Showing posts with label pizza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pizza. Show all posts


Rediscovering the "De-chained" CPK and Loving It

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.

California Pizza Kitchen NYC

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!

Stretching pizza dough at CPK
Juan teaching me to stretch the dough
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
Oops! Popped some holes!
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
That's a winner!
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
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!

California Roots cocktail
California Roots
The Executive Decision cocktail
The Executive Decision
Blueberry Ginger Smash
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
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
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
Tricolore Salad Pizza
I also had a clever take on a gluttonous dish, their Shrimp Scampi Zucchini ($14.79), which had half regular pasta and half noodles made from zucchini (aka: zoodles!) sauteed with lemon, garlic, and white wine. This entire dish is only 470 calories!

Shrimp Scampi Zucchini
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.

Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Of course they didn't let me skip out on dessert, and neither should you. Both the salted caramel pudding ($4.99) served with black cocoa cookie crumbs, whipped cream, and sea salt and the Butter Cake ($6.79) served with ice cream and whipped cream are decadent options to end your meal.

Salted Caramel Pudding
Salted Caramel Pudding
Butter Cake
Butter Cake
I go to a lot of restaurant events, and I must say the hospitality I received at CPK was top notch. You could tell the people who work there enjoy the company for more than the fact that it gives them a paycheck--there's true passion behind the food and drink. Their prices are also fabulous! Lunch specials range from $9-11 from M-F, 1-4pm, and they also have happy hour specials.

Me with CPK's head chef and CEO
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!

The CPK Cookbook
The CPK Cookbook
CPK Cookbook inscription
Love the inscription!

It's official, I've been converted (partially) back to the chain. CPK, you have thoroughly impressed me and I'll be singing your praises for a long while.

Disclosure: CPK hosted me for this event and paid for my food, but all opinions are my own.

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Elemental Dining

Williamsburg is fast becoming (or already is) the new awesome place to own a restaurant. To stand out and survive, each has to have something unique to draw people in and keep them happy hungry customers. Would a menu complete with Italian-style pizzas, South American seafood dishes and juicy burritos do the trick? I think so. 

On the border of McCarren Park, away from the hustle and bustle of Bedford Ave., you'll find Cu 29 Copper. Named to bring about thoughts of chemistry and harmony between different cuisines, the restaurant was decorated in warm hues of rust and of course, copper, with the center point being the large brick oven. I was invited by the owners on a nippy Sunday night to sample the menu and get a feel for this hidden gem.

We were seated in the large back room, with a view out to the good size outdoor patio. How I wished the weather was warmer so that we could have sat outside! When we arrived a family was finishing up their meal and a couple was canoodling/eating dinner on a cozy couch. There was a rather large elevated space in the corner and the host told us that they regularly have live music on weeknights. 

We started with the Roasted Garlic Shrimp. Talk about garlic. The sizzling dish packed a punch of flavor. I would watch out for this dish on a first date, but man oh man was it delicious. The shrimp were succulent, and my only complaint would be that I wanted more bread to sop up the remaining sauce. 

Roasted Garlic Shrimp

The next dish was Cu 29 Copper's Signature Pizza. The fluffy, slightly blackened (in a good way) crust was piled high with pepperoni, sweet sausage, peppers, mushrooms, red onions, black olives, hot cherry peppers and mozzarella cheese. With a slight kick, this pizza was super tasty. We came close to finishing it, but then the waiter reminded us we still had one more dish to try.

Cu Signature Pizza

The last dish, and my favorite, was the Seafood Moqueca, a traditional Latin seafood stew with coconut milk, lobster broth, cilantro and toasted pine nuts, served over rice. This dish came with lots of extra bread so as soon as we slurped up the mussels and found all the bits of calamari, we left no broth at all. The yellow rice was amazing as well after it had been sitting in the stew for so long.

Seafood Moqueca
Taking a look at the rest of the menu, I'm intrigued by the other pizzas (Italian Stallion anyone?), the tacos (especially the shrimp tacos with chipotle mole and the tuna tacos with sliced mandarin pico de gallo) and the banana nutella crepes (can't resist!). Drinks are reasonably priced with beers for $5 and signature cocktails ranging from $8-$10. They have a great lunch menu as well with specials around $8, and almost all the online reviews I've read about this place rave about its brunch.

Cu 29 Copper is located at 232 N. 12th Street (between Driggs Ave and Roebling Street).

Cu 29 Copper on Urbanspoon


Meet Your New Go-To Pizza Joint

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a restaurant that deserves so much more attention than I think it gets. La Bella in Murray Hill is one of those gems.

My boyfriend Mike and I decided to check out this relatively new pizza joint before hitting up a movie at the gigantic (well for Manhattan) Kipps Bay Theaters a few months ago. We shared a Caesar Salad and a medium pizza and from then on we've been hooked. It's not much to look at, but it's cozy, slightly dark and romantic, and the location couldn't be more convenient to the movie theaters, as it's essentially across the street.

Walking in, you'll see a to-go counter, but I'd recommend grabbing a table and staying a while. While a wine list is non-existent (in fact last time I was informed that the waiter with an Italian accent was the wine list), you can get a nice glass of Chianti to start of your Italian meal for $9. Who needs anything fancy anyway right? Next, I would recommend ordering the Caesar salad, and one order is the perfect size to split between two people. I've come to find that Caesar salads have been overdone and most of them can be pretty blah. I don't know what La Bella does, but the dressing has a nice bite (maybe the anchovy paste?), the lettuce is fresh and crispy and the croutons provide just the right amount of crunch. And at $6.95, you can't really beat the price either.

Caesar Salad
Once you've gobbled up you greens, you have the choice to partake in some unusual pizzas or stick with your plain Marinara or White. We have tried the Pollo ala Vodka Pizza more than once and it's definitely a favorite of ours. It comes with grilled chicken, broccoli and cheese covered in a tangy and hearty vodka sauce. We usually order the medium ($18) which gives us plenty and then some we can take home for leftovers. 

Pollo ala Vodka Pizza
With a plethora of other pizza options in the city, I'm not saying run here now, but if you're in the area for a movie or whatever, it's an excellent choice. I'll definitely be back!

La Bella of New York on Urbanspoon