California Pizza Kitchen opens in Binondo

MANILA, Philippines - For California Pizza Kitchen, nothing is off limits. This is precisely why California Pizza Kitchen (CPK), without fear, opened its eighth location where dimsums reign – Binondo.

During the launch of its newest branch at the third floor of the barely three months old Lucky Chinatown Mall in Binondo, CPK vice president of international franchise Gabriel Sinohuiz said Binondo, despite its old China atmosphere, is in tune with the east-meets-west concept of CPK.

He said the Beverly Hills-based pizza parlor is very much into experimentation, resulting in “unexpected” flavors rolled into one pizza.

“When we first rolled out, we were the pizza authority…in innovative gourmet. It’s our niche,” he said.

Binondo, which is a melting pot of cultures, is likewise prepared for gourmet pizza, he said.

“We’re providing Chinatown residents and visitors something that is expected of such a historic location: the best-choices in California-inspired cuisine, exciting and flavorful pizzas and American quality service,” added Archie Rodriguez, chief executive of Global Restaurant Concepts, Inc., the franchisee of CPK in the Philippines.

And in a few months’ time, the unique palate of Binondo residents and hobnobbing clients from faraway north will get to add to the increasing list of inspired pizzas in CPK’s menu. Just a few years back, CPK rolled out its adobo pizza, which even surpassed the classic barbecue chicken pizza in terms of popularity, Sinohuiz added.

“Being Californian is just a mindset,” he said. In fact, even Asian-inspired CPK menus even make its way to other branches across the world.

One of the interesting options offered to guests last Wednesday was the Asian Specialty Wrap: prime steak ribs sautéed with yellow onions, red and green bell peppers, bean sprouts, quesadilla cheese wrapped in oven-hot tortilla and nori.

An ordinary pizza parlor would go the route of calzone in view of the Italian craze, but CPK is doing the wraps this time. It’s not just the steak that makes this wrap the star of the launch, but the delicate and slightly fruity taste of the enoki mushroom and then dunked in wasabi sauce or teriyaki glaze.

Sinohuiz expects that the Asian wraps (another option is chicken strips) will find its way into the international market.

He said he will not be surprised if wanton wraps or squid-ink pizzas will each get a spot soon on the menu list.

Cuisine comes to Chinatown

Besides the heavily favored Asian Steak Wrap, guests were also treated to the innovative use of different herbs from the soup to the pasta.

Reading “mushroom cappuccino soup” in the menu already ups the ante, but having it served in shot glasses makes one think: “Am I cosmopolitan, or what?” More mushrooms here (fresh button mushrooms and abalone), but this time crushed and mixed in shiitake cream.

The cappuccino surprise is more of the milk froth and nutmeg topping the soup. Maybe the last two ingredients blended into oblivion into the richness of the mushrooms, but sweets should be served via dessert.

Of course, the shot glass was only for proportion purposes, in order that guests will still have room in their stomachs for the main menu.

The Chinese Chicken Salad, which has long been in the core menu of CPK, was as refreshing as usual.

A taste of the Chicken Piccata pasta would bring back memories of college days. Owners would probably cringe at this pasta being compared to a famous instant pancit canton noodles that benefited well the hungry college kid.

This should be taken as a compliment, however. Instead of the sometimes soggy two minutes-overcooked instant noodles, Chicken Piccata uses the firmer spaghettini with lots of lemon caper sauce and chicken strips.

What is CPK without the pizza? Guests were served with the Farmers Market pizza that should attract vegetarians and almost gorged patrons. It has grilled zucchini, tomatoes, goat cheese and other kinds of cheeses. Somewhere in between bites, an overbearing Pinoy will have to sink his teeth into the roasted squash and think of camote or sweet potato.

CPK also serves a fruit sangria, which some guests adventurously chose to wash down their food. Instead of the Spanish red sangria, CPK uses the blush wine (from same red grapes but skins are removed after fermentation, thus the lighter color) with a dash of soda and apple chops.

The desserts were not Asian-ish, however, with the usual ref cakes and chocolate cakes.

Sinohuiz explained, however, that the desserts were “localized” for the Filipino palate. While Americans want their cakes sweeter, Filipinos will opt for the sugar level down a few notches.

CPK’s popular key lime pie in the US also evolved into the mango crunch pie to celebrate the Filipino fruit, he said.

The innovation will further continue and the CPK menu list will see a restructuring when Global Restaurant opens a few more branches in the next few months, including an expansion outside Manila.

CPK senior operations director Luisa del Rosario Lomotan said at least three more will open this year, including one at Harbor Point in Subic on November 6 and another at the Bonifacio Global City on November 15).

Sinohuiz said branches in Boracay, Cebu and Davao are also in the pipeline.

“CPK is a very flexible and adaptable brand,” he said, adding the Philippines is a very good opportunity while its market in the US is undergoing rebranding to make CPK a pizza authority once more.