Arancini balls. Ham plate. Uni bucatini. Chicken thighs. Geary pizza. Soft serve. These are the two-word combos you should abide by when coming to ~ZERO ZERO~, the popular and spacious SoMa restaurant from chef-owner Bruce Hill (and chef de cuisine Chris Whaley) that opened in the former Azie space. The two-level space seems to be crawling with people at all times, from Friday night folks thirsty for post-work cocktails, to big birthday parties gathered around punch bowls and pizza, to mid-week lunchers.
A big draw is the pizza (the name Zero Zero comes from the 00 flour traditionally used in making Neapolitan pizzas), and Hill knows his way around a pizza oven (he’s well known for his pies at Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur). He calls the style here “Cali-politan”—meaning you get the Neapolitan thin crust and style, but some California ingredients. Two of the three pizzas I have eaten here (there are nine in all, named after SF neighborhoods) have been delicious and technically perfect, although once my Mission pizza with broccoli rabe could have benefited from a smidge more time in the oven. Bar none, my favorite has been the Geary ($15.95), with plump Manila clams, garlic, thick pieces of smoky and meaty bacon, the hint of Calabrian chile, a whisper of parsley, and don’t tell any Italians, but there’s a little pecorino on there, too (it’s a cardinal sin in Italy to have cheese and fish together). Yeah, pizza geeks, check out those leopard spots. The Margherita ($11.50, or $13.95 for the “extra” with buffalo mozzarella) is all about the creamy housemade mozzarella cheese melting into the excellent, tangy sauce in that pizza-voodoo way we all love so much.
The menu really lends itself to sharing, whether you start with a crudo of the day (a trademark dish at Bix, where you’d also find chef Hill) or the can’t-miss skillet-fried chicken thighs ($11.95). The juicy thighs come in a pile of four, with a crisp exterior that soaks in a chili sauce, tempered with a side of thick caraway yogurt (Hill recommends mixing it all together in the bowl). The piping hot arancini ($6.95), stuffed with chard and gooey Fontina are best in class (and just wait until you dip them in the black garlic aioli). Vegetarians will also be happy with the number of vegetable-based antipasti, with four out of seven available—well, if you request the kitchen to hold the pancetta on the fried Brussels sprouts. I thought a couple dishes felt a bit clunky in the beginning months, but of late, things have really been finessed.
It was almost comedic how many neighbors commented on (and coveted) the abundant ham plate ($11.95) on our table, a cutting board overflowing with three kinds of Prada-pink American ham, with quince marmalade, arugula, and grilled bread as accompaniments. Oink headquarters.
I find the salads to be impressive, and Caesar salad ($9.95) fans should not pass up the opportunity to stick their fork into the chilled and nicely dressed one here. (I can’t wait for the seasonal plum and arugula salad to come back next summer—it had a certain kind of magic.) Pastas are also delicious and come in an ample serving—my fave is the bucatini with uni butter ($15.95), but the rich spaghetti alla chitarra ($14.95) with braised sunchokes and pancetta proved to be the latest plate-clearer in my book.
The long bar downstairs has room for 22; there’s also a cozier upstairs bar—where it’s harder to snag a seat because there’s nowhere to really hover—but it can be a fun spot for a couple to sit for dinner. A couple cocktails (from bar director Joel Teitelbaum) have really stood out for me, like the white Negroni (made with Leopold gin, an herbaceous house-infused Cocchi, and bianco vermouth), but others have tasted unbalanced, or just too spiritous (did I just say that?). The place has become large party headquarters, and the vintage punch bowls are a sure-fire way to get your par-tay started (the big downstairs booth right by the kitchen would be a fun spot for a smaller group).
Dessert is all about the do-it-yourself soft-serve, made with a house-customized and oh-so-creamy Straus Family Creamery blend. Some folks want to go kuh-razy and load up their serving with toppings like pine nut brittle, salted caramel, and olive oil cake, but really, my pick remains the classic Da Vero olive oil and sea salt combo (which will only put you back $5.95).
The décor is comfortable and has some nice touches from designer Michael Brennan, but I have not met anyone who isn’t completely creeped out by the Pinocchio in the upstairs trompe l’oeil mural (it also reminds me too much of the mural at Bruno’s—I would have liked to see something different here). You can view pictures of the interior here.
A couple tips: you can get orders to go, and there are even a few pizzas available frozen to go (it’s a shame to not enjoy one hot out of the oven here, but it would certainly trump anything you’re eating from your grocery store freezer section, eek). If you don’t have a reservation, try coming by after 9pm for a seat at the bar (before that may be challenging). The wine on tap program offers good deals, and the friendly and knowledgeable staff is happy to offer you a taste if you’re not sure you want to commit to a liter (hic). There’s also a good program of Italian wines by the glass, another great way to learn (and taste) which ones you like best with your pizza. Yeah, that’s my kind of research.