Ever since I moved to NYC, I've had a very strong aversion to chain restaurants. Why should I eat at a place that I can eat at anywhere in the country when I have the best restaurants in the world mere footsteps away?, I thought.
However, California Pizza Kitchen has always had a special place in my heart as it used to be the go-to birthday spot when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. I always knew about the CPK, as it's affectionately known, at 30th Street and Park Avenue, but have never been nostalgic enough to visit during my almost 7-year NYC tenure. But that all changes now.
Monday night I had the opportunity to visit CPK--the only location in Manhattan (so is it really a chain? Haha!)--as they celebrated their 30th anniversary and their new mission to "dechain the chain."
I first got a tour of the newly redecorated space, featuring a chalkboard and a wall of herbs at the entrance, reclaimed wood table tops, and scenic NYC photos adorning the walls. The space already feels more welcoming than your typical, cookie-cutter franchise.
Next, I was given an apron and whisked into the kitchen with Head Chef Brian Sullivan (who developed the iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza more than 20 years ago!) and NYC pizza chef Juan who both taught me how to make a pizza and (here's the best part) TOSS THE DOUGH! My first attempt ended up with me breaking holes in the dough, but try number 2 got some serious air and I transformed it into CPK's Wild Mushroom Pizza ($13.49) with 5 different types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses, garlic, and scallions. Yum!
|Juan teaching me to stretch the dough|
|Oops! Popped some holes!|
|That's a winner!|
|My Wild Mushroom Pizza|
At this point, I was finding flour in my hair and covering my arms--tis' the life of a pizza arteest!--but I was having a blast. Then I sat down with CPK CEO G.J. Hart, one of the nicest people I've ever met, who along with Chef Brian walked me through some of the new menu items and cocktails.
The first drink I tried, my favorite of the evening, was the California Roots, a Svedka vodka concoction with muddled avocado, mint, and agave sour rimmed with fennel salt. Talk about unusual! I also tried G.J.'s creation, The Executive Decision, which has Casamigos tequila blanco, muddled mint, fresh agave sour, Monin organic agave nectar and fresh lime, and I thought it was like vacation in a glass. Lastly, I sampled the Blueberry Ginger Smash, which cleverly mixes Jack Daniels with agave nectar, Domaine de Canton ginger, fresh blueberries and lime and cranberry juice into a delightful fruity libation. I told G.J. I could see these drinks going for upwards of $16 at some Manhattan hot spots, but he told me the price point was about half that depending on which CPK you were visiting!
|The Executive Decision|
|Blueberry Ginger Smash|
Next, the food! Delicious, delicious food! When I used to come to CPK as a kid, I would always reliably order the BBQ Chicken Pizza. While the old classic is still on the menu, the items that surround it are new, improved, and focused on seasonal ingredients. Case in point, the California Fields Salad (half $9.99, full $13.49) is comprised of gorgeous field greens with fresh watermelon, sweet strawberries, feta, and California pistachios, topped with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette.
|California Fields Salad|
I also tried the new Maine Lobster Flatbread ($10.99), a wonderful dish for sharing, it features real Maine lobster meat, mayo, fresh herbs, arugula, and shaved red onions on a parmesan flatbread. It's like a pizza version of a lobster roll, and I LOVE lobster rolls.
|Maine Lobster Flatbread|
For main entrees, I sampled the Tricolore Salad Pizza ($12.99), which is a salad lover's dream! It features a different take on the crust--caramelized honey and parmesan lend it to be thinner and crispier--cooked and then topped with field greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan tossed with housemade Dijon balsalmic vinaigrette.
|Tricolore Salad Pizza|
|Shrimp Scampi Zucchini|
Lastly, my favorite entree of the night was the Hearth-Roasted Halibut ($23.79) served over grilled asparagus and butternut squash farro and baby kale. I could eat this morning, noon, and night, and it's a good thing too because the size of the piece of fish they give you is ginormous! Definitely enough for 2 meals for me. And the farro adds a truly unique touch.
|Salted Caramel Pudding|
|From Left: Head Chef Brian Sullivan, me, and CEO G.J. Hart|
G.J. also told me that CPK is committed to the communities they operate in, offering fundraising events as often as they can. They are also relaunching their grocery store branded items, so keep an eye out for those in the coming months. I also took home a copy of the CPK cookbook, so maybe I'll be trying some of their creations for my next dinner party!