WHERE: DLF Cyber Hub, Next to Cyber City, Gurgaon
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
AVG MEAL FOR TWO (MINUS ALCOHOL): Rs 1,600+++ (CPK doesn't have a bar licence yet)
STAR RATING: ****
By Sourish Bhattacharyya
California Pizza Kitchen's first Delhi-NCR outlet
at DLF Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, oozes casual chic
in its ambience and decor
NOT MANY restaurant success stories have been steered by law enforcement officials (they are, in fact, not hugely popular among restaurateurs), so the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) is indeed a rarity. The global pizza and pasta chain, which is present in more than 250 locations across the world, is the baby of two former U.S. federal prosecutors -- Rick Rosenfeld and Larry Flax -- who opened their first restaurant at a stylish location in Beverly Hills, California, in 1985.
Rosenfeld and Flax were the standard-bearers of the California-style pizza, which had been invented independently a decade earlier by Ed LaDou at the San Francisco restaurant, Prego, and the pizza chefs at Chez Panisse, the iconic Berkeley cafe started by Alice Waters. They were experimenting with toppings such as prosciutto, goat cheese and truffles, and making their pizzas in wood-fired ovens, but the California-style pizza acquired a life and following of its own only after Austrian-American superchef Wolfgang Puck launched his now-famous Spago restaurant in West Hollywood, California, with LaDou as his head chef.
LaDou developed 250 pizza toppings using ingredients such as smoked salmon, scallops, duck breast and baby zucchini flowers. It was the same LaDou who created CPK's signature BBQ Chicken Pizza (with smoked gouda, mozzarella, shredded garlic chicken, BBQ sauce and torn coriander leaves), which has made CPK an international favourite and, in an ironic twist of fate, ensured that its frozen pizza line for U.S. supermarkets, backed by Kraft Foods, has spun past Puck's. The BBQ Chicken Pizza, of course, is just one of the 28 pizzas on CPK's international menu, each of which comes with a tasty twist.
At the opening of Delhi-NCR's first CPK outlet at the DLF Cyber Hub, the restaurant chain's international brand ambassador, Philippines-born New York resident Justin Parras, said to me, "We are not your usual cheese-and-tomato sauce pizza place. We have 28 pizzas that come with 15 different sauces on the menu, so you've got to be adventurous and try out our innovative pizzas." Parras wasn't overstating his case.
CPK's Wild Mushroom Pizza has a mushroom-cashew-pesto sauce; its Tostada Pizza comes with layers of cumin-spiced black beans (or grilled lime chicken), cheddar and fontina cheeses, chilled shredded lettuce, crispy tortilla strips and a drizzle of ranch dressing; its Californian Club Pizza recreates a club sandwich on a pizza; its Chipotle Chicken Pizza is spiked with dried and smoked jalapenos (chipotle) in the sweet and tangy Adobo sauce, its international favourite, Karpow Kai Pizza, is loaded with Thai basil-spiced chicken, and the Albuquerque Pizza comes with the green chilli-infused brown sauce after which it is named. It is a world of new flavours out there, waiting to be discovered, and there's even a Chicken Shammi Pizza for those who prefer the safety net of predictability.
You can taste the same interplay of global influences when you dig the pastas with a Calfornian twist. My personal favourite is the California Kung Pao with shrimps, but my vote also goes to the Chicken Tequila Fettuccine (with a creamy tequila-jalapeno-lime sauce) and the Spicy Baja Fettuccine infused with Baja sauce (mainly mayo, sour cream, onion, red bell peppers and jalapenos), which owes its popularity to Taco Bell's Tortilla Wraps. It's simple flavourful food that finds its way to your stomach through the heart after stirring your imagination. And again, when Parras said CPK serves "American-sized portions at Indian prices," he wasn't exaggerating. Each dish at CPK can be shared by two people and each portion of the must-have desserts -- Red Velvet Cake, Tiramisu and Sweet Toffee Pudding -- is good for three.
Jay Singh, Sanjay Mahtani and Roshini Sanah Jaiswal, the entrepreneurial trio powering JSM Corporation and the success of Hard Rock Cafe and Shiro, must be complimented for opening CPK in Gurgaon after launching the brand at Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel, Mumbai. With CPK, they have added another dash of excitement to Delhi-NCR's dramatically transforming dining scene.