Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: California Pizza Kitchen, BKC

I love pizza. I blame it on the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cartoons. If I may inflict a bit of self praise on the audience, I made a pretty decent pizza myself. The result of this however, is that I am extremely critical of Pizzerias. You will not see a review for either of the abominations that are Domino's or Pizza Hut on here.

Anyway, I had heard a lot about California Pizza Kitchen which has an outlet at Bandra-Kurla complex and hence decided to give it a try. It is a pizza franchise which , according to their website, serves food in an "authentic California-style. Now Wikipedia lists a California-Style Pizza as having a "New York and Italian thin crust with toppings from the California cuisine cooking style". This cooking style exemplifies "the use of nontraditional toppings that derive from cuisines other than the usual Italian-style tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese".

Anyway, I have to say that my meal did not start off on the best note. On arrival I was told that there were Valet Charges of Rs. 20. Whilst not exorbitant and usually lower than the tip I leave the valet at the end of the meal when fetching my car, I honestly felt it cheapened the whole experience at the start.
When I was clicking the picture above, I was quite rudely chastised by one of the security guards. This might have been building security and not ones hired by CPK themselves, but  it definitely did not start my meal off on a good note.
They do not accept reservations, but we received a table almost immediately. They do have seating on the outside of the restaurant which looked quite comfortable especially since the evening was pleasant and cool. I was not able to click a picture of the same due to the stern look of the aforementioned security guard and ,for the sake of this blog, decided to eat indoors.

Once seated I was told that clicking pictures would be fine. I am thus inclined to believe that the blogger-hater was building security. The staff was quite friendly, however what really struck me from the outset was the noise.Not only were the patrons loud, the music was louder. At times we had to raise our voices to be heard. This seems to join the ever growing list of Pizzerias that cant decide whether they want to be a fun loud place to be or be a formal sit down restaurant. The decor is at loggerheads with the noise. It has nice interiors with a sedate earthy, minimalist scheme of a formal dining experience, but the noise screams of a corner Pizzeria.

The same contradiction hits you when you sit at your table. Nice sturdy table, good looking menu, but the spoon, fork and knife are wrapped in tissue. 
Now this is a place that specializes in food that is usually going to be eaten by hand. I would have liked napkins. You don't want to worry about where you are going to put your tissue paper, or have piles of it on the table. You also don't want to repeatedly ask the waiter for tissue, definitely not at a place where you are going to spend over Rs. 750 per person.

The manager was happy enough for me to take pictures of the kitchen. It is visible from the main dining area which seems to be a prerequisite for a Pizzeria nowadays. It seemed quite large, spacious and clean. 

They have a gas fired hearth for baking. This should set them apart from the other Pizza chains which are sticking to electric ovens on steel conveyor belts. However, do keep note of this when it comes to the food reviews later.

Since I was dining with my Parents, we stuck to purely vegetarian fare. One surprising part of the menu was that there was no clear demarcation of the vegetarian and non-vegetarian items. For the vegetarians out there, be careful when you order.

We started off with a bowl of "Sedona Tortilla Soup" split between my mother and me.

The menu claims it to be a soup of vine ripened tomatoes, mild green chili and south western spices, garnished with corn and tortilla chips.
They went overboard with the green chili. I was recently discussing food with a former 5-star hotel chef who reminded me that Chili is not supposed to be a flavour. In the natural world, chili is in fact a defense mechanism for the plant so that animals do not eat their seeds. It is mostly used to override all other tastes. In the soup, it was all we could taste. Sharp green chili. It left the table unconsumed by both my mother and me.

Rating: 3/10

As one of the appetizers, we also ordered a "Vegetarian Combo Platter".This seemed to have a mini helping of the various starters that the menu holds and thus offered the perfect way to review a lot of dishes without ordering too many.

Lets start off with the Hummus and Pita. The Pita bread was good. Quite fresh, which is almost a prerequisite in a place where breads are their... well... bread and butter. The hummus on the other hand had too much garlic and lemon juice. It was very sharp to taste. The texture was nice and creamy though. It was sad that a little less garlic could have left me with a very pleasant experience.

Rating: 5/10

It came with a helping of Focaccia bread. Now the platter menu says we have a choice of "Herb Onion" or "Garlic Cheese". The waiter forgot to offer that choice to us, bringing us the Garlic Cheese. Lucky for him it would have been my first choice anyway.
The bread again was soft, fresh and well baked. The toppings, however, were not the best. Whilst they had a decent taste of garlic, there was barely any cheese. The toppings were begging for some oregano, basil, anything really. There was nothing to round off the sharp garlic taste. Such a waste and another case of so close, yet so far.

Rating: 5/10

Third on the platter was a set of Lettuce Wraps. Here they served what seemed to be iceberg lettuce on the side, in which you spoon on the filling and the sauces. The filling consisted of Shitake Mushrooms and Waterchestnuts, with bowls of chopped tomatoes and sweet sauce on the side.
This was the best thing we ate all evening. The waterchestnuts and mushrooms were nice and juicy. The lettuce was fresh and crisp. I generally like plum sauce with my lettuce wraps, but the sweet sauce they gave was quite nice.

Rating: 7/10

As my parents have quite a small appetite, we decided to order a set of Mediterranean Tortilla Spring Rolls as part of the main course.

These come with two sauces, one was a chili sauce and I did not try the other. The filling also was composed of Shitake Mushrooms.
This was a disappointment. The tortillas seemed to be made of flour rather than corn and hence it would be more apt to call it a simple Baked Roll. The mushrooms had completely dried out and were lacking in salt. They tasted overcooked.
Remember when I mentioned that they use a gas fired oven? Well one of the advantages of gas is that they theoretically do not dry out food as much as electric ovens. Mind you, this is theoretically. Since they will generally maintain a higher temperature than electric ovens and do not have the capability of fine tuning the temperature, you have a much smaller sweet spot within which you need to remove the food before it will get overcooked. Precision is everything. You can get away with a little charcoaling of a pizza crust as the carbonization adds flavour, but the heat wrecks havoc on everything else. It especially will dry out toppings, fillings and everything else.

Rating: 5/10

They have a wide range of Pizzas and offer a regular and a thin crust. All their regular pizzas can be made in a thin crust format for an additional charge of Rs. 20. Considering the usual mark up on pizzas, I really did not understand why they would want to charge Rs. 20 on a 400-500 Rupee pizza for changing the type of crust. In food there is a usual markup of about 300% and so even if they incur an additional charge of Rs. 10 to change the crust (hence with markup they charge Rs. 20) , I think they should have just absorbed it rather than show it on the menu. It struck me as another miserly moment on the part of the people who created the menu.
As the second item on our main course, we decided on a "Wild Mushroom Pizza" with the normal crust.

The menu specifies this as having Shitake, Cloud and white mushrooms, Fontina and Mozzarella Cheeses, with mushroom pesto, garnished with Italian parsley.
This is another case of the food having missed the sweet spot. Whilst the bread was good, the mushrooms had dried out in the oven. This can usually be made up for by having a decent quantity of pizza sauce, but CPK seems to specialize in toppings rather than sauces (from their California style heritage I guess). The dried overcooked mushrooms just killed the whole pizza.

Rating: 4.5/10

At this point of time we were quite disappointed in the food and just skipped dessert. Though I have heard that the strawberry cheesecake is nice, I think i will review that as a part of The Great Cheesecake Chase.

Review of the Dishes:-

Sedona Tortilla Soup : 3/10
Hummus and Pita: 5/10
Focaccia bread (Garlic Cheese) : 5/10
Lettuce Wraps: 7/10
Mediterranean Tortilla Spring Rolls: 5/10
Wild Mushroom Pizza: 4.5/10

Review of the Restaurant:-

Food: 4.5/10
Aesthetics of food: 7/10
Ambiance: 5/10
Service: 8/10
Value for Money: 4/10


  1. Awww I have heard so much about this place. Too bad it didn't live up to the hype.Also, some people eat pizza with forks and knives :)

  2. So today was the second time I've had dinner at CPK and I must say it isnt all that bad as you made it out to be. It could be possible that you made the wrong choices. For an appetizer we ordered the cheesy focaccia with Tomato Salsa and the salsa was just divine and just like I would have made at home. for the main course we ordered the Traditional Cheese Pizza, Santa Fe Chicken pizza and my personal CPK favorite the 5 Cheese with Fresh Tomato and Basil Pizza. While I didnt personally taste the Traditional Cheese Pizza, the Santa Fe Chicken pizza was quite delicious and the 5 cheese pizza really hit that sweet spot for me. Lets just say we left the restaurant very happy satisfied people.

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