Monday, September 21, 2015

CPK, Way More Than Just Pizza

California Pizza Kitchen
2800 N. Main Street #872
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Of course when you think of California Pizza Kitchen, you think of their iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza, but CPK is rolling out a new menu and a new look. CPK restaurants across Orange County have been going through the conversion of expanding their menu to include lots of new dishes that are featuring seasonal and locally sourced foods. They not only have retooled their menu, but their cocktail program and decor as well. In other words, if you haven't been to CPK for a while, you have been missing out. We were recently invited by CPK to experience all that is new here.

Not only have we not been to CPK for a long time, but we hadn't been to Main Place for a few years. There's quite a lot happening here. This shopping mall is going through a pretty radical makeover, with lots of new shops and enhancements to the mall taking place. Of course I'm pretty intrigued by the restaurant side of things, and there's plenty new here, or at least on the way. Wokcano and Lucille's will be joining the newly opened Panini Cafe, Blaze Pizza, and Dog Haus very soon. Even CPK is expanding their patio, which is still under construction, but will be great for dining outdoors.

Not only is a makeover going on outside the restaurant, but a new look for CPK has happened inside as well. They say they are going for a rustic, modern look, utilizing sustainable materials, and I'd say they nailed it. The restaurant features a wide open feel, thanks to the large glass window near the front of the restaurant, the spacing of the tables, and the open kitchen, where you can catch the chefs doing their best to feed their hungry patrons. All this was pleasing to the eye, but I was ready for my stomach to be pleased, so let's take a look at some of the new menu items at CPK.

As quickly as we sat down, we were given two of their latest cocktails to try, the California Ginger Crush and the Blueberry Ginger Smash, (both $8.79). We had a disagreement at our table as to which one of these we preferred, but both vanished rather quickly, so it's safe to say our party of three liked them both. These labor intensive cocktails utilize fresh juices and herbs in them. My favorite was the Crush, which included Absolut Mandarin and Citron, muddled mint, and fresh lemon and orange. I loved the combination of the citrus with the mint in this one. Katie and George were more partial to the Blueberry Ginger Smash, mostly because this reminded them of their younger days consuming whiskey. Joining the Jack Daniel's in the glass was an organic agave nectar, ginger, fresh blueberries, lime, and cranberry juice to finish it off with. George told our waiter that these kinds of drinks would entice him to bring a date to CPK. Better update that EHarmony profile George.

What do you do when you can't decide on just one kind of soup? Well if you're at CPK you get their Two In A Bowl ($7.99). I don't think I've seen this on any other menu, but you can choose two of their signature soups served side by side, in the same bowl. Perfect for people who are indecisive. I really enjoyed both of these, the Baked Potato Soup and the Farmers Market Soup. The baked potato soup used a thick potato base, and utilized bacon and scallions in it. The farmers market soup used squash as a base, then they threw in some veggies, added some cream, and then drizzled some olive oil over it. The result was another nice, thicker soup, which satisfied me more than a normal vegetable soup would. This will be very good when it finally cools down around here.

Next up they brought us out two flatbreads for us to try. The Smoked Ham and Swiss Flatbread ($8.29) is off their new menu at CPK. The very sturdy flatbread was layered with Emmentaler and goat cheeses, smashed garlic croutons, caramelized onions, and plenty of ham. I thought this was going to be a little too overwhelming, but the flavors played nicely with each other. I was definitely more partial to the seasonally inspired flatbread that they brought out for us, the Maine Lobster Flatbread ($11.29). They do not use the bad parts of the lobster here. No, they use the very good tasting claw meat, which they generously used to top the flatbread, along with light mayo, herbs, shaved red onion, and arugula. Exactly like a lobster roll, but in flatbread form. Now you don't have to go all the way to Boston for your lobster fix.

It had been about ten minutes, so it was definitely time for another cocktail, and our wonderful host obliged with this California Roots ($8.79) beverage. Appropriately, this was a drink that featured fresh avocado, along with mint, Svedka Vodka, agave sour, and a unique fennel salt rim. This drink came across as fresh and clean, and I really liked the creaminess that the avocado brought to the table.

Yeah, this doesn't look like your grandmothers California Pizza Kitchen. When this Fire Grilled Ribeye ($25.99) hit the table, there was an audible gasp of excitement. This twelve ounce choice ribeye was prepared with a Pinot Noir sea salt and a blue cheese butter. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, with eye pleasing grill marks on both sides. Very tender, with lots of flavor coming from the meat. This had us quiet for a good long while as we were busy getting our fair share. This was accompanied by roasted fingerling potatoes and a lemon and garlic arugula salad. I was way more partial to the potatoes, as I've never really been a fan of arugula. I found this lemon-garlic dressing to be more lemon than garlic, and that made it too sour for my tastes, but the potatoes were fork tender and made up for the arugula salad.

Probably my favorite entree of the three that we tried on this evening was this Roasted Garlic Chicken with Roasted Vegetables ($18.99). The chicken breast came in a lemon and garlic sauce, with crispy skin on it. I liked the moistness of the chicken, and they got the garlic and lemon sauce right on this one. The poultry was placed on top of some very good veggies, which included tender carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and Mediterranean herbs. Even though this looked like a hefty, more Fall feeling meal, this was surprisingly light. Very well done.

Probably my least favorite of the three entrees, but George and Katie's favorite was this Hearth Roasted Halibut ($23.79). Guess I did not have the same tastes as Katie and George on this night. They really loved the halibut, but I felt it needed a sauce or something. It was however placed on top of some very good butternut squash faro and baby kale, which was delicious. I was also a fan of the grilled asparagus, which was done nicely.

Thankfully our last drink of the night made it's way over, since we all had to drive home after this. I'd call this Coconut Blossom ($8.79) CPK's updated version of a pina colada. They use a mandarin blossom vodka, white tequila, agave sour, coconut puree, and fresh pineapple. Not overly sweet like a pina colada, you could taste all the elements of this drink as it passed through your lips, and down the hatch. Tasty, and it brought to mind the drinks we have had in the tropics, but made better.

By this time of the night we were all pretty full, but this S'mores dessert really intrigued me. It had a budino feel to it. This layered dessert came with kettle cooked chocolate pudding, chocolate chunks, crushed graham crackers, and toasted marshmallows on top. I really liked the insides of this dessert, but felt that there needed to be more pudding in here. The graham cracker crumbs and the marshmallow got in the way of my beloved chocolate. I'm trying their Salted Caramel Pudding next time for sure.

I left CPK with a new respect for them. As I've been writing this blog for six years now, I've found myself having changing tastes. I used to like eating in chain restaurants, but those days are becoming fewer and farther between. For the most part now when I eat in those kinds of restaurants everything kind of feels prepackaged, and not very fresh or good. I'm not being snobby, but that's how I perceive chain restaurants to be. I did not have that feeling as we were leaving California Pizza Kitchen. I loved the freshness of the food, I like that they are branching out of their comfort zone of pizzas, and that they have stepped up their bar program. Yes, I still saw lots of pizzas being ordered, but there were plenty of people trying these new items. It's pretty impressive for a restaurant that's been around for 30 plus years to want to keep things fresh, and give their customers greater options. We will definitely be back, and so will George, once his EHarmony mojo starts to work.

We would like to thank everyone at CPK for the invite to come in and experience their new menu items. We could sense that everyone we encountered is really proud of their food, and excited to share it with all of their guests.

If you want to experience the new CPK for yourself, head to their website for the location nearest you, by clicking here:

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