Monday, August 28, 2017

California Pizza Kitchen

My last visit to California  Pizza Kitchen was in 2013, when they had a promo for a free appetizer.  I didn't like it.  I said I had no reason to return.

But this year, while arranging my birthday freebie crawl, I saw that I could get a dessert for free.  Well, I'm a dessert girl, no matter the quality, so I quickly added it to my itinerary.

I visited the San Francisco location, and opted to get it to go, since I was coming straight from another birthday freebie, and planned to bring it home to have later.  Ordering was simple, they have a dedicated take out ordering/pickup/waiting area to the side of the bar (with its own entrance actually).

The staff were very friendly, multiple people said happy birthday, no one seemed at all offended that I was coming just to get my free dessert, not ordering anything else, and taking it to go.  They talked me to about how good the pudding was.  It was ready within just a few minutes, and handed over with a spoon and napkin.

The entire experience was incredibly pleasant, and the item I selected?  Delicious.  I'll be back. 
Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu had an assortment of tempting options.  Crowd pleasers for sure, but, turns out, that works for me.

First, "Butter cake".  What is butter cake?  I'm not entirely sure, but, it sounded possibly awesome.  Yes, the menu actually just says "Trust us ... just try it!" as the description.  If I was dining in, I probably would have gone with that option, but since it was served warm (with whipped cream or ice cream), it didn't seem like a good choice to take out.  Also, gulp, 1380 calories!

The seasonal special, not listed on this menu, was strawberry shortcake, also tempting.  I love a good strawberry shortcake, but, to be honest, I kinda doubted how fresh the berries really would be.  Even the red velvet cake sorta called out, though I'm not a cake girl.  At least I was able to easily look past the key lime pie (I'm not one for citrus desserts) and the warm chocolate souffle cake (clearly needs to be eaten there).

Which lead me to the salted caramel pudding.  As if it was really a contest, given both my absolute love of pudding, and the fact that I was not able to find a single bad review of it.  People love it.
Salted Caramel Pudding. $6.29.
"Rich caramel pudding, black cocoa cookie crumbs, housemade whipped cream, caramel sauce and natural flaked Maldon sea salt."

When you dine in, it comes in a cute little canning jar.  For takeout, they used a plastic beverage cup.  I didn't mind, as my portion easily looked twice as large as the little canning jar photos I had seen.

It was a layered creation, with the cookie crumbs at the base, the pudding in the middle, and topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce.

I didn't wait more than two steps out the door to at least try a bite, even though I was intending to save it for later.

My first bite was indicative of the difficulty eating it I would have.  The bite was entirely whipped cream (and caramel sauce).  It tasted like generic canned whipped cream, which is fine, but they do say it is housemade.  The caramel tasted like the standard stuff you get on an ice cream sundae, or at Starbucks.  That caramel on top didn't seem salted, and I didn't see any flakes of Maldon on top.

I dug deeper, trying to get to the pudding.  I succeeded, and came out with a bite of pudding and whip.  And ... I was impressed.  That was very, very good pudding.  It was a thinner consistency than I'd expect, almost runny, but the flavor was so good I didn't mind.  Sweet, rich, deep flavor.  I worked hard to get a spoonful of just the pudding.  The result?  Well, it was too sweet, actually.  The pudding alone was cloyingly sweet.  Even though I wasn't excited about the generic whipped cream, it did help cut the sweetness.

But the real magic came when you managed to get a bite of all the layers, including the cookie crumble, hiding at the very, very bottom.  It was extremely hard to do this, and you really just had to mix the entire thing up and not be able to get "perfect bites" with the ratio you wanted, but it barely mattered.  If you got it all, or, really, just the pudding and cookie crumble, it was really, really good.
"Black cocoa cookie crumbs."
The cookie crumble, described as "black cocoa cookie crumbs" was ... basically Oreo crumbs.  The woman taking my order even said, "Oh, do you like Oreo?  If you do, the base is all Oreo, and its amazing".   When she said that, my heart sank a little, actually.  I don't really like Oreo.  If that is why people loved the pudding, then, it probably wasn't for me.  I nearly changed my order.  But I'm glad I didn't.

Yes, it was basically Oreo crumbs.  But it clumped together in ways that it formed either loose soil or little crumbly chunks, all of which were intensely chocolately, almost like a very loose brownie.  I loved the play of the textures against the pudding.  I loved how the very dark cocoa provided the balance needed against the crazy sweet pudding.  It just worked.

This was a creation that was much more than the sum of its parts.  Seemingly generic whipped cream and caramel, pudding that was both too runny and too sweet, and crumbled cookies I don't really like, combined into something totally delicious.

I loved it.  I devoured it.  I had told Ojan I was going to share with him, but, uh, I didn't.  I'd gladly get it again for a birthday freebie, but now I am even more curious about that butter cake ...

Original Review, March 2013

I went to CPK once, when I first moved to California, because I thought it was a thing ... it was "California" after all!  The only thing I remember is that it was the first time I ever had bbq chicken pizza, and I liked the idea of bbq sauce on pizza.  I don't recall if I actually liked the pizza, or anything else.

The other day, CPK was running a promo for a free item off their small plates menu.  I was walking by, was slightly hungry, and couldn't resist a freebie!

I could select any item off that section of the menu, including small salads (meh, they weren't going to have quality produce right?), quesadillas (chicken, ugh), chips and guacamole (allergic), crispy mac 'n' cheese with cheese sauce (tempting!), or focaccia.  I picked the focaccia, as it was most like their speciality, pizza, so I figured if they were going to do any of these items right, it would be the focaccia. It was by far the cheapest of the small plates, but I wasn't really trying to maximize my freebie.

Ordering online was easy, I specified my pickup time, and then it asked if I wanted complimentary bread and utensils, and if so, for how many people.  I set the time, said yes to the extras, and went to get it.

I arrived 10 minutes early to pick it up, and it was already ready ... I guess not freshly made!  But it was kept in a warming area, so at least it was hot.  I also did not receive the bread or the utensils.  I didn't really care, but it was interesting that they have you specify that, and then leave it out.

Long rambling story short ... I have no reason to go back there.
Mediterranean Focaccia.  $2.75.
Described as: "Herb cheese focaccia baked in our pizza oven and served with Mediterranean olive oil and Parmesan."

The focaccia was sliced up, like breadsticks.  It had some type of cheese on it that I couldn't really identify, and only the middle pieces really had much on them.  It also had some herbs coating it, but there wasn't much flavor.  It was pretty unremarkable.  I love the buttery oilyness that can make focaccia delicious, and it wasn't present in this.  It was oily, but not in a nice way.  If you had handed me the plate, I would have told you it was just standard breadsticks, not focaccia.

On the side was the dipping sauce: oil and parmesan.  I liked the parmesan in it, but the oil itself was completely flavorless.  I use higher quality oil just for cooking!  I guess I shouldn't have expected more, but as a dipping oil, I definitely wanted oil with some flavor.  The focaccia would have been better with a marinara sauce or something else to dip into, but then I guess it would be too much like pizza?

Anyway, this wasn't good.  I guess the $2.75 price tag matched the quality however?  
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