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California Pizza Kitchen

March 27, 2012

California Pizza Kitchen, or CPK, as we affectionately like to refer to it, is by no means the best restaurant you could possibly dine at, but it’s something more like an old standby.  A place where you know what you’re going to get.  You don’t go in there expecting to be blown away by the food you order,  this isn’t one of those places.  But, if you’re looking for a nice restaurant, with good food that is filling and just creative enough to be outside of the box, then CPK could be for you.  Back around Christmastime, I was up in Monterey, California for the holidays.  On Christmas Eve, as we were looking for a place to grab a bite to eat for dinner, after having driven 6 hours from Southern California, CPK seemed to be as good of a location as any to dine at.  Located across the street from our hotel, in the Del Monte Center, CPK beckoned us with its promise of good, hot, cooked-to-order food.  On Christmas Eve, it’s hard to find places that are open that aren’t fast food, or drive-thru, so we went for it.

Started as the brain child of former federal prosecutors Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, California Pizza Kitchen opened its first restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1985.  These two gentleman had an idea to combine their love of food along with the desire for fresh high-quality ingredients to make hearth-baked pizzas.  California Pizza Kitchen, with their innovative pizza menu and toppings put California on the pizza map, alongside the greats like Chicago and New York.  Today, CPK has expanded into 30 states and 11 countries and can also be found in the freezer aisle of your local grocery store.  CPK has become synonymous with classic, healthy California fare and gourmet pizzas.

Enjoying CPK on Christmas Eve with my family, really gave us a chance to sit back and relax, regroup, and unwind from our long day of travel.  That night, both my husband and my father ordered a drink that, in retrospect, I wish I would have ordered because it looked so good.  The drink was a non-alcoholic Maui punch.  The menu described it as a combination of pineapple juice, orange juice and grenadine.  Pineapple juice was all it took for my husband to want to try it, and I guess my dad must have thought it sounded good after my husband ordered it because he decided to order one too.  When the drink came to the table, oh did it look inviting, almost like you wanted to just slurp it all up in one sip!  The colors of the drink looked so inviting and tropical, more like a drink you’d find on a tropical beach than in a restaurant.  Both my husband and my father finished their entire glasses and said they would definitely order this drink again, so I guess it was a winner!

As an appetizer, my husband ordered the Crispy Mac ‘n’ Cheese.  I’ve shared this appetizer with my husband at other CPK locations, so I know how good they are.  Seriously, is it possible to go wrong with mac ‘n’ cheese?  This “small cravings” dish as CPK calls it is their classic mac ‘n’ cheese lightly fried with panko, served on a creamy cheese sauce.  You get 4 little miniature deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls that have been dipped in panko and are served atop cheese sauce.  This dish is perfect to share with a group of people, or a light appetizer to eat on your own.  Each one of the mac ‘n’ cheese balls is literally a one-bite appetizer, pop-it-in-your-mouth kind of dish.  It’s the perfect combination of smooth melty cheese and macaroni with a crispy and light crust with more cheese in the form of the sauce.

For the main entrée, my mom, who’s always looking to eat healthy ordered the Thai crunch salad.  The salad is made up of Napa and red cabbage, chicken, cucumbers, edamame, wontons, rice sticks, peanuts, cilantro, carrots and scallions, tossed with lime-cilantro and Thai peanut dressing.  Though my mom finished her salad, she wasn’t quite impressed with what she got.  I think that the combination of lime-cilantro and Thai peanut dressing she found to be a bit weird.  I also think that when dishes are labeled “Thai” she tends to think they are going to be something that they don’t ultimately turn out to be.  It’s hard to be Thai and order a dish that is supposed to be “Thai” and have it come out the way you were expecting it to.  To me, the dish looked pretty good, and the ingredients sounded delicious.

My dad decided to go with CPK’s original bbq chicken pizza.  This is a dish that never disappoints.  This is one of the original pizzas created when CPK opened in 1985.  And no one does bbq chicken the way CPK does.  The pizza is made with bbq sauce, smoked Gouda, mozzarella, bbq chicken, red onions and cilantro.  This is such a perfect and classic combination of ingredients that it’s amazing that no one ever came up with it before.  The bbq sauce is perfectly tangy and is the perfect complement to the red onions and the cilantro and the smoked cheeses.  This is perfection in a pizza.

My husband, always wanting to try new things almost always orders something different every time we go to CPK.  On this particular occasion, he went with the think crust Margherita pizza.  Made with Italian tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella, and topped with basil and parmesan, he devoured this pizza.  This is the Italian/Napoleon pizza.  And the thin crust just helps to accentuate the crispness that comes from a hearth-baked pizza and the wonderful fresh flavors of the ingredients on the pizza.

For me?  Well, I’m a creature of habit and almost always eat the same exact thing every time we go to CPK, and this occasion was no different.  I love their Chicken Caesar Sandwich.  The sandwich comes with a side, of which I always choose the Sedona tortilla soup, which I think is just divine.  The perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.  The sandwich, which is made with chicken, shaved Grana Padano parmesan, caesar dressing, lettuce, and tomatoes served on herb cheese focaccia is one of the best chicken caesar sandwiches I have ever tasted.  They’ve taken the art of putting a salad into a sandwich to perfection.  The ingredients and the dressing are just the right touch, not too much, not too little.  The sandwich is full of flavor and punch and is hearty and filling.  You could never go wrong with this sandwich and soup combination.

On this particular Christmas Eve evening, California Pizza Kitchen was the perfect combination for our hungry stomachs and our tired bodies.  Loaded up on hearty, delicious California-style pizza and Italian food, we were ready for the rest of our vacation!

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