Lucia’s: A Pizzeria with Heart

It’s hard to imagine life without Neopolitan pizza. Lucky for me, this style of pizza is popular all over the Bay Area so I don’t have to travel to Naples, Italy to enjoy it. In my eyes, to master this pizza you would need a wood burning oven, authentic flour to produce a light chewy dough, and fresh ingredients including a high quality tomato sauce.  
Lucia’s Pizzeria in Downtown Berkeley opened late last year and serves Neopolitan pizza. I was invited to dine there a couple of months ago with a friend. We met with co-owner Alessandro Uccelli and his wife Elizabetha who were friendly and hospitable as soon as we walked through the door.  

We started with the Vegetarian Fritto Misto with lemon mint aioli. Fritto misto translates to mixed fry and is essentially the Italian version of Japanese tempura. Lucia’s version includes zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, sweet potato, red pepper, and sage leaves. The batter was coated well to keep a solid crisp on the vegetables. The assortment of vegetables provided a fun way to start the meal.
My friend and I agreed to share the Kale Salad which had very few ingredients – kale, walnuts, and pecorino cheese. It was dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and a hint of sriracha. I thought the salad was a nice companion with the fried vegetables. I enjoyed the simplicity and the nutty flavor.
The pasta of the day was Gnocchi Bolognese. Elizabetha made the pasta and Alessandro made the sauce bringing together a rich and hearty combination. These handmade potato dumplings were truly a family affair.  
Of course we had to order a pizza. We ordered the Lips of Fire, which is a basic Margherita pizza with added toppings of hot soppressata, ghost peppers, and maple syrup. Taking about 70 seconds to cook in the wood burning oven imported from Naples, the pizza came out with signature blistering bubbles. The flour and tomatoes they use are from Compania, Italy.  Biting into a slice, I enjoyed the flavors and heat. As I the neared the end of the slice, I was delighted with the soft chewy texture. That’s amore!
For dessert we got the housemade cannoli with ricotta and chocolate chips. It came out room temperature and I think if the filling was colder I would’ve enjoyed it much more.
Lucia’s offers Double 8 Dairy, a local buffalo milk gelato made in Petaluma. I asked if I could have a small taste of it and it was absolutely delicious. I visited their website and am impressed by their list of restaurants that serve their gelato.
Lucia’s is a pizzeria with heart. The owners are genuine and that shows in the food, service, and the overall experience.


British Invasion: The Growler’s Arm

The Growler’s Arm opened in October 2014 serving British fare in the Glenview neighborhood in Oakland. I have had two dinners at the Growler’s Arm in the past couple of months, getting a good sampling of the food from their daily changing menu.

  On one evening, my friends and I arrived early and previewed a few items from their happy hour menu. Above their bar, sits a line of beautiful vegetables that are in the process of being canned. For this reason alone, we had to order the pot of house pickles. I would say the pickles are fun to eat and can hold a conversation on its own.  
 The cheese board came with a selection of three cheeses – a hard cheddar, a firm goat gouda, and the Vermont Creamery Coupole, a soft aged goat cheese. They were well complimented with raw honeycomb and nuts.
 Fish and chips are also available on their bar menu so we decided to give it a try. What I look for in a good fish and chip is a crispy coating, a soft tender piece of fresh fish, and not greasy. These passed the test. I especially enjoyed the fries. Sharing this was a bit of a tease. (Note to self, come back for a pint and fish and chips.)
 We made our way to the dinner menu and shared the pan fried bubble and squeak, a traditional English dish made from leftover potatoes and vegetables. With the added smoked bacon, broad beans, and creme fraiche, this dish had elevated itself.
 I was less impressed with the warm potato salad with cracklings and soft boiled egg. Between having too many potato dishes and tasting mustard, I could forgo this dish.

 A favorite of ours was the house corned beef with Savoy cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and horseradish sauce. I scraped off most of the sauce. So if you don’t already know, I am not a fan of the mustard seed family which includes wasabi and horseradish. I’ve never had corned beef in a broth and it was excellent. The meat was moist and the flavor was well balanced.  

 We shared two deserts. One was the Growler’s Mess which is their take on the Eton Mess. I did not like the consistency of the meringue. It was hard and crunchy. For this dessert, I prefer a chewy meringue to go with the textures of the ice cream and berries.
 Our second dessert was the chocolate fondant with ice cream and chocolate sauce. It was nice to end the meal with some chocolate, but it was nothing to write home about.

  I went back to The Growler’s Arm and tried some different things with a side of chips. Did I mention they serve yummy fries?  This time we ordered the house cured meats and terrines. It came with pork liver, potted duck and fig jam, pork head terrine, and air dry-cured sausages with pickles. I may have enjoyed these more than my friends so it was plentiful. If I had a choice of these or the cheese platter, I would probably pick the cheese.

 We ordered a salad of grilled peach, blue cheese, honey, and sweet lettuces that was delicious. Although everything was placed separately, it came together in a harmonious way.

 It happened to be Tasty Tuesday so we ordered their 3 course meal. We started with a sweet corn soup. With some of the best corn in the world from Brentwood, California, I can’t imagine a tastier version of this soup anywhere.
 The main entrée was a flat iron steak with corn fritters, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. It was perfectly cooked to a medium rare in their wood fire oven.  
 The dessert was a summer berry trifle. Again, their desserts could use some improvement.  
 The additional entree we ordered that I enjoyed was the wood oven roasted half chicken with a frisée salad, roasted spring onions, cucumbers, and a pickled cucumber dressing. This was a fantastic chicken dish and great for sharing. It was moist and flavorful.  
 The Growler’s Arm is described as charming pub meets elegant restaurant. I agree that it is somewhere in between. If you are looking to try something different, I would recommend The Growler’s Arm. They serve quality food in a friendly environment.  The restaurant gives you different opportunities to try them out. (i.e. Happy hour, Tasty Tuesday)  And for your convenience, you can make a reservation through Open Table.

The Forge Pizza Works For Me

The Forge Pizza located in Jack London Square in Oakland opened this past Tuesday. It was highly anticipated for me because I love pizza and I love Jack London Square.

I checked it out on Friday after work with a group of friends. We got their early and got a nice comfortable booth to sit in. With lots of local beers to choose from, I had Oakland’s Linden Street Town Lager while one of my friends had Mendocino’s Scrimshaw Pilsner. I had a tough week at work so guess who had the 20 oz?

We started with a couple appetizers, crispy cheese curds and potato skins. Both were excellent. The cheese curds were battered and deep fried and came with tomato sauce to dip. It tasted like a lighter version of mozzarella sticks. The potato skins were wood oven baked topped with guanciale and taleggio cheese whiz. I would describe it as mini versions of twice baked potatoes. They were delish!

We also ordered a salad. Sometimes ordering a salad makes you feel like your meal is a little healthier. The arugula salad came with citrus, frisee, pecorino, parsnip ribbons, and honey vinaigrette. It was an interesting combination that worked well.

The first pizza we had was the margherita which had fresh pulled mozzarella, tomato sauce, and grana. I always like to have a simple pizza to start so you can assess the pizza and its crust. Thin crust pizza in Forge’s wood iron oven is a winner.

Our second pizza needed some meat so we went with the pepperoni. When it came out we thought we had the wrong pizza because it looked like it was topped with sausage. The waitress said it was correct as it was homemade pepperoni. I am glad it was not sent back because the flavor of the pepperoni was so good.

For dessert, we had two items. The first one was the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel. We had some mixed reviews. Not everyone liked it, but I did. There was a sweet, salty, and smokey flavor that I found intriguing.

The second item was the root beer float. I only had a taste because if I wanted a root beer float, I would’ve ordered it a little earlier in my meal. This would have been a great compliment together with the pizza.

The Forge Pizza was highly anticipated for me and it met all my expectations. I will definitely be back as frequently as I can.

Cafe Reyes: Point Reyes Station

Point Reyes Station is a little town about 35 miles north of San Francisco. I spent this past weekend there for work which is almost two years since my last visit. It was also the last time I wrote about restaurants in the area. Link to Point Reyes/Tomales Bay blog post I complained a little about the pizza I had at Osteria Stellina which warranted a suggestion from a reader about a restaurant called Cafe Reyes which serves great pizza right in town.

From my understanding, Cafe Reyes used to serve Mexican food. In early 2008, they imported a wood fired oven from Italy and began making pizza. To be truthful, I have had Cafe Reyes on my mind for the past two years. Finally, I had lunch there with my colleague. I ordered the butternut squash and asparagus soup to start. This soup had the perfect consistency which was not too thick or thin. The flavors from the vegetables were amazing especially with the added hint of ginger.

My colleague ordered a fresh green salad to start. It was a large salad so she shared some with me. It was a simple salad with few ingredients. It was fresh and basic, but nothing special. The nice thing about both appetizers were that they each came with a small slice of garlicy cheese pizza. This was crispy, chewy, and wonderfully flavored and I was looking forward to the whole pizza that was forthcoming.

We agreed to share a margarita pizza. This is another restaurant that uses 00 flour, the finely ground flour imported from Italy. The crust was delicious, however I was missing a bit of salt on my pie. With the marinara sauce and mozzarella, I was surprised by this. I’ve never had to do this before, but it was a quick fix with the salt shaker. The only shaker I’m used to shaking on pizza is the red pepper shaker. I actually enjoyed the complimentary slice that came with the appetizers much more than the margarita.

We didn’t have dessert this time, but I look forward to going back to Cafe Reyes for a second try. Dessert and a meaty pizza will be on my mind.

Zero Zero Doesn’t Reflect a Rating

Arriving early to a restaurant has its advantages.  As I waited for my Food Companion (FC) to arrive to Zero Zero in San Francisco, I perused the cocktail menu.  I immediately settled for the Pisco Sour remembering a similar drink at Restaurant Camino in Oakland that I enjoyed.  Pisco Sour is a cocktail containing pisco, lemon or lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and bitters.  The bartender has to shake this drink intensely in order to get the egg white to foam.  I thought he did a great job as I watched.  He even decorated the Zero Zero logo using the bitters on top of the foam.

Zero Zero got it’s name from the flour used to make pizza in Naples, Italy.  It refers to how finely ground the flour is.  Zero Zero uses this type of flour to make their pizza and pasta. 

My FC and I agreed to do the sharing thing.  We started with a salad with arugula, beets, avocado, blood orange, radish, in a citrus vinaigrette dressing.  This was simple and began to wet our palettes.

The wood oven roasted baby fava beans came out next.  This dish really shows how hot the wood oven can get since you can eat the shells.  It was topped with breadcrumbs and gremolata, a mixture of flavorful herbs.  It was another good starter.

The sweet pea agnolotti is the pasta dish we agreed on.  It is basically a thin ravioli that is filled with sweet pea and topped with a sauce made of pancetta, Meyer lemon, more sweet pea, and mint.  This was amazing.  The agnolotti was so delicate and basically melted in my mouth.  Must be the zero zero flour.

Our pizza came out next which was the Margherita extra.  It is a normal Margherita with the extra something something being buffalo mozzarella.   The crisp and chewy crust and the flavors of these basic toppings are harmonious.  I didn’t mention that Zero Zero is owned by Chef Bruce Hill who also owns Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur. 

Just like at Pizzeria Picco, you can get Strauss soft serve at Zero Zero.  But here they’ve turned it up a few notches.  You can build your own soft serve sundae. 

We chose vanilla ice cream, a date coffee cake as a base, caramel and toffee toppings, and a side of chamomile poached strawberries.  I was in heaven. 

Between my FC and I, four thumbs up for Zero Zero.