I don’t usually write about chain restaurants here, however, since I’ve scrapped the newsletter this year, I’ve decided to include some chain restaurant concepts, from time to time, which deserve a mention. Otherwise, please check out the “Odds & Ends” section of the blog for news on chain, fast casual and fast food concepts.
It’s been almost a decade since my last visit to a California Pizza Kitchen. Ten years ago when my son was little, it was one of the places where we would take him to enjoy his favorite pizza — barbecue chicken, a signature of CPK. Fast forward to today, a new CPK concept opens in Irvine, and we are here to check it out.
Our server welcomes us with a big smile. He also spends a little time to tell us about the “new” CPK. I’m happy to see so many new menu additions to include entrees, which means I’m able to join a group of friends with young children for a meal here without being forced to eat a salad or pizza. The decor and obvious upgrades are evident, definitely a huge improvement to what I remember about CPK.
We begin by selecting a few appetizers to start. Tortilla Spring Rolls ($8.99 for two/$10.99 for three) are actually so much tastier than I’d imagine. The tortillas envelop chicken with bean sprouts, scallions, carrots, fresh cilantro and mozzarella, with a smear of Thai peanut sauce. A little more is served on the side for you to dip the rolls in. I am not able to wrap my head around this when I first see it on the menu, however, once I bit into it, everything clicked. It is a nice Thai-inspired dish for those who enjoy Asian flavors.
I don’t often eat pizza because it has a lot of carbs, however, Spicy Fennel Sausage + Poblano Flatbread ($6.99) is exactly what I’m looking for when eating pizza. A thin base — the way I like pizza — is topped with hand-torn sausage with aromatic fennel, and finished with a slight kick from the thinly sliced chiles. Additionally, there is fresh mozzarella, fire roasted chiles, wild Greek oregano, and spicy marinara. I love spicy food so this is highly palatable.
Those interested in salads will be happy to hear there are 10 to choose from! Additionally, you can order a half- or full-sized portion depending on whether you’re planning to share. We try Quinoa + Arugula Salad ($10.29 half/$14.29 full) chock full of asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, red onions, toasted pine nuts, and feta. Everything is tossed in a house-made Champagne vinaigrette, and you also have the option to add a protein. We select salmon for an additional $4.75.
If you have a picky child or husband, perhaps they might like to eat something easily recognizable such as Bolognese Spaghetti ($13.29). The pasta is tossed in a traditional meat sauce which tastes like something I make at home. It is rich and robust, with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top for another layer of flavor.
However, it is the Roasted Garlic Chicken + Seasonal Vegetables ($19.29) which surprises. A generous portion of extremely flavorful roasted chicken breast is served in a lemon garlic sauce, with roasted fingerling potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. I love the crispy skin and heavy garlic aromas. If you’re not a huge fan of garlic, stay away. This is my favorite dish of the night.
Of course, we’re not able to leave without The Original BBQ Chicken Pizza ($14.29) created in 1985 with CPK’s signature BBQ sauce, smoked Gouda, red onions, and fresh cilantro. To this day, BBQ chicken pizza is still my son’s favorite. He is happy munching on this pizza reminiscing back to his little boy days eating this pizza in Hawaii. In fact, we might have to go soon as he’s been bugging me about going back for this.
The new CPK now also offers an array of specially created craft cocktails to the menu. This definitely isn’t the California Pizza Kitchen of yesterday. I’m happy to see CPK adopt changes to reflect the way people are trying to eat today. We are more aware and educated these days when it comes to choosing what we feed our loved ones, so it is very nice to see CPK take that step towards this initiative.
California Pizza Kitchen
5465 Alton Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92604