By Angela Lazear. Cross-posted from the East Bay Food Scene.

We’ve all had them. Distractions life throws at us that really take us out of our zone. Missed deadlines, days so busy you can’t think. Seems my own life has been throwing me a few of these unwanted road blocks lately. Too much to do, too little time, and everything is an emergency. But there’s a solution, and yes, it’s my solution to everything. Food. The right place, the right people. I mean, we all gotta eat, right?

Recently I was a guest at the College Avenue branch of A16, San Francisco’s fantastic little “pizza place that could.” Simple recipes, fresh local ingredients, all colliding together to tantalize patrons with real down home Italian flavors in the most modern of settings and presentation. A very Italian brand of old school meets uptown chic. Brava!

What is the perfect recipe for finding that peace of mind, that remains so elusive in this overly-connected-constantly-stimulated-never-have-a-minute-to-yourself world? Simplicity. Of space. Of flavor. Of experience. We all know that can be harder to find that it sounds. Everyone is competing for our palates with such tantalizing offerings, so much so that merely the idea of all the choices offered us in food is somewhat overwhelming. Never fear, that’s why you have me to run around and sample everything out there in advance, so you can know where you’ll find what you may be in the mood for. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, you can get what you need.

A16: Cocktails

Cocktails and Italian toast

Just stepping in the door at the A16 eatery in Oakland was exhilarating. Not overly stimulating or jarring, the restaurant’s interior is welcoming in a classically Italian way, vibrating with life, but familiar and honest as Nonna’s kitchen. There is a lovely hopping bar to the right with a warm, spacious dining area on the left, which overlooks a curved sweep of open kitchen, whose centerpiece is a magnificently tiled wood-burning oven. The wafting scents of baking pizza immediately tantalize. I was transported back to the old country without feeling as though I’d been dropped all the way back in Ancient Rome itself. Modern shapes and colors remind one that they are very much in the present. The restaurant is in the former Garibaldi’s turned Garibaldi’s/Marzano, turned Hudson — and the updated digs indicate the current owners have figured out the space.

The food, however, now there’s where the real magic happens. We were treated to a sampling of just about everything on the menu, with an emphasis on the Chef’s special appetizers. It was early fall, so the bounties of the summer harvest had not quite vanished. After a couple of well-mixed and mightily creative cocktails, we began with a heavenly burrata. Creamy, fluffy and delicate, the creamy cheese was topped with a small mountain of ripe, sweet end-of-summer cherry tomatoes in hues of berry, sunset and plum, each one as fragrant and sweet as its appearance might suggest. The rich, liquid gold of extra virgin olive oil drizzled over every bite with a measured hand lent a wonderful expansion of harvest flavor to the simple tomatoes and cheese, without drowning out any of their natural goodness. If you haven’t ever had a good burrata, you might want to start with that. Only a few places do it this well and frankly, once you’ve had it done right, it’s like good sex. You can never go back.

A16: Burrata

Blissful burrata & sunset-colored cherry tomatoes

Chef Rocky Maselli generously had the wait staff bring us two lovely additional treats, the first a dish of delicately handled fresh cucumber, in a simple salad preparation, the second a deft and flavorful dish of chilled meat terrine with leafy greens. Each was superb. The flavors of the ingredients were the stars of each dish. So simple yet SO very memorable. That’s really the secret to great cooking. And yes, I know I sound like a judge on one of your favorite Food Network shows, but when you actually experience it, you know it to be true.

A16: Squash

Fried Squash Blossoms and Meyer Lemons

These verdant delights were followed by a lovely fried squash blossom appetizer that arrived atop vibrant slivers of fragrant Meyer lemon. Is there anything like the smell of warm lemon? Yes, the taste of same with a good fried bit of something wonderful. Next came the piece-de-resistance of the food foreplay: a bright green orecchiette made with friarelli and senise peppers and topped with a crispy sprinkling of lamb sausage. The bright green pasta had the acidic bite of citrus, and the fatty crunchy sausage gave a beautiful contrast. Earth and sunshine, married on a plate. The meal was three months ago and I can still taste this dish.

A16: Orecchiette

Orecchiette of Friarelli Peppers and Lamb Sausage

The pizza we ordered was the Montanara Rockridge, billed as containing “lightly fried dough, smoky tomato sauce, burrata, basil,” but everyone knows a good pizza is made even better by personalization. We added the optional prosciutto and a fried egg. The pie was savory, perfectly toothsome and had the lovely thin crust I’ve grown so fond of. The egg melted into the cheese and ran along the meat, caressing it with my favorite form of natural gravy, soft-cooked egg yolk.

A16: Pizza

Pizza Slice with Egg!

The wine list is extensive and extensively Italian, which these days is much to my liking. I’m all about a good Barolo. The wait staff is solicitous, friendly and knowledgeable, and the pastry chef knows their trade, as was evidenced by the trio of chocolate atop a generous pool of molten caramel. Add in the mixologist magicians behind the bar, and A16 in Rockridge is the perfect recipe for an exceptional meal that will bring you some peace of mind after a hurried, stressful day. Or soothe a particular craving for a mind-blowing piece of pizza. Whichever floats your boat in the moment.

As always, I suggest you experience it for yourself. So check it out, and Buon Appetito!

A16: Chocolate

Chocolate Trio with Caramel

A16 Restaurant Oakland
5356 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 768-8003

About The Author

Angela F. Lazear is an Oakland native and the author of EAST BAY FOOD SCENE: Essays on the Ritual of Dining ( Launched in 2007, East Bay Food Scene was established to pay homage to Oakland’s fascinating history, while chronicling the city’s rebirth through a vibrant, ever-changing landscape of food offerings. Many of Angela’s fondest childhood memories involve accompanying her grandparents to Oakland’s finest restaurants and sitting with them at the “grownup” table. Twice a month her grandparents would take her out for shrimp cocktail and filet of sole, at what was then The Sea Wolf, on Jack London Square. It was on these occasions that Angela discovered that collective dining brought with it the opportunity to make lasting memories. To this day, a perfect “old school” shrimp cocktail will bring to mind one of her grandfather’s fascinating and colorful stories of Prohibition, bootleggers, and run-ins with “wise-guys” seeking to get alcohol to the masses. These colorful stories were a kind of live theater. When Oakland began its dining renaissance, Angela saw an opportunity to honor both her family’s legacy and the city of her birth. Contrasting Oakland’s past to its present, her essays focus on how sharing great food experiences with loved ones can enrich one’s life immeasurably. Food is more than sustenance, it serves as a landmark for recalled experiences with loved ones and family. It is this connection between food and family that drives Angela to experience and chronicle the current generation of chefs and restaurateurs, as they re-invent cuisine and elevate it to an art form. Her mission is to share with her readers the stories of an Oakland that was, and to connect them to the Oakland that is becoming, that its inhabitants might remain in touch with the City’s past, as they inevitably meet with its promising future. The ritual of dining is an experience so entrenched in our collective personal history that we run the risk of missing the point if we fail to savor the experience as much as we do the myriad of flavors. Each morsel has the ability, at a later date, to recall moments from our past as vividly to the senses as if actually captured on film. A self-titled “Philosophoodie,” she would encourage her readers to savor every bite as it comes, take the time to engage with one another over every meal, and “make a lasting memory of your own.” Twitter: @foodaprecianado; Instagram: Foodapprecianado Facebook: EastBayFoodScene

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