I was contacted a few weeks ago by a rep from California Pizza Kitchen asking if me and my family would like to head over to their local location and have dinner on them. They’ve added some new menu items and reworked the layout of the restaurant itself in this particular location and wanted to see what I thought of the new experience. So not being one to pass up free food, we decided to go check it out… even though we had just been there the week before (it’s one of my in-laws favorite places to go when they are in town).
I actually didn’t realize that the interior of the restaurant itself had been redone, but apparently one of my good friends did the electrical work there a few years back. I’ve just never noticed a change to the interior in the last couple years, so I was a little confused when they asked me to come check out the new look… as it looked the same to me. Either way, the interior of the restaurant is very inviting. I do enjoy the big open feel that the restaurant has, and the open kitchen that you can see into from the bar is pretty cool. They actually were going to give us the opportunity to go into the kitchen and make our pizza and stuff, but with a 3-month old baby along for the ride, it didn’t seem like the easiest thing to manage, so we just opted to take a stab at the menu ourselves.
The idea of being able to see into the kitchen and see your food being made is great for both the restaurant and the customer. It forces to the restaurant to maintain an extremely high level of cleanliness and order, while at the same time it gives the customer the ability to see the ingredients and the preparation that goes into making each dish. I hope maybe when our daughter is a little older they invite us back to do a follow up and make our own pizzas in the kitchen with her, that would be quite an experience. It’s hard for her to make a pizza when she can barely control her own arms at this point, ha!
After checking out the new interior space, which we have eaten in before, we decided to sit on the patio. The summer weather has just started to move into Chicago so we had to take advantage of the nice day and sit outside. Once we were seated one of the managers came out to sort of explain the “reimagined” menu, and which items had changed.
Among the new items on the menu are a few different seasonally inspired dishes like the California Fields Salad and the Tricolore Salad Pizza, as well as various regular menu items like a Fire-Grilled Ribeye and the Farmers Market Soup. In addition to the new menu items, there are some reimagined items that take some of the original pizza ideas and spice them up a bit. The most notable change to me was the Meat Cravers pizza is no longer an option, instead it has be “reimagined” as the Sicilian, and includes a slightly different take on the massive amounts of meat found on the Meat Cravers pizza. The Sicilian has spicy marinara, italian sausage, spicy Capicola ham, salami, mozzarella, shaved parmesan, basil and oregano. So it still has a good amount of meat for those of you that really enjoyed the Meat Cravers, but slightly different. This is of course what I ordered.
Unfortunately when I go to California Pizza Kitchen I just can’t find myself ordering anything other than pizza. All of the main dishes on the menu sound delicious, but pizza is their game, I’ve gotta stick with what I love about CPK.
Before I get into how the Sicilian pizza tasted, let’s talk appetizers/small plates.
As far as the small plates go, it’s impossible to go to CPK and not order the Crispy Mac ‘N’ Cheese, they are absolutely delicious. Perfectly breaded and crunchy on the outside and cheesy on the inside. You can’t go wrong with ordering these.
As for the appetizer, we decided to give the Baja Chicken Tortilla Spring Rolls a try. These come with Baja Chicken, Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, corn, black beans, poblanos, red onions and cilantro, served with a side of guac. Honestly, my wife ordered these and I didn’t really know what all was in them aside from the chicken and the cheese; I normally don’t eat poblanos so it’s probably good I didn’t look closely because these were delicious. I’m not a huge fan of guacamole so I didn’t give that a try, but the Spring Rolls themselves were absolutely delicious and may have just lowered my guard a little bit when it comes to poblanos.
With the small plate and appetizers out of the way we could now focus on the main reason we were there, the pizzas. The variety of pizzas is incredible at CPK, and there are a lot of them that sound good, but we’re people that know what we like and we know CPK does what we like well, so we stuck to our usual when it came to the pizzas. The Sicilian, as I mentioned above, and The Original BBQ Chicken. And as usual both were amazing, but I definitely just realized that the BBQ Chicken pizza is made with smoked gouda cheese, which I’m not normally a fan of, but this pizza was delicious so I guess I am… Interesting. I highly recommend trying either of these pizzas if you are looking for something that’s not your run of the mill normal pepperoni pizza. The Sicilian was a bit on the spicy side, but I’m not a person that really enjoys overly spicy foods, and this was totally tolerable to me. And the amount of meat that they threw on top of this pizza, while not quite as much as the meat cravers, is just the right amount to satisfy your hunger. And as I said about the BBQ Chicken Pizza, it was absolutely delicious, smoked gouda and all, and I’m really a big fan of the bbq sauce that they use on this one. It’s hard to go wrong with the pizzas at CPK.
Now, normally I’m not a dessert person, but my wife is, and since dinner was on the house we decided to give one of their new desserts a try. There are three new desserts on the menu, a Strawberry Shortcake, a Salted Caramel Pudding and a S’mores, which is basically a S’mores made in a cup. We opted for the Salted Caramel Pudding which has rich caramel pudding, black cocoa cookie crumbs, housemade whipped cream, caramel sauce, and natural flaked sea salt. I’m not lying when I say that this was probably the best dessert I’ve ever tasted. Even better than the cake in a can we had from David Burke’s Primehouse. It just the right amount of everything, my only complaint is that there wasn’t more of everything! I don’t think I can ever go back to CPK now without ordering this for dessert, and I don’t normally eat desserts, it was that good.
So do yourself a favor, if you’re near one of these California Pizza Kitchen locations that has the reimagined menu, make sure you try one of the reimagined pizzas, as well as some old favorites, but save room for dessert because you have to try the Salted Caramel Pudding… seriously.