A16 Rockridge threw open its new roll-up door on Saturday night, bringing a soupçon of San Francisco’s dining flair to College Avenue.
The countdown to launch day was not without its moments, said co-owner Victoria Libin, speaking on opening day. But even an exploding water heater that had to be replaced in haste last week did not delay the much anticipated debut.
As previously reported, this is the third venture for Libin and Shelley Lindgren (who is also the restaurant’s wine director), who already run A16 and SPQR in the city.
Executive chef Rocky Maselli has devised a menu focused on dishes you might find in the coastal regions surrounding Italy’s A16 highway — which could mean crispy fried lamb sweetbreads, oysters and sea urchin, or roasted calamari.
Or it could mean pizza. Two wood-burning ovens are in constant use at the restaurant, one for meat and fish, and the gargantuan Stefano Ferrara hand-made one reserved for pizzas — it’s the gold standard among pizza ovens according to Maselli. From there will emanate delights such as the Montanara Rockridge — lightly fried dough, smoky tomato sauce, burrata and basil — and the Rachetta, a racquet shaped pie with a stuffed handle, with ricotta, pecorino, fior di latte, artichokes, green olives and basil.
Maselli, who earned his pizzaiolo chops in Naples, said the Neapolitan-style pizzas will take no more than 90 seconds to cook.
[See the A16 Rockridge menu.]
Lindgren has created a 1,500-bottle wine cellar highlighting Southern Italian varietals and East Bay produced wines. She and her husband, San Francisco bar owner Greg Lindgren, along with the A16 team, collaborated on the cocktail menu, which features carefully crafted Italian aperitivos, amaros, and digestivos, as well as local beers from Oakland’s Linden Street Brewery, among others.
The design is airy and open-plan — with whitewashed brick walls and exposed roof rafters, a 20-foot white marble bar counter, pale walls contrasting with dark brown tables and leather banquettes, as well as works by San Francisco artist Kelly Tunstall.
Libin said they were motivated to open in the East Bay because many of their investors live here, as do staff they work with in San Francisco. (A16 Rockridge will employ about 50 people.)
“We thought we could fill a niche here,” she said.
The fact that the restaurant is unwittingly part of a renewed focus on good food in an area already bursting with eateries can only be a good thing, she adds. Commis’ James Syhabout is due to open Box & Bells in the old Somerset space this year, recent arrivals include the Ramen Shop and Jules Thin Crust; and a new spot called Bourbon and Beef is slated to take over the long vacant space last occupied by the Water Lounge, and before that Pearl, at 5634 College Avenue.
“You always want critical mass,” said Libin. “The more restaurants the better.”
Asked whether there might be such a thing as too many pizza places (the East Bay has seen a flurry of new openings of late, including Forge in Jack London Square, Build and Sliver in downtown Berkeley, and Benchmark in Kensington) Libin replied, modestly, that she likes to think A16 started the trend ten years ago. “We take pizza — and Neapolitan pizza in particular — seriously,” she said. And then she added: “Thanks to Rocky we have a few tricks up our sleeve.”
A16 Rockridge is at 5356 College Avenue, Oakland. The restaurant is serving dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:30-10 p.m., and Sunday 5-10 p.m. The bar serves pizza and light bar bites Sunday through Wednesday from 5-11 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m.-1:00 a.m. For details, follow A16 Rockridge on Facebook, or at on Twitter at @A16Rockridge.
Sneak peek: Build, Berkeley’s ambitious new pizzeria [04.05.13]
Commis’ James Syhabout previews Box & Bells [02.22.13]
Thin-crust pizza restaurant to open in Rockridge [01.10.13]
Benchmark: Wood-fired pizza comes to Kensington [12.11.12]
New Roman-style pizzeria to open in downtown Berkeley [11.16.12]
The best pizza in Berkeley? Our readers have decided [06.10.11]