â€śIâ€™m a big believer in texture. I like tasting flavorsâ€¦ (feeling) the crunch. Whenever I bite, I want it to be a rollercoaster in my mouth. I want it to be a funhouse,â€ť Archie Rodriguez says with a smile. â€śYou know what I mean?â€ť
Well, we may not exactly fathom his thought process, but the president and CEO of Global Restaurant Concepts, Inc. (GRCI)â€”the local franchisee of the successful California Pizza Kitchen (CPK)â€”sure does seem know his business.
Additionally, he displays intimate knowledge what goes into every dish served to our motley group of media practitioners gathered for a gastronomic introduction to some new additions to CPKâ€™s local menu.
The brand turns 27 years, and marks 15 since entering the local scene. In connection, Rodriguez and his team are holding the very first National Pizza Day in the country on August 15â€”the exact day that GRCI opened its first CPK restaurant here.
Commandeering and unilaterally appointing a â€śpizza dayâ€ť seems a bit bold and forward, but CPK is aiming for domination. Rodriguez looks at it as a way to reclaim â€śpizza authority.â€ť The restaurant is seeking to reinvent itself, he maintains, and what better way to do so (and make a splash, too) then by introducing up to 20 new menu itemsâ€”including, of course, â€śpizzas that stand above the rest.â€ť You could say that some CPR is being performed on CPK.
Economy willing and bedamned, the restaurant is trimming its formidable array of choices from around 125 down to 85, a move that Rodriguez says will enable the chain to â€śfocus on delivering consistently good products.â€ť
He underscores: â€śWeâ€™re really focusing on making people understand that we deliver quality.â€ť
The process took much time and back-and-forth between GRCI and CPKâ€™s US principals, but CPK regulars and newbies will surely be in for treats familiar and peculiar. GRCI browsed CPKâ€™s database and looked at what would be received well here, and interpreted them appropriately.
We start with big fingers of fried mozzarella cheese in spring roll wrappersâ€”nothing surprising but guaranteed to be a hit with kids of all ages. Itâ€™s an oriental take; the US version has the cheese fingers dipped in breadcrumbs alone then fried.
Itâ€™s actually a recurring themeâ€”all of the new items have been â€śFilipinizedâ€ť to suit Pinoy palates.
Take the quesadilla, for instance. Rodriguez applies his funhouse ethics and adds crispy wonton strips into the mix to make it more interesting. It now explodes with crunch and flavorâ€”the latter chiefly imbued by cheese and black olives.
Next up is Spinach Salad with Grilled Spicy Sausage Links on the side. The caramelized nuts are counterpointed with the tangy-sweet raspberry vinaigrette. Rodriguez reveals that the idea for the dressing actually came from CPKâ€™s pastry department, which creatively made use of some raspberry coulis. The sausage pairs up well as a meaty, tasty companion to the greenery.
Seafood Pomodoro with Tagliatelle Negro is a creamy mĂ©lange that features squid ink pastaâ€”not overpowering as you might expect.
The Lasagna Milanese is a more conventional (read: kid-friendly) choice that is jazzed up with some fragrant basil.
Health nuts will surely flip over the Vegetarian Pizza with Gorgonzola. I love the still-crunchy broccoli on the crispy-thin crust.Â Meanwhile, flavorful ham distinguishes the simple but indulging Prosciutto Pizza. Mental note: getting fuller by the minute.
The Asian Chicken Wrap with Wasabi Dressing and Teriyaki Sauce on the side is a welcome break with its light, delicate taste (I tried it sans sauces). Nori and beansprouts change the taste profile into Japanese.
I am too stuffed for the Cheese Steak Sandwich with Homemade French Fries, but I welcome the Sâ€™mores Pizza for dessertâ€”topped as it is with ice cream.
Old devotees of CPK need not fret about having their favorites nixed. Fast-moving products such as the Barbeque Chicken Pizza and Barbeque Chopped Salad remain on the menu.
Still, Rodriguez explains that itâ€™s all part of the natural course of the restaurantâ€™s evolution. For example, the Peking Duck Pizza and Adobo Pizza fell off after some time. â€śThey already had their 15 minutes of fame,â€ť he says, grinning.
By the way, even the plating of CPKâ€™s new creations didnâ€™t stick without an imprimatur from a triumvirate of Filipino, American, and Chinese chefs. â€śA lot of our R&D happens six to seven months before launch,â€ť the GRCI head adds.
Aside from the new selections, other treats are in store for CPK patrons visiting on National Pizza Day. For every dine-in pizza order, customers get another pizza for free (any of five flavors is available as freebie). Shell out P50 and you get bottomless Coca-Cola, too.
More changes are forthcoming even in the kitchen. â€śOur pizza chef is going to be our operating partnerâ€¦ giving him/her due respect for being the artisan behind the meal that youâ€™re having,â€ť shares Rodriguez.
This means each of the seven CPK outlets (with five more coming this year) will highlight its pizza chef. The name of the game is customization and a more personal experience. Diners can ask to have what they want, how they want it.
Rodriguez says that people may have forgotten, but CPK had the following motto when it started the business: â€śBe adventurous. Try something new. If you donâ€™t like it, weâ€™ll replace it.â€ť
â€˘ California Pizza Kitchen has branches at Glorietta 3, Alabang Town Center, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Greenhills Promenade, Trinoma, Power Plant Mall, and Greenbelt 5. Visit http://www.cpk.com.ph.