California Pizza Kitchen: A New Concept for a Great Tasting Pizza

Strawberry Basil MartiniSpring Market Salad, photo: CPKKorean Barbecue Pizza, photo: CPKNew Pepperoni PizzaNew Wild Mushroom PizzaFresh Berries with Vanilla Bean Sabayon

By CANDICE MERRILL

2:08 pm | May 8, 2013


My mission: to try California Pizza Kitchen’s (CPK) two new seasonal entrees: Spicy Korean Barbecue Pizza and Spring Market Vegetable Salad.  The reality was a whole new concept in making a CPK pizza.

Little did I know when I walked into the CPK on Los Robles in Pasadena that I would be meeting one of the restaurant chain’s biggest cheerleaders: General Manager Alex Montes or that I would be privy to the new pizza concept that debuted on May 6. No more machine-made crust, the new concept is a hand-tossed crust and fresher more flavorful ingredients.

“Our new hand-tossed pizza crust is made from artesian bread; crispy on the outside, fluffy and warm on the inside,” said Montes. “We’re making the ingredients be the centerpiece of our new pizzas.”

But first let’s get to those seasonal items.

I started the meal with a new seasonal drink: a strawberry-basil martini. Fresh strawberries pureed and mixed with vodka and a touch of basil, I found this drink to be delicious as well as refreshing, the perfect drink to go with CPK’s seasonal Spring Market Salad.

“We want to capture ingredients at their peak,” remarked Montes.

The Spring Market Salad is a veritable color-wheel of fresh ingredients: field greens, purple kale, spring peas, Granny Smith apples, red radishes, cider plumped raisins, toasted pecans, fresh dill and mint, tossed in house-made Greek yogurt vinaigrette.  This salad is simply delicious and the Greek yogurt vinaigrette is inspired. I happily crunched my way through this delicious salad.

Also on the spring menu is a Spicy Korean Barbecue Pizza. A base of house-made Korean barbecue sauce is topped with marinated pork that is also coated with the sauce. A layer of mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of green onions are also added. For the pièce de résistance, CPK tops the cooked pizza with their version of kimchi that is not fermented.

“It’s a combination of Napa cabbage, carrots, scallions, and cilantro topped with our house-made sirachi vinaigrette and cucumber. What you get is a salty, sweet, spicy mixture with the cooling of the cucumber,” said Montes.

The pizza packs a kick and is reminiscent of the spicy Korean soft tacos that are so popular and that I love, so a big thumbs up from me.

And now onto the new pizza concept.

A pizza is a pizza is a pizza right? Wrong otherwise why do we all have our favorite pizza joints? Some of us go for the crust, others the sauce and then of course there are the toppings, but in reality it is a combination of these ingredients that make the perfect pizza. CPK’s new concept addresses each of these factors in their quest for the perfect pizza. Take the lowly pepperoni, not much new there. But what if you add a fresh sauce, two types of pepperoni and a drizzle of truffle oil? New, different, now you’ve got it.

“Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese and two types of pepperoni, the traditional pepperoni that we have always carried in the restaurant but now it’s torn so it can crisp up in the oven.  And then we add this spicy round pepperoni. We fire it in the oven and bring it back out and top it with wild Greek oregano,” explained Montes.

A favorite of mine was the wild mushroom pizza. “Now you can really taste the mushrooms,” remarked Montes. “We use extra virgin olive oil with garlic as the base, mozzarella cheese Romano cheese. All mushrooms are fresh and uncooked so you can really get the peak of flavor.”

“This pizza really signifies the direction that the company is going with right now. We want to make sure that we are bringing out these great fresh products that people will be thinking about later on,” continued Montes.

If you love mushrooms (and I do) you will love this pizza. It’s a simple pizza that lets the ingredients speak for themselves. It’s not heavy or over sauced, just simple, fresh and delicious.

A basic dessert of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries was dressed up with a luscious vanilla-bean sabayon as the finish to my dining experience. Delightful crunchy candied lemon peel brightened up the berries and made a sweet end to a delicious meal.

The Pasadena CPK is located at 99 N. Los Robles Avenue. They are open Monday – Thursday and Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. For reservations, more information or take-out call (626) 585-9020 or visit www.cpk.com.