Giveaway: Blaze Pizza!

Earlier this year, Blaze Pizza caught fire in the Bay Area, just one of many places where the flames are spreading around the nation. The concept is simple: home-made, thin crust dough; artisanal choose-your-own toppings; 180 seconds in their open-flame oven for “fast fire’d” perfection. Sounds good to me.

blaze pizza2

From the Blaze Pizza facebook page

If it sounds good to you too, and you’re ever around the Fremont area, they’ve kindly given me some gift cards for one free pizza each. Leave a comment below or email me at brocandchoc@gmail.com and you can try your own pizza for free. Yeay!… 

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Review: Il Casaro – New Restaurant

When I first saw Il Casaro as I was walking by a week ago, the menu was posted as a “soft opening menu”. It looked intriguing, so (with difficulty remembering where exactly it was) I returned yesterday. They are now fully open, and I think they’re off to a good start.

Marinara Pizza - $12

Marinara Pizza – $12

The owners of Il Casaro are not new to the area; they’ve owned nearby Vicoletto for some time. Which, oddly, I’ve never been to. Perusing their menu, I would now really like to try their pappardelle with fresh crab meat, among other things. More new restaurants, yeay!

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Review: Capo’s

Extra, Extra, ReadAllAboutIt! Capo’s Now Open in North Beach!

Say that in, like, one of those Dick Tracy Chicago gangster accents to get the full gist of what’s happening in that sentence, y’shee. Capo’s is the newest gig from world champion pizza tosser Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napolitana, one of the famous SF pizza joints (also the owner of Pyzano’s in Castro Valley). This time he’s gone old school with Capo’s — red patent leather booths, brick walls, and mood lighting chandeliers. And a specialization in Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I can dig it.

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Review: Tommaso’s

Two “m”s, one “s”. Tommaso’s. Opened in 1935 (under the name Lupo’s), this Italian eatery has stayed the course for over 75 years donning the same cave-like location and winning awards for their pizza. They’ve got an interesting story and are one of the great restaurant successes of SF.

Margherita pizza from Tommaso’s

When you ask for restaurant recommendation in SF, particularly in North Beach (technically FiDi, but still), you’ll often hear the name Tommaso’s. At least I have. And since I walk by the place every day (no joke) on my way to work, it’s a wonder it’s taken so long for me to go. But alas, now I can say I have experience the great Tommaso’s.

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Review: Ironside

Atmosphere: 4/5  ♦  Service: 3/5  ♦  Food Quality: 4/5  ♦  Value: 3/5
Times Visited: One  ♦ Will I Return?: Sure

Ironside is a hip little restaurant on Second Street between Townsend and Brannan in San Francisco. It’s one of the (great many) places that makes SF what it is in terms of food and ambiance. The decor is a sort of modern wild-west: heavy timber framing (the stairway landing is a 4′ cube of solid wood pieces!) and steel connectors and accents fit in with the polished concrete floors and steel-railed mezzanine. Like other top SF restaurants, it looks great.

The order-at-the counter style adds a bit of casual-ness to your lunch (though they are also open for dinner, and brunch on the weekends), and the paper menu has lots of tasty things to choose from. The list itself is nothing particularly fancy: soups, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches; but the execution is key.

Inside Ironside

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Review: B

Atmosphere: 3/5  ♦  Service: 3/5  ♦  Food Quality: 2/5  ♦  Value: 3/5Times Visited: One  ♦ Will I Return?: Unlikely.

No, my keyboard did not break one letter into writing the title of this post. The proprietors of B Restaurant in Oakland apparently decided their time could be better spent on things other than coming up with an extravagant name for their establishment.

Bar and transom windows at B

B boasts floor to ceiling transom windows which give the space a modern open feeling. You can enjoy the view from the windows while sitting at the contemporary bar that serves a full range of cocktails…. 

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B&C Hits Chicago, Discovers Pizza

Extra, extra, read all about it…

Deep. Dish. Pizza. As a California native, I’ve heard these words before. But until last week, I had never truly tasted them. Cue montage sequence of me packing my bags, flying to Minnesota, enjoying a wedding, then flying to Chicago. When the little airplane follows the arched red line to the dot on the map marked “Chicago”, fade to me enjoying this pizza:

chicago pizza

Chicago deep dish pizza from Giordano’s

Literally the first thing we did in Chicago was seek out Giordano’s Pizza in downtown Chicago, at the recommendation of a friend who used to live there. May we forever be in debt to him for leading us to this heavenly pizza. Like ambrosia on our lips, it enlivened us from the fatigue of our travels, it healed us our ails, and it relieved us of our sins, past, present and future. That’s how good the deep dish pizza is. I’m only hardly exaggerating…. 

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Lanesplitter

Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Sure
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LanesplitterThis pizza place and pub on San Pablo in Berkeley is a cute spot for a good slice of authentic New York pizza (or so they tell me) and a fancy glass of beer. It’s neat because you can actually order just a slice of pizza for yourself, and it doesn’t have to be one of the ones sitting out already made. You can order any slice you want and they’ll make it fresh!

They have a few combos (which don’t seem to be listed on their relatively limited website), one of which is a salad and slice combo. One slice of one topping pizza and a side salad was around $8 and was pretty good. You have to like NY Style pizza, which I have mixed feelings about*, but I think it was good for what it was.

Lanesplitter interior

Lanesplitter Pizza, Berkeley from the front door

The salad was pretty standard, but they do offer home-made dressing which gets bonus points. I’m not actually sure why every restaurant doesn’t do this; it seems so easy and is so much better than pre-made dressings. I digress. I had a slice of their “herbivore” pizza: mushrooms, spinach, olives, and onions. It was pretty good but didn’t really have a “wow” factor. I’d have it again though.  And with the salad, I didn’t feel all “ugh” afterward which can happen with some pizza meals.

Omnivore pizza and salad

Omnivore pizza and salad from Lanesplitter in Berkeley

Friend #1 had Gorgonzola on her pizza and I found myself having major pizza envy.  Friend #2 had one slice of a meaty pizza and one slice of a cheesy pizza–both of which looked pretty good.  We also ordered the breadsticks which I thought were sub-par save the excellent blue cheese dressing they came with to dip in.  My friends thoroughly enjoy the wide selection and relatively cheap price of the beer there, so that’s a draw for lots of folks as well, though it’s not something I’m particularly interested in.

Gorgonzola pizza and salad

Gorgonzola pizza and salad from Lanesplitter in Berkeley

Pizza slices

Meaty and cheesy pizza slices at Lanesplitter

Break sticks

Bread sticks were just ok...blue cheese was good though...

Additionally, the restaurant features art from local artists on the long walls of the main space.  The bartender lady who apparently is also part-owner or something asked me if I have a photography exhibit I’d like to display after she saw me taking pictures.  Actually, she asked me if I was a photographer, to which I was reluctant to answer affirmatively…I was thinking, “sure, if you don’t need any good photos”.  Regardless, she was nice and took my and my friend’s email address (he actually is an artist) and said they’d be looking for new exhibits for next year starting in the fall.  Neat!

Beer and Art

Beer on the bar at Lanesplitter with the current art exhibit on the wall behind.

Overall, I thought Lanesplitter was pretty average, but I liked the atmosphere, the food was pretty good, the bartender was nice, and the company was good.  I would return with no hesitation.

bumper sticker

Sticker on their bar cabinet says it all

*NY pizza seems to be the thin kind that isn’t piled extremely densely with toppings. While I do like thin crust, I do like way too much cheese, as discussed previously on many occasions. So, while I like NY style pizza, I often wish they had covered it more thoroughly with the toppings of my choice.

Lanesplitter Pizza and Pub on Urbanspoon

Jupiter

Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Sure, try to get a seat upstairs though
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Jupiter RestaurantOut of this world pizza and beer?  Maybe.  Jupiter is a restaurant and beerhouse on Shattuck in Berkeley and is extremely popular.  Completely packed on a weekend evening, it can be hard to hear yourself think much less have a nice conversation with friends in this European-style ex-stable building from the 1890’s.

Jupiter Bar

The bar and stair in Jupiter Restaurant in Berkeley.

I’ve actually been here once before, many years ago, though I remember almost nothing of it (and am hence counting this as my first visit).  It’s actually a really cool facility, though it has its flaws.  It’s large–the inside area has seating and a bar downstairs and additional seating upstairs.  The place extends into an outdoor “backyard” that is terraced and paved and holds a large crowd.  The decor is dark wood and high ceilings and it works well for an upscale beer and pizza joint.

Jupiter Terrace

The outdoor seating area at Jupiter Restaurant in Berkeley.

The only problems with this place are these: the acoustics inside are such that when the place is full (which is typically is), you can’t hear anything above the roaring sound of other people’s conversations.  It’s deafening and prevents any sort of reasonable chatter between you and your friends, especially if you’re with a group of people.  Someone mentioned that the upstairs is better for this, which may well be true.  Secondly, the outdoor patio does not have this noise problem so much, but it’s outside, so it’s always freezing.  Because this is Berkeley and if it’s not cold, it’s still cold.  Ok, I’m exaggerating, but how often is there a warm night in Berkeley?  Not often.

Normal people (not me) can probably deal with this and enjoy a pizza outside.  They do the heat lamp thing, so that would help for said normal people.  For me and any other freaks, there is no solution and eating outdoors is banishing us to a fate of chattering teeth.  At least the outdoor yard is fully enclosed by the surrounding buildings so that the wind can’t get in very well.

Anyway, those are two items that someone else may not even notice but that are important to me.  So there, take what you will.

Hummus plate and garlic focaccia

Hummus plate and garlic focaccia from Jupiter Restaurant.

Garlic focaccia

Necessary close-up of the garlic focaccia at Jupiter.

As for the menu, the selection of pizzas is adequate and creative, there are a variety of appetizers and salads for those who don’t feel like ‘za or want to change it up a bit, and the beer is locally made and a big draw for many people.  The hummus plate to share was especially good, and the garlic cheese focaccia was fabulous.  The pizzas looked pro though I only got a chance to try the 4 cheese which was good but not great.  The other pizzas looked even better though.  My salad was well made though for some reason it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  I think this was my own fault though and won’t hold it against them that I didn’t read the menu thoroughly before ordering.

Four cheese pizza

Four cheese pizza from Jupiter.

Pizza

"Io" pizza from Jupiter.

Pizza

Another Jupiter pizza.

Salmon salad

My salmon salad from Jupiter Restaurant.

The service was good and the prices were reasonable; I can certainly see why this place is popular.  Overall, Jupiter has a fun atmosphere, good food selection and quality, and is a fun place for a night out with friends.  My only caution is to beware of the acoustics in the downstairs area if you are with people who you actually want to listen to.

Jupiter on Urbanspoon

A Slice of New York (Pizza)

Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: N/A   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Sure
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The front of A Slice of New York Pizza in San Jose.Ok, how many pizza shops are called New York Pizza?  Seriously, it took me 5 minutes to find this one on Google because even typing “New York Pizza San Jose” into the search comes up with more hits than and oldies radio station.  I realize that many restaurants sell New York style pizza.  Use. A. Different. Name.

I suppose I should apologize to A Slice of NY Pizza for that rant, they deserved it no more than the hordes of other pizza places of the same name.  One of which, mind you, I’ve already reviewed.  But these two are not related, thankfully, despite a flash of panic when we arrived to pick up this latest pie.  Two of our friends who live in San Jose recommended (read: demanded) that we try this pizza place.  And unlike all the other “New York Pizza”s out there, this one is actually called A Slice of New York Pizza, though the distinguishing forewords are in such tiny print on their sign that no one but the hummingbirds are aware of it*.

Apparently this place is sort of legendary.  My friend tells me that lunch is a mob scene during the week and there’s often a line down the sidewalk for a slice.  We were fortunate enough to order take away early on a Saturday evening and avoid that nonsense, but the people speak loud and clear: they love this place.  The company’s site backs it up too – under the general information on the site they list a heaping handful of awards they’ve received.

Pizza slices and pizza makers inside A Slice of New York Pizza in San Jose.

My impressions?  First: the facility is small, there’s virtually no place to eat there (some stools inside and minimal patio seating outside when it’s not rainy/windy), and they don’t deliver.  The shop is not fancy; it’s a run-of-the-mill pizza place smooshed into an old strip mall with junk stapled all over the walls, and a small flock of people scurrying around at light speeds behind the counter.  Nothing special here.  Second: the pizza didn’t look great, I’ll be honest.  The toppings looked a little sparse (too much sauce showing through the cheese upon first glance), the crust looked a little limp, and the pizza box wasn’t even personalized (come on guys, show us your big shots, don’t just tell us!).  Not that any of these thing really matter, necessarily, after you’ve had a bite, but still, the lead up was throwing me off a bit.  Third: It’s not cheap.  Granted, the pizzas are large, but you pay for the hype and, hopefully, the quality, which always makes me wonder which is driving the price up more.

Generic pizza box from A Slice of New York Pizza, San Jose.

When we finally sat down to eat our dinner, I found that I enjoyed it a lot.  We ordered two larges (18-inchers, a good size), one with mushrooms, basil, and garlic, and the other with pesto and cheese.  When we ordered the pesto and cheese one, I think they took that to mean extra cheese (which we didn’t really mean, but I see the cause for confusion), which turned out to be a fabulous choice.  I love that phrase – “extra cheese”.  That’s basically how much cheese I always want.  Never normal cheese, standard cheese, or just plain cheese.  Extra cheese for me please, I love cheese.

Pesto Pizza

Pesto and cheese pizza from A Slice of New York Pizza in San Jose.

I think I’ve made my point on cheese.  The pesto was good, and I was happy to see that they used it as a topping over the cheese rather than as the sauce.  Bread, tomato sauce, cheese, more cheese, pesto.  It was a good combination.  The pesto didn’t knock my socks off, but it was enjoyable.  The other pizza may have been my favorite of the two, however, with the thinly sliced mushrooms, sprinkling of fresh basil, and diced garlic cloves.  I tend to be a toppings glutton, so I could have gone for a denser gathering of mushrooms and garlic (and, as you might guess, cheese), but I think they did a nice job constructing our pizza.  They tasted good; I would happily order them again.

Mushroom, Garlic, Basil Pizza

Mushroom, Basil, and Garlic pizza from A Slice of New York Pizza in San Jose.

Plus, I like their website.  Not because it’s terribly fancy, but because they include a link to their menu, they ask for feedback, they support charities (toward the bottom of the page), and they have a three-page long FAQ PDF available to answer all your frequently asked pizza-related questions.  And since I did want to know why they don’t have a medium size pizza, this was helpful to me.  I just like a company that is into what they do and puts effort into what they show to their customers.  Good info, guys.  Also, they include tax in all their prices which is, like, one of my favorite things ever that I think should be mandated by law in America like all the other civilized countries in the world.  I guess it’s just sort of a rant-y evening, isn’t it?

*Follow up note: The owner of the restaurant subsequently informed me that the title of the restaurant is actually “A Slice of New York”, they don’t use the word Pizza in their technical business name, though it is on the sign to let you know that’s what they sell.  This post was written prior to that knowledge and I don’t want to change it since this knowledge was found out afterward.  The title of this post was changed, however, to show the word “Pizza” in parens, and this note was added the day after the original post to appease said business owner.

A Slice of New York on Urbanspoon