Taste of the Town
Glenview Delizioso Marzano Conveys Southern Italy
Waiting outdoors on a cold January evening, enduring gusts of an arctic wind that outmatched the overhead heaters above the empty sidewalk tables, and huddling in the doorway alcove reading the menu half a dozen times until a table came free at 8:45 for our 8:30 reservation was not the ideal prelude to our first meal at Marzano. But by the time we’d finished our satisfying dinner an hour and a half later, taking home what we couldn’t finish, our frosty inauguration had melted into the delight of another delicious hometown revelation. Such are the perils and payoffs of catching a new restaurant just as the buzz is building.
That feeding frenzies still arise around restaurant openings is a minor miracle. But even as the tanking economy sends shock waves through the dining industry, new restaurants with more or less upscale profiles and bold culinary identities keep cropping up. While such notable flameouts as Mono and Maritime East put a cautionary edge to this counterintuitive tale of expansion, the two blocks of Glenview’s commercial zone on Park Boulevard has become another beacon of promises fulfilled, keeping two new Italian trattorias busy and awaiting the early summer arrival of a Pan-Latin spin-off of À Côté.
Marzano, a project of the team behind Garibaldi’s in San Francisco and Rockridge, benefits from the magnetic field established in Glenview by the since-departed Purple Plum, the weekend-brunch fave Blackberry Bistro, and most recently, the Aperto (S.F.) offspring Bellanico. In revamping the corner space of a former real estate office, Scott Sasaki, John Hurley and Justin Hafen have done just about everything right.
Knowing that drinking hasn’t tapered off much during the recession, they installed an ample, 12-seat bar and stocked it with a selection of top-shelf spirits. A half-dozen or so “della casa” cocktails feature flavor mashups incorporating chocolate grappa, housemade bitters, ginger beer, egg white, blood orange, aged balsamic, black pepper and more. As over-the-top as some of the combinations read, the two concoctions we tried—the Caprifoglio No. 2, with vodka, Vedrenne supercassis, lemon, honey and a splash of prosecco ($10), and the Calabrian Daiquiri, with light rum, crema mescal, Curacao, lime juice, sweet vermouth and Calabrian chili ($9)—made for surprisingly subtle sipping.
The bar takes up a good chunk of the restaurant’s limited space, contributing to a physical sensation that will strike some as cozy, others as cramped. Wood-topped tables for two line up three in a row from the rough brick wall and windows opposite the bar, forcing a tight squeeze for servers and engendering unintended eavesdropping among up to 36 diners in close confines. But attractive design elements—a gleaming concrete floor, a high ceiling, strategically placed mirrors, large tear-shaped globe lights and circular chandeliers, the fiery glow of the wood oven and a huge map of Italy on the back wall—buffer claustrophobia with charm. An affable (if slightly agitated) greeter at the door eased the stress of our wait on our first visit. Our server, wearing the uniform T that reads “Pizza & Love,” made up for not being up to speed on the wine list by bringing tastes before we settled on glasses of Sicilian Nero d’Avola ($7) and Tuscan Chianti ($8) from the 21 choices of predominantly Italian reds, and she remained cheerfully attentive throughout the meal.
The menu is not initially boggling. It offers seven antipasti ($7–$9), four salads ($7–$10), 10 pizzas ($11–$14), and only three entrees, three side dishes and three dolci choices. But once you start configuring an order, even with a plan to share, you’re confronted with a puzzle in which the pieces can fit together in scores of combinations. The cheek-by-jowl seating allows tight-focus views of your neighbors’ choices, but that doesn’t necessarily narrow yours. For our debut dinner we ordered Monterey Bay sardines cured with giardimiera (pickled vegetables), Mandarin orange, toasted almonds, golden raisins and saffron ($8); the fritto misto of battered and fried broccoli Romanesco, sweet onion, squash and lemon ($9); the “winter pie” pizza with cavolo nero (kale) and toasted walnut pesto, pancetta, Fontina and roasted pumpkin ($12), the wood-oven-braised chicken alla arrabbiata ($14) and, at our server’s suggestion, a side of stone-ground polenta ($5).
Every dish hit the mark: The sardines tasted of the sea; the fritto misto was light and crisp with a nice spicy aioli for dipping; the thin-crust pizza was wonderfully blistered beneath tantalizing toppings; the tender chicken leg, thigh and breast swam in a thick, spicy tomato sauce (with peppers and marjoram) that begged to be sopped up with the accompanying flatbread; and the polenta was sinfully enriched with butter and Parmigiano.
It’s not like we filled up on the tasty complimentary pencil-thin and salty breadsticks. Still, we couldn’t come close to finishing everything, let alone ordering dessert. Nonetheless we felt twinges of insalate and entree envy as we gazed upon the seasonal chopped salad to the left of me (watermelon radish, Fontina, broccoli Romanesco, carrots, Toscano salami, radicchio, iceberg lettuce, pumpkin seeds for $10), and the pan-roasted Alaskan cod (with crushed white Toscanelli beans, rucolla, Sicilian fish brood, or broth, and sweet, vinegary agrodolce relish for $15) to the right.
For a second dinner on a busy Tuesday night, we tried the cod and it rocked (the third entree choice was house-made papparadelle), and we limited ourselves to one starter—four coarsely ground meatballs, nicely browned and served in tomato-prosciutto broth with braised greens ($8)—and a four-cheese pizza topped with mushrooms, truffle oil and crisp sage ($14). We found room for a shared crust-less warm (actually hot) apple crisp with golden raisins, vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce ($7).
That leaves only about three-dozen more meals at Marzano before we’ve worked through the rest of the soulful southern Italian menu, including such starters as roasted octopus and Tuscan farro soup, other tempting pizzas, that eye-popping chopped salad and soft-serve gelato. We intend to do just that. Then we’ll turn our attention to brunch.
Marzano. Italian. 4214 Park Blvd., Oakland, (510) 531-4500. pizzeriamarzano.com. Serves dinner 5 p.m.–10 p.m. daily, brunch 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Credit Cards Accepted, Full Bar, Wheelchair Accessible, $$
Correction for March/April: Mua, 2442 A Webster St., Oakland, (510) 238-1100, no longer serves lunch. Hours are 5 p.m.–11 p.m. Sun.–Thu. with the bar closing at 12 a.m. and 5 p.m.–12 a.m. Fri.-Sat. with bar service ending at 2 a.m.