cold pressed olive oil, wild dried oregano, sea salt?

                2. They did quite a makeover on the space. Expensive and modern, kind of like Revival or Gather. Also huge. Was there some other business on the north side when Pasand was there? Banquet room(s)?

                  It's sort of two restaurants in one divided by the bar and open kitchen. On the kitchen side, it's cafeteria-style, order your pizza and salad at the counter, pay at the cash register, self-serve soft drink dispenser, I guess they bring the pizza to your table? On the bar side, where we sat, there's table service, though you still need to get in the cafeteria line to order pizza. Decor and seating are much nicer on the bar side.

                  The pizza looks Roman-style, very thin, nice char from the wood oven, which is around 800 degrees so the pies cook in ~90 seconds. The flavor didn't remind me of Rome the way the pies at BaoNecci and Ideale do, maybe they don't use as high-quality fresh mozzarella.

                  The DIY aspect seems to me highly problematic in several ways. (1) It would be easy to order too many toppings and end up with a soggy pie: my dining companion was going to get mushroom, artichoke hearts, and sausage, but after the first two there wasn't really room for more, plus the sausage didn't look very appetizing. The guy ahead of me ordered so many things that his pie was surely going to be a sloppy mess. (2) The $1 per item pricing means no prosciutto or other expensive toppings. (3) It's hard to judge which ingredients will work well together. I got Molinari pepperoni (they also have Milan brand "uncured") and Calabrian chiles, but the latter were too sour and somewhat overwhelemed the dish. I would prefer they offer some specials that you could just order from the waiter, the way the menu suggests you can. If they don't do that, next time I'll keep it very simple.

                  If you want appetizers before the pizza, order and eat them before you put in your pizza order or they'll come after. Ceasar salad was wedges of Romaine, nice. Arancini (which to keep with the Roman theme they should call supplì) were good though served sitting in tomato sauce so they got soggy, would be better to serve the sauce on the side, though if we'd gotten them before the pizza maybe that would not have been a problem.

                  There's nothing Italian about butterscotch pudding, but it was fantastic, very dark caramel flavor, quite an adult version of the dish.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    The "guy in front" effect is a great aspect of this place. The guy in front of me ordered his pizza half and half, and put about 80% of the available toppings on each half. It was EPIC.

                    1. re: hungree

                      How high was the pile of stuff? Seems like that would be an expensive, soggy mess.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        The operative word is definitely "high." I bet it required a fork and knife. Was probably more of a meat salad with soft pizza crust croutons by the time he got midway through.

                        The staff was totally egging him on, saying things like "no worries, that's what you're supposed to do" when he kept changing his mind / asking for more.

                        This place will likely attract the "Chipotle hacker" crowd, until they realize they are paying through the nose.

                        1. re: hungree

                          Ugh. That's what they did at Freebirds. And they were so enthusiastic about it! But my burrito was a confused mess and so was I. I don't like this trend.

                      2. re: hungree

                        That does remind me of the old California Topless place, where you helped yourself to the toppings, all-you-can-pile-up, salad-bar style. At least here you might be inhibited by the extra cost.

                        1. re: ernie in berkeley

                          Yea, even with just tomatoes, 2 types of peppers, and garlic, my pie was $14 I think. Quite expensive once you start adding multiple meats, extra cheeses, etc.

                          1. re: hungree

                            I think I'll be quite happy with the base pizza. But they do need salt shakers.

                            1. re: ernie in berkeley

                              Just ask for salt. Lots of places don't put it on the table by default.

                            2. re: hungree

                              Given the style of crust, I think to get a good pizza you should order one or two ingredients max, which would be $9 or $10.

                              If you want a more elaborate combination, go somewhere with a different kind of crust.

                            3. re: ernie in berkeley

                              Did California Topless Pizza not weigh the toppings?

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Ah, they might have. I only went there once, but clearly remember the piled-on toppings, so even with weighing the total price wasn't very high. They had one of those conveyor-belt ovens and some of the pies had to be smooshed down to fit the clearance.

                        2. They're open for lunch now. I had a Rosso with sausage and fresh tomatoes. The crust was good and it did have a nice char, and I appreciated that they go easy on the cheese. But the sausage wasn't very good, I'm afraid, and I agree with the poster who said it was undersalted (and there were no salt shakers on the tables). One pie was perfect for lunch for one person.

                          And yes, if "Roman" implies the al metro style up at PIQ, this wasn't it. Build's crust is very close to Neapolitan, not the fluffy, thicker style at PIQ. Both are good.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ernie in berkeley

                            The Roman style for that kind of round, made-to-order pie is thinner and crisper than Neapolitan. That's pretty much what I got.

                            The other kind of Roman pizza is a taglio or rustica, which is thicker, baked in a sheet pan, and cut in rectangles.

                            There's also pizza bianca, the long, thin focaccia from Forno Campo de' Fiori made famous by Jeffry Steingarten.

                          2. Had a red pizza with cherry tomatoes, mozarella, calabrian peppers, roast garlic, and fresh jalapenos. Crust was really good and thin. Next time will skip the roast garlic and it might be an ideal pizza. The pizzas are almost the perfect serving. Maybe a little bit too big for one person, but half would not be enough. The salad bar looks nice. I would say this has great potential as a chain, but if it didn't have high quality local ingredients that would completely doom it for me. Main reason I liked it was good-to-great quality ingredients. Interesting that there is a white truffle and 100-year old olive oil option if you are in a decadent mood.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: hungree

                              Nice about fresh truffles in season and 100-year-old balsamic, but I'd be more interested in premium-priced prosciutto and sausage.

                            2. I hated the Chipotle assembly line, and the logistics of having it there meant a slightly bizarre and fragmented dining experience that clashed with the relatively upscale interior (sit down, look at a laminated menu, place order, take a Post-It to the line?) but the crust was way, way better than I'd expected (flavorful, great texture, I think it was similar to Forge's) and I loved the pizza I ordered (no sauce, shredded mozzerella, mushrooms, egg, truffled pecorino to finish). I will go back, but I think the cafeteria line seriously detracts from the experience.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: daveena

                                Yeah, I can't see why, if you're in the section with table service, you can't order from the server.

                                1. re: daveena

                                  I bet their long term is a mobile app so you can order from the table.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    Why would they need an app? They have table service for everything but the pizzas.

                                2. Went last night because they were still open at 9:40 (close at 10). They no longer require you to go over to the pizza line if you're sitting in the table-service section.

                                  Caesar salad was pretty good.

                                  Ordered the arancini and the calamari but the fryer was down, so they comped us a salumi plate, not bad.

                                  Piccante special, fresh and smoked mozzarella, pepperoni, pickled Calabrian chiles, roasted mushroom and garlic, tasty.

                                  I think the food's similar, better, and cheaper at Jupiter, but Build's more comfortable and they have a full bar.