Marica Gets Reinvented as a Pizza Parlor

Pizza Marica elevates pizza to a higher level, with thin crusts and fanciful ingredients like lobster and filet mignon.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Sometimes restaurants, like reptiles, shed their skins.

Husband-and-wife team Christopher and Nedda Cheung opened the Rockridge seafood restaurant Marica in 2000. Last summer it closed, reopening in November as Pizza Marica: same owners, but with a flat, round, elegantly thin-crusted new focus.

It’s not just another pizza parlor — as its lobster-mozzarella and filet-mignon/blue-cheese pies will attest.

“I’m a New Yorker,” Nedda Cheung said. “Since relocating to the East Bay, I have not found that New York-style crust ... that reminds me of my days growing up in the Bronx, where I would head to my neighborhood pizzeria and get a slice oozing cheese — so much of it that you had to fold the slice to keep the toppings from falling out.”

When Hong Kong-bred chef Christopher Cheung — who with Nedda launched Christopher’s Cafe on Solano Avenue in 1984 — “decided to change the seafood concept to the pizza concept, we had the opportunity to create an elevated version of the pie that I love.

“We’ve been cooking seafood for 18 years.” At Marica, “our customers were mainly adults who came only for special occasions. We wanted to make our food more accessible for people to come and join us more often — and that would include the whole family, kids and all.”

In that same family spirit, the Cheungs’ son, Austin, handles the front of the house.

“Chris has always had a passion for pizza, and this concept was his way to incorporate his fine cooking techniques and make it available as a fun alternative for the entire family,” Nedda said.

But they wouldn’t totally relinquish seafood. Prince Edward Island Mussels — with pernod-shallot-butter sauce — are a pizza-topping option, and the lobster pizza echoes Marica’s signature twice-cooked Maine lobster with lobster-cognac sauce, “although it’s not presented exactly the same way. It would be hard to have a pizza with those large pieces of lobster, shell and all.”

Both Pizza Marica’s standard and wildly fancy pies “go the extra mile. Most pizza places will put the crusts and the raw toppings into the oven and cook them; our sauces and pizzas take a little or a lot of extra time to prepare. For example, our mushrooms are sautéed with white wine, and the sauces we create, such as the demiglace” — adorning the filet-mignon pie — “take time, but pack a flavorful punch.”

Pizza Marica, 5301 College Ave., Oakland, 510-985-8388, MaricaOakland.com.

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