We go to the nearly decade-old A16 in San Francisco quite often since we are big fans of Wine Director/Owner Shelly Lindgren’s Southern Italian wine list and the excellent food. Last May they opened A16 Rockridge (Oakland) and hired Bay Area native Executive Chef Rocky Maselli, who spent the last 15 years cooking in Oregon to helm the Southern Italian fare kitchen. Prior to his homecoming, Maselli went to Naples earlier this year to earn his pizzaiolo certification.
We were intrigued about the opening of A16 in Rockridge since they were going to have something the original Marina version doesn’t: a bar with a full liquor license. Lindgren, along with her husband Greg (owner of 15 Romolo and Rye) and Head Bartender Aiden Hansen, created a bar program primarily based on Italian spirits such as Grappa and Amaro. Since A16 Rockridge is close to a BART station, we thought it might be just as easy to get there as it would to the original location since we wouldn’t need to find parking (which can be difficult in the Marina).
After a 25 minute BART ride from the Mission, we made our way to A16 in time for our reservation. Fortunately we had a reservation, since the bar seats seem like a difficult spot to get. We figured we could get a pre-dinner drink at the bar anyway, but noticed that their bartenders don’t seem to serve people not seated directly at the bar. Luckily the hostess volunteered to take our drink orders, but we didn’t get the drinks until we were seated. They were about 30 minutes late in seating us for the reservation, which was possibly caused by having at least two different hostesses, and we apparently had checked in with the wrong one.
We’ll chalk it up to newness, but hopefully they will work out those kinks. In either case, the Giusto (Bertagnolli Grappino, Campari, Punt e Mes) and the Seventh Circle (Rye, Campari, Calabrese chili, lemon, honey) cocktails were definitely worth the wait. The Rye drink with the slight hint of hot peppers was refreshing, and the Negroni derivative made with Grappa in place of Gin and a charred citrus served as an excellent apperitivo. Click here to read about how they came up with the “right/correct” (giusto) Negroni to serve at A16:
Their menu is separated out into Crudo (raw), Spuntino, Antipasto, Primo, Pizza, Secondo and Contorni (side), each with about five or six items. We started with the Fried Ascolane Olives since it was a great pair with cocktails:
Similar to the Marina location and also their sister restaurant SPQR, Southern Italian wines can be ordered by the carafe, and we decided to order a food friendly Greco di Tufo to drink with our starter items:
Also from the Spuntino section, we ordered the Fried Friarelli + Calabrian Chili peppers. The Napoli peppers were very similar to Padron peppers, but none of these distinctively sweet peppers were spicy. A hint of spice was added in by the use of Calabrian chili oil, but we would not have minded if they had more spiciness:
Our last of the Spuntino dishes were the Braised Baccala Polpettine + Tomato. The fish “meatballs” were quite good and paired nicely with the Greco di Tufo:
We ordered the Mendocino Sea Urchin from the Crudo section since we are big fans of uni. Several deliciously fat lobes of urchin were served over thin cucumber slices and mizuna leaves in a lemon and oil dressing:
We moved on to red wine and ordered a bottle of Paolo Cali Manene Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Cerasuolo is a Sicilian blend made of two grapes that can be challenging when drank on their own: Nero d’Avola, which can be too inky, and Frappato, which is much too soft for our taste. But something special happens when these are blended in the traditional 60/40 ratio, and the result is a balanced wine that pairs well with food is also enjoyable on its own:
The bread service included slices from three different kinds of loaves with a peppery-great olive oil dip:
The Chef’s Antipasti Selection changes daily, and on this night included marinated local anchovies, a fritter and a tuna conserva salad:
After all of those starters, we decided to order a pizza as our last dish. Mostly because we saw a rare Naples style pizza that we haven’t seen elsewhere: the Montanara Rockridge. It is made with lightly fried dough, “smoky” tomato sauce, Burrata cheese and basil. They had five other traditional Naples-style pizzas, but for us, the chance to try a fried pizza was clear. Prosciutto, eggs and arugula toppings are available for an additional charge for each item. Since this was our main dish, we splurged and ordered all three:
We were aware of a few places in New York that started serving this type of fried pizza about two years ago, but this was the first time we had seen it on a menu anywhere in the Bay Area. To slice it up into individual portions, they provide a handy pair of scissors:
The crowds at both locations are noticeably different. With two distinct executive chefs serving up Southern Italian fare at both A16s, they offer very different dining experiences. There is a third A16 location in Tokyo, but that’s not as easy for us to get to, so we’ll stick to these two. At this point, we can’t really say that one will replace the other for us; however, the fried Montanara pizza is so good that it’s definitely worth crossing the bridge for. It’s really good to have options.