The ghost of a restaurant past still hovers over Pizzavino 707. Though reincarnation came quickly — less than a year after West County Grill shuttered in the location– the open-air kitchen built as a theater for celeb chef Jonathan Waxman and his team of white-coated commis still echoes with their presence. Nearly a third of the circular kitchen sits idle, with oddly configured prep tables and vast open spaces behind the kitchen bar.
Focus has shifted instead to a single wood-fired pizza oven that once seemed an afterthought. Now it’s the glowing heart of a humbled operation where a skeleton crew of three pull crusts, recite orders and feed the oven as quickly as orders come in.
“Two olives. Two Sebastopols. Mushroom. Fire two chickens. Make that three,” goes the rat-a-tat dialogue that’s always been the best part of sitting at the open-kitchen bar — a front row seat to your own dinner.
On a Saturday night, they’re quickly in the weeds. It’s a full house by 7:30pm, and orders are lined up 12 and 13 tickets long. Families, couples and large groups fill the bar, outside tables, two and four-tops, willing to wait.
Orchestrating is former WCG-partner Stephen Singer. He too seems humbled by the rollercoaster ride of opening, closing and then re-opening the restaurant with new partners, Gayle Pirie and John Clark of Foreign Cinema (in San Francisco). Greeting customers at the reservation desk, he floats around the restaurant as ad hoc waiter, sommelier and welcome wagon.
“We’re looking forward,” Singer tells BiteClub. Letting go of the big dreams of creating a Chez Panisse-style restaurant in the heart of Wine Country and embracing a pared-down concept as simple as its name: Pizzavino 707. Pizza and wine that take advantage of local produce at an affordable price. Partners also plan to add a tasting room with value wine finds in the future. No plans for lunch right now.
With so much at stake, it was a clever move to keep the evening menu simple.
A handful of antipasti to start — Caesar salad, simple salumi plates, seasonal greens and olives (none topping $10). Two nightly specials (roast chicken and smoked salmon on my visit), and ten pizzas ($12-$15) that mostly riff on one another.
Simple margherita with tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella; moving up to mushroom with garlic, mint, lemon, thyme and three cheeses; onto pizzas that feature squash blossoms, zucchini, arugula or spinach layered with fresh ricotta or mozzarella. Swerving into less charted territory: Yukon potato with onions, Point Reyes Blue Cheese and Wild Arugula or an evening special described as “A classic wedge salad on a pizza — blue cheese, olive oil, butter lettuce, bacon and an egg in the middle. This isn’t Pizza Hut, so don’t expect gloopy gloppy sauce and 2 inches of toppings. It’s more of a gentle suggestion of toppings that let the crust shine through.
So the crust...The 10-inch(ish) rounds are thin and crispy, and in my opinion very tasty — but lack the cracker-snap, big bubbles and char that you see from other wood-fired pizzas. A chef who happened to be at the restaurant while I was wondered aloud if the oven was hot enough. Without temperature controls, it can be a tricky proposition to get just the right amount of heat without burning the pizzas to a crisp.
Desserts stay simple, too. Screaming Mimi’s vanilla gelato with fresh blackberries is almost childish in concept, but wickedly appropriate on a hot summer night. The wine list is predominantly Italian. Singer says he’s looking to find great tasting wines that are “super-value oriented”. There’s a full bar with cocktails as well.
At PizzaVino 707, there are still kinks to be resolved. Though kitchen staff work at rocket-speed to get the orders out, waits can be long. There is one oven, after all. Service is friendly, but as the night wore on, got a bit harried and confused. It’s something that was a tripping-point for the previous restaurant, so will hopefully continue to improve.
But Sebastopol seems to be a town willing to give PizzaVino 707 a chance, which is exactly what Singer and his staff seem to be asking for. And at this point deserve.
Pizzavino 707, 6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 829.9500. Pizzas available for take-out. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 5pm to 10pm, Sunday noon to 8pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
UPDATE: I just read in NapaLife that former WCG chef Darren McRonald has recently ended up at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena.