California Pizza Kitchen used to be a place where tourists and exhausted mall shoppers would scarf pizza — that pizza, of course, being the sort no tradition-minded Neapolitan could stomach. C.P.K., as it is usually abbreviated, bastardizes the form with highly questionable amalgams of cuisine-hopping toppings — everything from jerk chicken to avocado and ranch to Hawaiian barbecued chicken with pineapple.
With the chain's latest menu items, the mad scientist pizziaolo-on-hash stylings have expanded beyond the realm of dough and cheese to include Korean steak tacos, gastropub-ian fried macaroni-and-cheese, and something called a chicken tinga quesadilla. Sniffing the fumes of desperation, we swung by the Beverly Center and inhaled a few so you wouldn't have to.
First of all, we ordered the new habanero carnitas pie ($13) — a pile of “slow-roasted” pulled pork with red onion, cilantro pesto, several cheeses, and an accompanying dish of semi-spicy habanero sauce. Had the dough been yeasty, well-blistered, fresh, and brittle on the bottom, we'd have been perfectly pleased. Sadly, we were chewing through glorified lavash. The Korean steak tacos ($5.25) were a bite-and-a-half each. We've been told we possess a big mouth, but these mini-morsels disappeared faster than a couple of Tylenol capsules.
Salty, excessively sweet, and too luxuriously poured over the bits of meat, the sauce, as is often the case with the efforts of chain restaurants prioritizing volume over subtlety, went too far — a sloppy, only mildly palatable imitation of food truck fare. We didn't go for the mac-and-cheese fritters, chicken tinga quesadilla, and terrifying-sounding dynamite shrimp, but we'd like to hear from someone who has. If you can still reach your keyboard.