When it comes to restaurant locations, there are few spots more splendid than the sun-kissed waterfront at Oakland's Jack London Square. Even on a chilly weeknight, diners can grab a seat on The Forge's terrace near a fire pit or perch at a booth indoors.

There's no denying the allure of the rustic venue, with its industrial chic decor, fire-distressed woodwork and 800-degree wood-burning pizza oven. The cocktails are fabulous, the servers charming and professional and there is clearly considerable talent in the kitchen.

But there's an odd Jekyll-and-Hyde thing about The Forge's menu, which includes handcrafted pizza and fresh, seasonal fare. Many of the dishes are simply sensational. The handcrafted pizzas? Not so much.

PIzzas ready to go into the oven at The Forge restaurant at Jack London Square, Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News
PIzzas ready to go into the oven at The Forge restaurant at Jack London Square, Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

The Forge is a collaboration between executive chef Jeffrey Amber from the W Hotel's XYZ restaurant and Les Bon Temps restaurant group, which is run by Bob Burke (Gordon Biersch in San Jose) and Michael Karp (Orinda's Barbacoa and Table 24). But the "pizza R&D," we're told, hails from Jeff "The Pizza Hacker" Krupman, whose pizza pop-ups in San Francisco quickly became a cult favorite. Clearly, all the right ingredients are here.

The cocktail menu includes half a dozen handcrafted drinks ($8 to $9), ranging from a Dark and Stormy made with house-made ginger beer to the Devil's Slipper, a highly addictive, magenta-hued, salt-rimmed riff on a margarita, made with tequila, hibiscus and agave.

Whether you opt for cocktails, wine or a craft root beer, make sure you pair it with an order of Crispy Cheese Curds ($7.50), ethereal little puffs of cheesy heaven served with a smooth marinara-style sauce for dipping. There are other appetizer options, of course -- Fire-Roasted Veggies ($7), twice-baked Potato Skins ($8) and on the night we were there, a generous bowl of plump, tender mussels ($12), served with aioli.

The salads showcase fresh, seasonal produce in interesting ways. A Spring Panzanella ($11), for example, features asparagus, spring onion, endive and mint with torn croutons, instead of the classic tomato-basil-bread salad. Romaine Babes ($10) mixes baby romaine lettuce with deviled egg and a buttermilk dressing. An arugula salad ($10) was sprightly with anchovy lemon vinaigrette, and a stunningly beautiful golden beet salad ($9), a special that night, was served with mild chevre, red onion and toasty breadcrumbs. We were still talking about that salad days later.

Whether you're at The Forge for dinner or lunch -- or brunch, beginning this week -- there are plenty of nonpizza options. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($18), which was served with a fluffy cauliflower puree and escarole, was moist, tender and crispy.

There are seafood specials, and the lunch menu also includes burgers, sandwiches and -- on our second visit -- a few offerings from the brunch-to-be menu, including huevos rancheros ($11), done in the pizza oven.

But the pizzas ($12 to $17) are problematic -- and they constitute half the menu, which makes star ratings problematic, too. Everything we've talked about so far warrants a 3-star rating or more. The pizza is another matter.

On paper, the pizza looks sensational: rapini with sausage, wild nettles with spring garlic and ricotta salata, pepperoni with Calabrian peppers, potato with guanciale and fontina and, of course, the classic Margherita.

But something has gone awry in this process, as if the kitchen is executing Krupman's instructions from some unspecified date, but no one is tasting what emerges or taking into account the seasonal variability of the heat of the peppers, the bitterness of nettles or the spiciness of sausages.

On this particular night, the toppings on all three pizzas we tasted -- nettles, pepperoni and a rapini special -- were overwhelmingly sharp. The underside of the crust had a bitter, acrid flavor, as if the flour that keeps the dough from sticking to the oven floor had been scorched.

I'd had The Forge's pizza last summer, when they had a preview booth at the Eat Real Festival, and the crust tasted nothing like this. So we returned on a sunny Sunday to try again, this time with a Margherita pizza. This time, it was significantly better -- the tomato and fresh mozzarella topping was as lovely as one could ask for, but the edges of the crust still had that tinge of acrid bitterness, although to a lesser extent.

The Forge is so near perfect -- gorgeous location, great service and some truly delicious dishes. Fix the pizza issue, and this place will be sensational.

The Forge

" * * ½

FOOD: * * ½
AMBIENCE: * * *
SERVICE: * * *
WHERE: 66 Franklin St., Jack London Square, Oakland
CONTACT: 510-268-3200, www.theforgepizza.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. until close on weekdays, 10:30 a.m. until close on weekends
CUISINE: New American
PRICES: $$
VEGETARIAN: Several options, including a three-cheese pizza with green garlic, lemon and arugula ($15) and a spring panzanella salad with asparagus ($10).
BEVERAGES: Intriguing cocktails, craft beer and wine by the bottle and glass.
RESERVATIONS: Accepted via OpenTable
NOISE LEVEL: Loud
PARKING: Validated pay lot, street parking
KIDS: Childrens menu available
PLUSES: Fresh, seasonal fare in gorgeous surroundings. A weekend brunch menu is being added this week.
MINUSES: Those handcrafted pizzas need work.
DATE OPENED: January

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Ratings

Restaurants are rated on a scale of one to four, with four representing a truly extraordinary experience for that type of restaurant.

Price code

$ Most entrees under $10
$$ Most entrees under $20
$$$ Most entrees under $30
$$$$ Most entrees under $40