Monday, September 17, 2012

Heart my pizza. . . .

This week, our freelancing duties found us sitting down with Sid Fanarof, founder of zcafe and zpizza. After the usual formalities, I kicked off our discussion with the usual, "If there's anything you'd like to add that wasn't covered in the questionnaire. . ." Well, Sid proceeded to speak for another hour. We're still pouring over the content.

Before heading to our desk job, Sid asked us to try two new dishes that are in the works. As zcafe is about to celebrate its first birthday, they want to continue to create innovate additions to their menu. I'll admit, I didn't use to like zpizza (their parent chain, 100+ locations strong worldwide). I grew up on very run-of-the-mill chain versions. I did evolve to Chicago-style, but alas, it's difficult to locate truly good deep dish (unless you're Tony's Little Italy in Placentia).

The z team creates a cracker-like crust-- not too doughy, but not so thin as Neapolitan.  Enough toothsome bite to withstand a few layers of toppings. On this day in particular, Sid was concerned about the crust. He explained that when there's a lot of humidity, the crust doesn't rise as high. You'll notice fewer bubbles around the edges.

Our first rustica flatbread was a take on a Margherita. Blanketed in burrata and basil pesto,whole mini cherry tomatoes are dropped down to blister, and a generous sprinkle of fresh basil completes the sharable plate. With each bite, the subtle burst of tomato juice releases enough acidic flavor to offset the creamy mozza. It is as lively as the flag it's modeled after.

Our second experiment was reminiscent of Olive Garden's attempt to plate salad on pizza. In theory, not a bad idea; but OG's was poorly executed for a number of reasons (one of which was choking on a forkful of both salad and pizza). Additional hesitation braced us when we opened the box and were caught off guard by the aroma of citrus. While this appetizer also included burrata on a cracker crust, the similarities ended there. Thin-sliced prosciutto, arugula, pear, an olive oil drizzle and lemony zest make for more of a salad to us. Dare we even try it? Of course, and with a smile.

This dish in particular reminded me of a realization I had about food. When it comes to a few ingredients (blue cheese and arugula being two of them), our palates are most at ease once aforementioned items are paired with at least one other taste. Steak with blue cheese, or arugula with sliced pears, for example. By themselves, ack. In conjunction, complementary. It's really about having the right pairing that matters. In this case, the salty ham, acidic fruit, peppery greens and fresh cheese balanced each other out. We were pretty impressed by the combination.

If you find yourself across the bridge at South Coast Plaza craving a casual bite, we suggest stopping by. The secret: park yourself in the outdoor patio on one of their couches. People watch, have a beer and just chillax. Just don't bug the Apple employees on break.

3333 Bear Street
Costa Mesa