Once upon a time, when I was starving college student, I worked at the mall. Upon clocking out for my 30 minute lunch break, my M.O. was to pick my sad granola bar from my purse or maybe grab a kids meal from Chik-fil-a (in my defense, it did come with a fun toy), because we all know $128 text books don’t pay for themselves. But once a month or so, when I was feeling particularly saucy, I would splurge and spring for a BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. I’m pretty sure in some instances that salad was the highlight of my month.
Admittedly, I haven’t visited California Pizza Kitchen much since my mall days ended. No real reason; I guess I just sort of forgot about it. Fast forward double-digit years: I recently revisited California Pizza Kitchen at their Willow Bend location to check out their new “Next Chapter” menu. I was excited to revisit an old favorite (but also anxious to see if they still served my coveted salad), and to see what their new menu was all about. I won’t make you wait in suspense: CPK did indeed still have my beloved salad along with several other familiar salad selections. The pasta and pizza selection also appeared relatively unchanged, with classic offerings like the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza and Thai Chicken pizza still gracing the menu.
So, that said, what’s in CPK’s “Next Chapter?” California Pizza Kitchen has recently updated its menu to focus on high quality, fresh and seasonal ingredients, and *most importantly* (OK, maybe that’s a matter of opinion, but barely) hand-crafted cocktails, and locally brewed beers.
Speaking of those craft cocktails; I’m going to go ahead and admit I was pleasantly surprised (if somewhat skeptical) when I looked at the new menu, which billed CPK’s cocktails as “unique and spirited”. The new cocktail collection features premium spirits paired with fresh fruit purées and herbs, with an extra surprise of unexpected ingredients. One such cocktail I sampled was the California Roots, (fresh avocado, shaken smooth with Svedka vodka, mint and lime, garnished with a fennel salt rim, $10.29). While I wouldn’t characterize the avocado flavor as identifiable in this imaginative cocktail, it definitely gave my drink a pleasantly rich and smooth consistency. I loved the zippy lime and mint, and the fennel salt rim was an awesome touch.
We also tried the Blueberry Ginger Smash (fresh blueberries, lime and cranberry with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Domaine de Canton Ginger, $10.89). This one was packed with berry flavor, and about as summery as a whiskey drink can get. Most notably, the cocktails we sampled packed a rather surprising punch. I have tried my fair share of “fancy dranks” that look pretty and taste good but seem to be characterized by a relative lack of booze, but rest assured, this was not a problem we encountered. (I’ll note that it’s a dangerous thing to get mall-drunk … drunk shopping is real, y’all.)
CPK has also added a stellar sangria flight to their lineup. It includes Orchard Sangria (white wine, St. Germain Elderflower, Monin Stone Fruit, orange and cranberry juices), Red-Berry Sangria (red wine, Rémy VSOP, Monin Blackberry, raspberry purée, cranberry juice, lemonade), and the seasonal Harvest Sangria (Bacardi Superior Rum, St. Germain Elderflower, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay with muddled grapes, basil & fresh agave sour), all three for $10. In additional to being a pretty amazing value, all three varieties were very nicely balanced. Additionally, CPK has a variety of wines available in 6oz or 9oz pours as well as by the bottle. And they offer a “Wine Adventure Guarantee”, encouraging patrons to be adventurous and try a new wine … and if it doesn’t thrill you, they will replace it with your regular favorite.
Their craft beer selection is also slowly expanding with offerings from the likes of Chimay, Rogue, and Goose Island gracing the menu. Additionally, CPK has added a selection of local favorites, currently including Lakewood Hop Trapp, Lakewood Temptress (yum), and Nine Band Pale Ale.
After sampling so many drinks, it was a good thing CPK invited us to try several of their new menu items, too. They have a new collection of small plates and flatbreads, ranging from Crispy Mac ’n’ Cheese to White Corn Guacamole. We sampled the new Bianco Flatbread (whipped truffle cream, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella and fresh sage, $6.99), and the truffle cream was approximately as outstanding as it sounds, and the fresh sage was dee-lish.
CPK has added a variety of new entree options to their menu, emphasizing “globally inspired” seasonal ingredients. We sampled the Hearth-Roasted Halibut (wild caught from Alaska and roasted on a cedar plank with butternut squash farro, grilled asparagus and baby kale, $19.49) that was incredibly flaky and tender, and the butternut squash farrow was one of those dishes that just warms the soul. Even my husband, who tends to be somewhat of a “fish snob”, gave this dish two thumbs up. We also tried the Roasted Garlic Chicken with Seasonal Vegetables (a crispy-skin chicken breast in lemon-garlic sauce, with a medley of the seasonal vegetables) that was amazingly decadent and moist, bursting with buttery lemon garlic flavor. CPK is also featuring a new Fire-Grilled Ribeye (house-made pinot noir sea salt, topped with creamy bleu cheese butter and served with roasted fingerling potatoes and lemon-garlic wild arugula salad, $25.99).
Overall, I was quite impressed with California Pizza Kitchen’s “New Chapter”, and I think this may be a “New Chapter” for CPK and I, as well (mall job not included).