After reading many of the earlier reviews of this restaurant, I decided to give it a try once and for all. The wait at Pizzaiola was quoted at 45 min. which was a bit longer than at nearby Dona Tomas, but it gave my friend and I ample time to enjoy some drinks at the latter's excellent bar. The timing proved to be perfect and after a glass of DT's wonderful Sangria and their awesome Cuba Libre (made with Mexican Coke) plus a bowl of their tasty Guacamole, we sauntered a few doors down and lo and behold, we were the next party called up at Pizzaiolo :)
We opted to go straight for the pizza and eschew the primi and secondi courses. So we ordered the Margherita with Bufala Mozzerella and added some anchovies to make our own Napoletana. We also ordered their pizza with cherry tomatoes, Genoa salami and wild rocket (arugula). With the addition of a side of wild greens sauteed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and some fried polenta with gorgonzola and honey, the only thing missing was some wine. My friend prefers white wine, so we selected a bottle of Muscadet which proved very refreshing and lively, especially against the spicy greens and the salty anchovies.
One of the earlier reviews of Pizzaiolo was critical of the service, so I must state first and foremost that everyone from the hostess to our busboy and server was attentive, competent and quite cordial. Additionally, despite the full to capacity crowd, our food was delivered to our table very quickly and quite hot. We did not have to ask for anything. Leftovers were packed carefully and without asking and our server made a point of calling out to say "goodbye" as we made our way to the door.
Now onto the food! You really have to hand it to us Americans, we have so many iterations of pizza that it boggles the mind. Even here in the bay area we have the luxury of choosing from Zachary's venerable version of deep dish to Zante's Indian version with tandoori chicken and other unique flavors. So, it is with the utmost regard that we prepared to sample pizza true to its Italian origins. Thus it was fitting that I was joined by my friend with whom I first travelled through Italy.
As the pizzas arrived, the aromas and the visual of the wonderfully charred crust evoked memories from a pizzeria that we visited in Florence. The sauce on the Margherita/Napoletana was fresh and naturally sweet from ripe tomatoes, but not tomato paste. It was perfectly complemented by the melted fresh Buffala Mozzerella and torn bits of fresh Basil. The anchovies also benefited from the sparing use of cheese and the high heat of the oven. They were lightly caramelized and blended perfectly with the tomato sauce bringing to mind Puttanesca-ish flavors.
The other pizza was equally splendid dotted with tiny concentrated cherry tomatoes that were wonderfully sweet without being heavy. The genoa salami was a far cry from the glut of mediocre cold cuts on the typical "meat lover's special" in most pizzerias. Finally the addition of fresh greens on top of the pizza was the perfect compliment to the hot charred intensity of flavors fired in the oven. Textures and tastes were in excellent harmony.
The side dishes were definitely second fiddle to the pizzas, but executed with care and aplomb. The polenta was golden and crisp on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside and perfectly complemented with a generous amount of blue veined gorgonzola and sweet honey. The greens were nicely bitter and spicy without an onslaught of garlic, but just the right hint and heat.
Pizzaiolo's pizza has a nearly perfect crust and as proof, I failed to spy any plate, including my own, that had any leftover bits of crust. Indeed, the delightfully charred crispy and chewy crust was somewhat akin to really good Naan and as worthwhile a pursuit as the beloved point of the pizza.
Desserts looked equally well executed, but truthfully neither of us had the room left to sample. Well, I sort of did in ordering an Affagato. It too was a wonderful balance of the rich smokey espresso crema combined with the dense concentration of the vanilla gelato.
Once again, I couldn't have asked for a better experience at Pizzaiolo. The pizza was as close to perfect as I am likely to find on this continent. The service was friendly and attentive; certainly a notch higher than I have had on any visit to Oliveto's. I eagerly await my return trip so I can try their pastas and the ravioli in particular.