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Garibaldi’s and Marzano

A well-liked Rockridge restaurant morphs into two well-liked Rockridge restaurants.


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You can thank the crummy economy for this one: Garibaldi’s restaurant on College Avenue now has multiple personalities. Which could be a problem, if they weren’t both so likable.

Ever since a remodel last August, the bar side of Garibaldi’s has expanded. And it’s not Garibaldi’s; it’s Marzano, a second rendition of the casual Italian pizza-and-apps eatery that opened to rave reviews in 2008 in Oakland’s Glenview district. Garibaldi’s remains on the other side of a common wall, but in a smaller space and with a revamped, lower-priced menu.

Marzano has tapped into Garibaldi’s always-booming bar scene with its hip vibe while importing the fun-and-affordable Marzano menu, which offers all dishes for $15 or less.

“People want casual and inexpensive right now,” co-owner Justin Hafen says. “I know I don’t want to spend $100 every time I go out.”
While the relaxed vibe of Marzano is great, the remodel on the other side is more impressive. Always sophisticated and sleek, the new Garibaldi’s has a cozier, sexier feel—more date night than business lunch. Executive chef Scott Sasaki and his Mediterranean-Californian cuisine remain, but Hafen and co-owner John Hurley spent months overhauling individual dishes on the menu, with only a few old standbys (chicken Milanese, marinated lamb tenderloin) surviving the cut.

That extra work pays off in food that, while not groundbreaking in its conception, is flawlessly prepared and straightforwardly delicious. The texture of the cut of New York steak was perfect, tender enough to show its quality but not so tender that you forget you’re eating, well, a steak. An accompanying Madeira sauce with mushrooms and bacon provided a rich complement that never overwhelmed the steak’s simple flavor. Ditto for the light, thinly sliced Yukon potatoes tucked underneath the meat.

This menu does not fear pork products: The chicory salad with zesty Dijon vinaigrette had chunks—not bits—of bacon lardon sprinkled like savory treasures amid the slightly bitter greens. A truffle-poached egg on top made the dish gel beautifully.

Another egg yolk performed a similar trick with the steak tartare, which was wonderfully seasoned with sea-salty capers, spicy rojo peppers, and refreshing cuts of parsley, the bright-red meat so fresh and bouncy, you could mistake it for sashimi tuna.

There were a few missteps—an overly salted hamachi appetizer, a perhaps-too-sweet chocolate budino dessert—but they were so minor as to be nitpicky.

Because Garibaldi’s was holding up better than many restaurants after the economy started to sputter, the owners’ decision to split the restaurant in half seemed a little drastic.

“People thought we were crazy,” admits Hafen. “We were really worried about doing it; we were prepared to get a lot of comments like, ‘You ruined my favorite restaurant!’ ”

If some diners were horrified, they might well take comfort in what Marzano has to offer.

Marzano’s pizzas, baked Neopolitan-style inside a domed wood-burning Italian-imported oven, are big enough to share—but you might not want to. Executive chef Robert Holt clearly uses only top-shelf ingredients, which shine on his simple thin-crust creations. The quattro formaggi was particularly good, combining a satisfying mix of four cheeses with tender, earthy cremini mushrooms and aromatic sage.

Pizzas are the main attraction, but don’t be afraid to explore the rest of the menu. The wood fire–roasted meatballs, served sizzling hot while still pink inside, made for a perfect appetizer; the dish’s flavorful tomato and prosciutto broth was worth the $10 by itself. For entrées, try the drop-off-the-bone-tender braised chicken all’Arrabbiata. That last bit means “angry style” in Italian due to the chilies’ spice, but it’s a nice, steady heat that adds complexity to the smoky, garlicky tomato broth, making for a wonderfully rustic meal perfect on a cold night.

 

Clearly, the overall experience on both sides has resonated with diners. Hafen says the two restaurants now serve about 400 patrons between them on a typical Friday night, up from an average of just 200 for the old Garibaldi’s, numbers that leave him cautiously optimistic. “Yeah, we were nervous about the remodel. We’re still nervous,” says Hafen. “But it seems to be working so far."

At a Glance

What Makes it Special: Great food at great prices in a fun, refined atmosphere.
The Space: Garibaldi’s is sleek and cozy, with low ceilings and recessed lighting. Marzano is casual, younger, and a little louder, with a hopping bar scene.
When to Go: The 10 p.m.–midnight happy hour at Marzano offers $5 appetizers, $6 cocktails, and $10 pizzas.
Similar prices at Garibaldi’s 4:30–6:30 p.m. happy hour, including the wonderfully squishy burger for $7.
What to Order: Pizza and meatballs at Marzano. Steak tartare, grilled steak, and seared scallops at Garibaldi’s.
Bonus: Marzano’s soft-serve ice cream with balsamic reduction and sea salt.

CONTACT 5356 College Ave., Oakland. Garibaldi’s, (510) 595-4000, garibaldirestaurant.com. Marzano, (510) 595-4058, marzanorestaurant.com.
HOURS: Garibaldi’s, lunch Sun.–Fri., dinner daily. Marzano, dinner daily.
PRICES: Garibaldi’s, appetizers $9–$12, entrées $17–$27. Marzano, appetizers $6–$12, entrées $13–$15.
ALCOHOL: Full bar (both).

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