All Roads Lead to A16 Rockridge
I have been a fan of A16 ever since it opened its doors in 2004 in San Francisco’s Marina district. But I may have become an even bigger fan now of its younger sister location, A16 Rockridge in Oakland, which opened in 2013.
That’s because parking is a breeze, especially on an early Sunday evening, as when I visited recently. In contrast, visiting the original location will always involve circling the blocks over and over to hunt for a parking space.
In Oakland, I save time in the car to spend more of it comfortably at my seat in the restaurant, done up in rustic-industrial style with exposed brick walls and duct work on the ceilings.
The restaurant, which takes its name from the highway that spans across Italy from Napoli to Bari, specializes in the food of Campania.
Its wine list is also killer. In fact, Wine Director and Co-Founder Shelley Lindgren won a James Beard Award for it. So when our server recommended a half carafe ($26) of the 2018 Terredora di Paolo “Rosaenovae” Montefusco, Avellino, Campania rose, on the warm summer evening, we knew it would hit the spot. And it did with its pale salmon color, and light, dry, minerally-forward character.
Executive Chef Nicolette Manescalchi oversees both locations of A16, and is regularly at the Oakland one on Thursdays, we were told. While we paid our own tab that night, the kitchen sent out a few items gratis for us to try, including an amuse of thick slices of porky salami, and “Casella’s Prosciutto” ($22). The latter was a huge wooden boards loaded with big slices of proscuitto draped over sweet slices of heirloom melon and plump blackberries, and drizzled with saba, a syrup similar to balsamic but it’s not aged and instead made from cooked-down grape must.
The prosciutto is made from heritage pork by a native Italian who now makes his home and business in New York. It’s leaner than a lot of other prosciutto, giving it a much more pronounced meatier taste. With the quenching sweet melon, it’s truly a match made in culinary heaven.
I can’t get enough of salmon during its summer season, so we had to have the salmon tartar ($16). Lightly seasoned with capers, shallots, and lemon olive oil, the preparation wholeheartedly let the unctuousness of the salmon be the star.
The fried squash blossoms ($17) are some of the biggest you’ll ever enjoy. With a golden, airy tempura-like batter, they are stuffed to the gills with herbed ricotta. Drag one through the pool of zesty tomato salsa crudo to balance the rich cheesiness.
Fried calamari has almost become a cliche. So when you see it roasted ($16) as it is here, you sit up and take notice. The tender Monterey calamari is piled with seaweed from its own waters, as well as creamy, fried corona beans and thin, fried wheels of lemon. It’s a total comfort dish.
The pizzas here are done classic Neapolitan-style — with its puffy, pliable edges charred in spots and its center crisp but still soft enough to fold up. The pizzas arrive at the table uncut, with a fancy pair of scissors to serve yourself.
The Margherita recipe is actually featured in my brand new cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1). The cookbook, out this month, spotlights 41 East Bay Restaurants, including A16 Rockridge.
Topped with the requisite tomato, fresh basil leaves and creamy fior di latte cheese, it’s everything you want in a pizza with just enough sauce and cheese to cover everything but not overwhelm the divine crust that has a subtle fermented taste from the slow proofing of the dough.
I loved how the charcoal-colored squid ink tonnarelli ($23) noodles were tossed with zucchini cut almost like zoodles to mimic the same texture and shape, and lend a garden-freshness and pop of color. Anchovy, capers and chili made this one boldly flavored dish.
Take a satisfying taste of Italy — and stow your car easily — at A16 Rockridge.
Another Taste: A16’s Monday Meatballs