Hummus and flatbread
My mother is celebrating her birthday today and, in her honor, I’m posting snapshots of one of her favorite meals from California Pizza Kitchen: a simple spread of mezze, gorgeously mushroom-y pizzas, and hearty salads all washed down with lemon or raspberry iced tea.
Thai Crunch and Caesar Salads
The best way to start the meal is with CPK’s Tuscan Hummus. Here, the classic Mediterranean legume puree is flavored with the tastes of Tuscany: a touch of lemon, some garlic, white beans instead of chickpeas, and a scattering of chopped fresh tomatoes and basil on top. The resulting dip is less nutty than the usual version, less spicy, but nevertheless excellent for opening the appetite at the start of the meal. If you’re dining solo, I actually recommend the hummus as a light meal on its own, seeing how it comes with wedges of chewy flatbread.
As for the salads, you can never go wrong with the Caesar; at CPK, this standard is made with a crunchy combination of romaine, iceberg, and yellowish butterhead lettuces. What makes this version of Caesar salad stand out is the fact that they use really good anchovies for the dressing: along with the addition of garlic and sharp-tasting Parmesan, it is deliciously pungent and fresh-tasting.
Another must-order item is the Thai Crunch Salad. It is described on the menu as:
Shredded Napa cabbage, chilled grilled chicken breast, julienne cucumbers, edamame, crispy wontons, peanuts, cilantro, julienne carrots, red cabbage and green onions tossed with a lime-cilantro dressing. Topped with crispy rice sticks and Thai peanut dressing.
Considering how my mother can’t stand cilantro, she actually likes the way the herb balances the flavors of this richly peanutty salad. So do I, actually, but I’m more of a fan of the creamy-tasting, crunchy-textured edamame (green soybeans) as they go so well with the grilled chicken. Incidentally, considering how breast meat was used, the chicken is quite moist and juicy.
Wild Mushroom Pizza
But Mom’s biggest favorite at CPK is the Wild Mushroom Pizza because it’s so flavorful and so satisfying. Here, a wild mushroom (portobellos, porcini, and black truffles, I would surmise) pesto is spread over pizza dough. The pesto is then topped with white button mushies, meaty-tasting shiitake mushrooms, and plump abalone mushrooms. A generous helping of shredded fontina and mozzarella cheeses is scattered on top along with some chopped flat-leaf [Italian] parsley.
The flavors are amazingly meaty and rich despite the fact that this dish is practically just veg and dairy. The aromas are rich and funky, certainly more exotic than the smell of more conventional pizza-parlor pies.
And then, there is the White Pizza which is baked with a whopping five cheeses and is flecked most temptingly with bits of spinach and parsley. It seems so simple, but it’s quite rich and utterly decadent.
Ironically, my mother isn’t really as big an eater as all the rest of us. But we adore her and her appetite because of her emphasis on quality – certainly the very best! – over quantity.
My wonderful parents!
Happy birthday, Mom! Here’s to many more to come! 😀