캘리포니아피자키친 강남점 (California Pizza Kitchen)
Reviewed by Aaron Namba on October 19, 2011
CPK has its own four story building.
About four and a half years ago in 2007, we discovered a curious yellow building being constructed a little ways from Gangnam exit #5/#6, and were quite happy to find that it was one of our U.S. favorites, California Pizza Kitchen (henceforth CPK). When we moved to Seoul last year, we gave it a try, and were pleased to find that it was a lot like the U.S. version, only minus a few dishes.
Then, a few months ago, when we finally went to review CPK, we found that they had changed things up a bit (for the worse, in my opinion). They substituted cheaper ingredients, and service was... not great. Hoping this was temporary, we postponed the CPK review. However, when we went back again, it was the same, so perhaps the situation is permanent.
A bit sad, but we thought we'd put up the review anyway. There are a still a few things we recommend, after all.
Potato Leek Soup (3500원) - This was served lukewarm.
CPK has a number of great appetizers, although regrettably I haven't been able to try many of them, since I really like the pizzas and tend to eat one myself instead of sharing, which doesn't leave much room for anything else.
When we visited a few months ago, we ordered the potato leek soup, which we've had before. Especially on chilly days like today, it's nice to start a meal with a piping hot bowl of soup... except this one came out barely lukewarm. It still tasted okay, but creamy soups really lose a lot of their appeal as they cool.
Mysterious Shrimp (5900원) - Avoid
I'm only including the "Mysterious Shrimp" so that you can recognize and avoid it. It looked great in the picture on the menu, and the name was intriguing, but we think we've solved the mystery: dried shrimp. The sauce was good but why waste it on this? Well, if you do decide to try it, at least you won't have wasted too much money on it.
Kung Pao Spaghetti with Shrimp (17900원) - Annie's favorite
Kung Pao Spaghetti has been Annie's favorite for years now, and this is the one dish she recommends. She calls it spaghetti with a Chinese flair. She orders this without peanuts, and (in the U.S. at least) with spaghettini noodles to better soak up the delicious sauce.
Santa Fe Chicken Pizza (17900원)
I have a number of favorite pizzas at CPK: Tostada, California Club, Santa Fe Chicken and the Buffalo Chicken pizza. The Buffalo Chicken hasn't appeared yet on Korean menus, but of the other three, curiously, the Santa Fe is the cheapest (in the U.S., I believe it's usually the Tostada), so I usually go with that.
The chicken is bathed in fajita-inspired spices (including a healthy dose of cumin, guaranteeing that I have this pizza all to myself), and the pizza is served with a dollop of sour cream and guacamole, and a bit of pico de gallo. In U.S. CPKs, it is wonderful.
On my most recent visit, my beloved Santa Fe Chicken pizza came out edible, but far from wonderful. First, it was clear it had been sitting around for quite some time, as it was not hot, and the sour cream had melted into a puddle. Second—and this is the big thing that delayed the review—it appears that CPK has switched to Korean pizza cheese. Greasy, chewy, strange smelling stuff, that Korean pizza cheese. Why would CPK use it? I can't get my head around this. Unless they are contemplating becoming KPK.
It won't be Korean pizza-pasta dining experience without it. Usually, Koreans eat this like a side dish, when the food is too greasy to the taste.
Now the pickles, I can understand. When Koreans eat greasy foods (pizza, fried chicken, etc.), they like to clear their palate with pickles. Although I don't really do that myself, I can simply not eat them. The cheese, though, is hard to forgive.
Chocolate Mousse Torte (4900원)
Ah, dessert. For us, an important part of the CPK experience. Tragicaly, they are missing our two favorite desserts (the Chocolate Banana Cake, and the seasonal Pumpkin Cheesecake), but the Chocolate Mousse Torte is pretty good, too. I can recommend this.
Finally, the service. CPK, in the U.S. has excellent service. Korean restaurants generally have good service as well. CPK, in the U.S., serves pizzas straight out of the oven. Korean food is also served as hot as possible (sometimes hotter). Why, then, does CPK Korea have poor service and serve cold food? The mind boggles. CPK is squandering their most precious asset: reputation!
I really believe that sharper management could remedy all of these issues in a week and turn the place around. On the other hand, I also believe that things could slide further. As of right now, I recommend the restaurant only to people who think they might enjoy the Kung Pao Spaghetti, and for people who really miss CPK pizza, but have been away from it long enough to have forgotten what it was really like.
- Food: 3/5 - Food selections are limited and they use Korean cheese on their pizza. However, the pasta is good and comes out picture-perfect every the time.
- Service: 3/5 - Servers are courteous when you have their attention, but that attention can be hard to come by. Even when you are the only customer.
- Atmosphere: 4/5 - Clean and relaxed feel. Feels like a CPK, although you can't see the oven and kitchen (I think they hide those away on the second floor).