Oak & Rye and Oh, Those Pies!
It’s taken me nearly a year to finally make it to Oak & Rye, the much lauded pizza joint in downtown Los Gatos. But it was well worth the wait.
You see, the restaurant does not take reservations unless you come with an army of 10 people. That means you have to play the waiting game. And given how popular the place is, the wait can be extensive.
But finally, I cleared my schedule, and arrived with my husband around 5:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday. Good thing we got there when we did, too, because while we were seated immediately, a mere half hour later the place was packed.
It’s easy to see why. It’s a loud, lively place with creative cocktails and a menu sure to please most any palate. It’s got an idiosyncratic vibe, what with its framed vintage album covers from the Blues Brothers and Culture Club on the wall, not to mention a gleaming bronze boar head mounted as if it’s keeping an eye on the kitchen.
Our table was right next to the open kitchen, whose centerpiece is the copper mosaic wood-fired oven.
The space was the former Restaurant James Randall, which was run by Chef Ross Hanson and his mom, Brenda Hammond. Last fall, they decided to renovate and regroup. The result is Oak & Rye, where Hanson handles all the non-pizza food, while Angelo Womack, formerly the pizza maker at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, mans the pizza oven. Womack is engaged to Dana Bunker, who worked at Mario Batali’s pizza palace, Otto in New York. Bunker just happens to be Hanson’s sister, too, so Oak & Rye remains a place very much all in the family.
My husband and I, who paid our own tab, settled in with a cocktail. A Moscow Mule ($10) for me, which was served in the classic copper cup. Made with vodka, plenty of lime and house-made ginger beer, it packed a nice tickle of heat on the back of the throat. My husband likened it to an adult lemonade. He opted for a Sidecar ($10), which was citrusy, smooth, just boozy enough and served prettily in a sugar-rimmed glass.
I’m never one to shy away from carbs, so for the starters, we opted for pasta before the pizzas. I know, I can’t help myself.
The gnocchi ($10) brought a small portion of hand-made pasta dumplings that weren’t the most ethereal I’d ever had, but plenty pillowy in texture. House-made sausage nuggets possessed a nice wallop of flavor.
The tagliatelle ($14) was fortified with oxtail, creating a quite beefy tasting dish with a pronounced sweetness from carrots and tomatoes. Romano beans added color and crunch.
The pizzas possess flavorful crusts. You can taste a smidge of salt in the crust, too, which I really appreciate, as it’s a sign of just how well it’s seasoned. The crusts are quite light and airy. While crisp, these are not crusts that will snap or crackle when you bite into them.
The “Field of Greens” ($15) is like a salad atop a pizza. Microgreens from Campbell’s Ecopia Farms get scattered over a bed of melty mozzarella. Lemon, olive oil and a shower of finely grated Parmigiano crown it. The greens are so deeply flavored on their own that they make this pizza special.
If this state is going to ever get rebooted, I want it to come back exactly like the “California 2.0” ($15). It’s a riff on Wolfgang Puck’s famous smoked salmon pizza. Only here, you get super moist chunks of fresh salmon — and a lot of them, too. A smear of dill aioli adds richness. Arugula, onions and capers add freshness and piquant saltiness. Think of it as a lox bagel in pizza form. Who wouldn’t love that?
Desserts are limited. There’s a choice of two, so I went with the chocolate pot de creme ($8) with whipped cream.
The deeply chocolate-y, pudding-like dessert is a classic rendition, one so thick and creamy, you can’t help but finish it, even if you’ve had your share of pizza already.
The bathroom is worth a mention. Don’t think you’re seeing things when you walk in to find it illuminated with black light and decorated with a neon pizza sign over the doorway. The kicker is the old-school small TV perched on a table, which apparently plays an assortment of old movie videos. There’s a “Do Not Touch” sign next to it, in case you’re tempted to swap out one video for another. But hey, when “The Princess Bride” is playing, how can you go wrong?
Which is kind of like Oak & Rye overall — not much wrong and a whole lot good in all the right places.
More Los Gatos Places to Try: The Lexington House
And: Hult’s Restaurant
And: Enoteca La Storia
And: Dio Deka
And: Nick’s on Main
Plus More Info On: Ecopia Farms