Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dish on Dining: Marzano on College

This is the second part of a two-part review of the dual restaurant concept Garibaldis and Marzano.

Fresh Pizza the Star of this Concept
5356 College Ave., Oakland
Rockridge neighborhood
PH: 510.595.4058
Open nightly for dinner (with late night happy hour from 10 p.m. to midnight)
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Web site

Thin-crust pizza continues to trample the food competition as every new pizzeria concept opening up in this economy seems to attract major crowds. It doesn’t hurt when you put out some good pie, too.

Marzano is among the pizza restaurants that have garnered a lot of buzz. When it first opened in Oakland’s Glenview neighborhood, it drew raves. So much so that the owners squeezed a second Marzano restaurant into its established Garibaldis in the Rockridge neighborhood.

Of the two concepts, Marzano offers up the casual, family-style cuisine with an emphasis on quality ingredients. The tiny restaurant (opened up on the side of the once impressive Garibaldis bar) is packed with tiny candlelit tables and is warmed by the bright pizza oven in the back.

Whenever I visited Marzano, the restaurant was often packed soon after the doors opened at 5 p.m. Since it features pizza, Marzano is often filled with families, usually gathered around the communal table by the window.

The menu by Chef Robert Holt features nearly a dozen varieties of pizzas, but also an impressive list of antipasti, insalate and a few meaty entrées. Each item using fresh seasonal ingredients is offered up in a rustic Italian style.

On my first visit, drunk on a couple of vodka martinis, I focused on a few small bites, starting with the Maine Sweet Shrimp with Citrus ($10). This simple plate of meaty bay shrimp is served with blood oranges and simply dressed with olive oil. It was a clean and refreshing dish that spotlighted the substantial quality of the shrimp.

Thinking you can’t go wrong with meatballs in an Italian restaurant, I ordered the Wood-fire Roasted Meatballs ($10), which includes three meatballs served in a sizzling plancha plate. The meatballs, unfortunately, were dense and slightly rubbery, which pretty much throws off the entire dish despite the decent tomato sauce.

I ended with the Seasonal Chopped Salad ($11), which was a huge plate of the season’s vegetables like radish and radicchio, complemented with lots of fortina cheese chunks and crispy pancetta. The salad was dressed in a red wine vinaigrette. This was a very healthy choice, except for the overdose of fortina cheese, which I have to say is not my favorite because of its rubbery texture and mild flavor.

I had to come back to test out Marzano’s pizza, so on another night I returned sitting conveniently right in front of the wood-fire oven in the back. There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to pizza, but I settled on the Calamari ($14) pizza.

The beautiful pizza base of spicy tomato and gremolata came topped with basically a salad of celery hearts, cherry tomatoes, radicchio and pecorino. I had my reservations about the pizza because I felt many of the dishes I had in my last visit were nice but nothing spectacular. But from my first bite of the thin, crispy pizza, I was in love.

I love the burst of flavors and freshness from the spicy sauce to the fresh crunchy vegetables. This isn’t the most easy pizza to eat, and the few pieces of calamari were hidden in the vegetables, but it was a most satisfying pizza.

There’s something about having a lot of toppings on your pizza. If you like that (as I do), then you’ll fall in love with the creativity of Marzano’s pizzas. But if you like a plain simple pizza, you can still get that with the margherita and napoletana, also on the menu.

I ended the night with dessert, and Marzano’s classic Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta ($9) with seasonal citrus. The thick-yet-creamy panna cotta had a strong almond flavor that was offset by the fresh pieces of oranges strewn around the plate.

Side note: The thin bread sticks offered up when you sit down are amazingly cheesy and fun to eat. Just like the great scones offered up at brunch over on the Garibaldis side, these free starters signal a great start at Marzano.

Marzano has been embraced by the Rockridge neighborhood, even though the area already has two established pizza restaurants. Marzano does an adequate job with the various dishes but it really shines in the pizza arena (which you can also order for take out).

It's hard to say which restaurant is better? Garibaldis or Marzano. It's like when people ask me where do I like living more, San Francisco or New York? Both places are different and I like different things about the two. The same goes with Garibaldis and Marzano. They offer different experiences, and lucky for me they're both in one spot a few minutes from my home.

For my review of Garibaldis, click here.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (working the wood-fire pizza)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Marzano on College on Urbanspoon

Other pizza reviews:
Starbelly: "Beretta Clones Itself in the Castro"
Pizzeria Pico: "Cozy Pies in North County"
Gialina Pizzeria: "The Best Pizza ... at least in Glen Park"


JulieK said...

Loved your reviews better than te one in the SF Chron. Thanks!

Handy said...

place and dishes sounds good hope to try it

foodhoe said...

hmmm, who is robert holt? the calamari pizza sounds like a winner, I want some!

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, what do you mean? Robert Holt is the chef.

Hungry Hedonist said...

NYC forever. Not to be biased or anything haha.