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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Italia Express

Within the great Westfield Mall is a fancy food court. One of the fancy eateries is called Italia Express. They serve slices of pizza, calzones, lasagna, garlic bread and some basic pasta. In my tradition to order a whole pie I started to ask for one. Then I came to my senses and realized it wasn't worth it, that was around the time she told me the price. It would be somewhere over 20 dollars I can't quite remember exactly. It was, I'm estimating, an 18 inch pizza. So instead I just ordered a slice of cheese, which is no cheaper. A slice of pizza, granted it is a generous slice, is 5 dollars. Way, way too much. They had different combo deals: a slice and a drink, 2 slices and a salad and a drink, and so on. Most of them were over 9 dollars, and none of them were "deals".

Sorry to rant on the price. It is an upscale mall so I guess you have to assume the high prices. The food court though aside from the fancy architecture has nothing upscale about it. Sure there are place you wouldn't expect to find in a mall dinning hall, like Baja Fresh, Fudruckers, and Coral Tree Cafe but they aren't exactly high quality food places, certainly not Panda Express. The Itlali Express goes right along with the trend of mediocre food with high prices.

I guess people compare it to Sbarro because it's in a food court. I guess it is somewhat similar and definitely much better. Actually this pizza wasn't half bad. It was very satisfying. Very cheesy, very greasy, a very thin and crispy crust. It had a lot of spices and flavoring in the sauce. The salty, sweet and savory all worked well in satisfying my mouth. Though too greasy and a little too over flavored in my opinion.
That being said, in a place like that with a price like that you should get more. You should get something original and upscale perhaps.

Italia Express
Westfield Mall - Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood
Price: $$$

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mexican Pizza

So I now have had 3 authentic Mexican pizza experiences. One Mexican pizza in America, one American pizza in Mexico, and one American pizza with Mexican toppings. None of these may be great representations of the style of pizza they are trying to create but it shows there are definitely different examples of what Mexican pizza actually is.

Pizza is an interesting food, I don't have to tell anyone that. It is more than just the cheap, easy food that is delivered anywhere and everywhere in America. It has been shaped into so many things. When it started in Naples it was one thing, when it came to America it was another, after that it can be found in some version all over the world. Even within countries such as ours it varies depending on region, but yet it retains the name pizza no matter how drastic the changes. The definition of pizza is defined by the consumer, and depending on what the consumer eats the definition varies.
That being said, pizza really became the world wide success it is now only after it came to America. This country gobbled it up. When other countries saw how much pizza was loved here, or how successful it was here, the idea was borrowed and altered to the liking of that specific country. (Italy excluded.) They of course kept the name pizza but it wasn't quite the same.
So it seems in my opinion, that pizza as it originally was, is defined properly as what the Italians and Americans describe it as. There are essentially 2 types of pizza. Italian (Neapolitan) and American. Then there are of course variations of these types, sub types if you will, such as: NYC style, New Haven style, St louis style, California style and so on. However pizza some times takes on different forms entirely, mostly in other countries, but the most notable in this country is Deep Dish Chicago style pizza. Is this actually pizza ? If defined by the inventors and promoters, US and Italy, then no. Though I will leave this discussion for another posting.

Lets move on to Mexican pizza. There is pizza here in LA that claims Mexican pizza, and I will assume that there may be something similar in Mexico. It resembles a NY pie but has very few if any of the same ingredients. In fact, in my discovery it doesn't even have to be called pizza, it is called a Tlayuda. Perhaps it is called Mexican pizza only to attract the pizza lovers like me. Nevertheless, it isn't pizza if you ask me. To read more about the Tlayudas click below.
Then there is the Mexican pizza I came across in Mexico, this was more similar to a NY pie, so similar that the only thing Mexican about it was the location. Is this pizza, yes, though not really Mexican. To read more about the pizza in Mexico click below.
Then there is of course the more common Mexican pizza that we can find almost anywhere. I am sure even Pizza Hut has had a variation at one time. This is simply American style pizza with Mexican toppings, such as beans, avocado, salsa, some onions and meat. Hence:
It's funny: Mexicans took an American dish that we took from the Italians, made it their own, or in some cases just took it straight up and then the Americans took the Mexican concoction called pizza back to America and labeled it as "Mexican Pizza". Though the reality is, what we may be selling is what we've had all along, just with different toppings.

Well, I don't know if that makes sense. I am not expert, these are just my rambling opinions. This is why pizza is so interesting, it blurs every line of labels it can have. A hamburger is a hamburger is a hamburger. You don't ever see an Italian Burrito do you? Unless you want to call that Manicotti... but you don't.
To me I suppose, true Mexican pizza is actually just American pizza with Mexican toppings, because anything that is truly Mexican isn't really pizza. Or is it?

El Chapulin (Oaxaca Town Cafe)

As you drive down Western Ave through Korea Town suddenly, in a matter of a block, it goes from Korean to Mexican. Though this area isn't just general Mexican, it is specific to an area of Mexico called Oaxaca. This is the biggest state in Mexico that supposedly has the biggest grouping of the indigenous Mexican people. With such a large grouping of Mexicans from this area and the fact that they are the oldest group of Mexicans, they bring with them a specific style of food among other things. This whole area around Pico and Western is dedicated to all things Oaxacan.

I do not know much about this culture, what I do know is they have what is called a Tlayuda or Mexican Pizza. I heard, though I am unsure of this, a place called El Chapulin serves up one of the best Tlayudas in LA.
El Chapulin I think, is the name, which means grasshopper. El Chupulin Colorado is a character from an old 70's spanish TV show. You may know this from the Simpsons, this is who the bumblebee man is based off of.
However when I got to where this place was supposed to be I could not find it. Only after a second drive by did I notice the grasshopper logo on the sign. The proper name on the sign was Oaxaca Town Cafe. This was connected to a Discoteca Artesanias. Which I guess roughly translates to a Club of arts and crafts. Though it was more of a small market than a craft store. Though on the receipt it was called Jugos y Licuados El Chapulin which is Juices and Liquids or milkshakes or something. So I don't know what the name is. I'll go with El Chapulin.
It was definitely genuine. It was hard just to order the thing because they had to go find someone that spoke english. It was about 12 inches maybe 13 and it cost me 9 dollars. I got a tamarind mexican drink too but it's unclear if they charged me for that. But regardless 9 dollars for the amount of asada they put on it wasn't too bad.

I watched them make it. They took out an already crispy, extremely thin flour tortilla. They then smeared on a some refried black beans over the surface. On top of that they added fresh cheese, that could have been mozzarella but was a little more sour than what I am used to. Then on top of that added a bed of lettuce. Then it appeared to go in the oven. After it came out they added avacado, sliced tomatoes and the meat I chose which was carne asada. There was supposed to be onions on it somewhere, but I think they forgot those. They then cut it in 4 slices and since they didn't have a pizza box stacked the slices in a small styrofoam container, for it to go. This was kind of funny. It also came with a side of salsa roja.
At first I was having trouble enjoying it. The asada was great. The cheese, different as it was, was delicious. The salsa was a melting pot of a million different flavors with just the right amount of kick. Lastly the thin layer of beans was the perfect touch to bring it all together. What keep me from really devouring it was the now warm bed of lettuce. Lettuce seemed like an odd choice from the beginning, and after it was slightly heated up it was obviously a wrong choice. It just wasn't the taste or texture I was used to and wanted on my Mexican Pizza. Though I could have asked for it without the lettuce, so next time I will avoid that. The other problem I had was the tortilla. Though crispy and lightly browned it tasted chewy and stale. Especially the first slice that I ate before the condensation softened the rest of the stack of slices in the container. After the first slice the tortillas softened up a bit and not only could I fold them but it took some of that chewiness out. Which is interestingly the opposite of what you want to happen with American Pizza. The longer it stays in the box the worst the crust gets. Perhaps it is just my opinion but you want to steam the Mexican slices just a little before you eat them.

So I now have had 3 authentic Mexican pizza experiences. One Mexican pizza in America, one American pizza in Mexico, and one American pizza with Mexican toppings. None of these may be a great representation of the style of pizza they are trying to create but it shows there are definitely different examples of what Mexican pizza actually is. It makes you ask yourself is there such a thing as Mexican pizza or is there just pizza with Mexican flavors.
I explain more in my posting about Mexican Pizza. Enjoy.

El Chapulin-aka Oaxaca Town Cafe-aka Expresion Oaxaquena
3080 West Pico Blvd. LA
Price: $

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pizza Fusion

So a relatively new place called Pizza Fusion opened in Santa Monica. For their grand opening they promised free beer and wine and of course free pizza. I couldn't say no to that, so I made the trip to see what the Fusion was all about. I knew only 2 things about this place going in which is more than I usually do I suppose. One was that they serve all organic food. Which I will get to later. The second was the fact that Pizza Fusion started in Florida and now as a franchise has opened places all over the country, including 6 in California, including one in Hollywood.
Once I got there it was a little crazy. There were a ton of ravenous people who attacked each other every time a new pizza came out and the free beer was basically just a shot. I wasn't surprised, you can't expect to give away whole free beers for 3 hours. So it took me awhile to get some pizza, I wasn't in the mood for fighting so I waited till everyone was full and then made my move. After an hour and half I managed to sample quite a few different pizzas. So for once I have pictures of pizza that actually have toppings on them. Ironically I don't have a picture of the cheese pizza.
The top one was my favorite. It was a veggie pizza with artichokes, red onions, zucchini and portobellos. The bottom picture is a sun dried tomato and garlic one. In between were some of the biggest pepperoni's I have seen.
I did manage to get a few cheese squares. I have to say the pizza exceeded my expectations. The crust was thin and crispy with a good crunch. The sauce was the highlight, lightly spiced but still fresh and sweet tasting. The cheese was good as well a little oily, but its organic oil so its ok... right? It isn't all mozzarella cheese though, it is a mixture with provolone and parmesan. Overall a pretty enjoyable pizza, the dough could have had a little more rise on the outer edge. Giving it a little more of a light and airy texture. Instead it was kind of dense. I really can't complain about anything else, except the price. You get an oblong shaped cheese pizza, which is 18''x9'' for 14 dollars. Depending on the toppings it could go up to $21. I guess this isn't too ridiculous considering you have fresh organic ingredients.
The toppings on the other pizzas were all great, good combinations and fresh flavorful meats and veggies. They have a multi grain crust that was really good actually, and a gluten free pizza which I didn't try. I did have a small piece of the vegan pizza, and I have to say it didn't taste all that different than the regular.
Here is my friend Lily to elaborate on the Vegan Pizza:
A few hours after lunch at the GOLDEN MEAN VEGAN CAFE, I still needed to satiate my pizza craving so I headed to PIZZA FUSION in Santa Monica, CA for some din-din. Pizza Fusion offers an array of tasty organic pizza options and even has a few vegan and gluten free options for those of us with dietary restrictions. I opted for the "Very Vegan" pizza topped with crimini mushrooms, roasted garlic, tomato sauce and your choice of either soy cheese or Daiya cheese (they just started offering Daiya cheese so its not on the menu yet). The waitress was just as excited as I was about the Daiya cheese and told me I made a great choice. Now even though my order was classified vegan the only difference is the cheese - and I've already detailed the goodness that is Daiya. No cornmeal crust here - just your regular pizza dough, so this vegan pizza tastes AUTHENTIC! I'm willing to bet if you didn't tell someone it was a vegan pizza they might never know the difference. I'll definitely be back for more of this stuff the next time the pizza bug bites! Yum!
(For more Lily Vegan Reviews CLICK HERE)

So this may be a chain but it seems to really have a high standard for its food. It is great that it offers such fresh options for food. The whole organic movement is big here in CA and is spreading all over the country. So often this organic concept is exploited for something more than it is. I mean vegetables are by nature organic, so why do we pay more for organic things and why wasn't it organic to begin with. This is a subject I really know nothing about so excuse my ignorance. I understand the way we produce food now is not really healthy from beginning to end. This of course needs to change. So if we want to call the answer organic I'm all for it. I'm happy pizza is included in this organic revolution. So often pizza is thought of as an unhealthy food. When you see the overweight middle America ordering there Domino's cheese stuffed crust it's hard to argue. But pizza in its purest form, eaten in a reasonable portion can be a fairly balanced meal especially when you throw some fresh veggies on it. So I am happy that Pizza Fusion is bringing organic pizza to the mainstream. Which means maybe less people will eat Pizza Hut and more people will appreciate good pizza in all its forms. Or Pizza Hut will just invent an "organic style" of pizza on its own and sell it to you with a x-large Coke.

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. 90401
(6 others in CA alone)
Price: $$
Overall: Vegan Pizza:
Pizza Fusion on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kosher Pizza Station

On one side it says Mexican on the other it says Pizza. When you drive by it gives the impression that it serves Mexican pizza. This of course is not the same. It is a Kosher food joint that serves up everything they can cook, from Mexican to Italian and classic Jewish cuisines. Located on Pico in a relatively Jewish neighborhood there are a few other pizza joints to compete with, a few blocks East, Pizza Mania and a few blocks West, Shalom Pizza.
Despite my disappointment that it wasn't Mexican Pizza I ordered a large 14'' cheese pizza anyway. Because that is what I do. Above is a picture of their out door rug. Nice!

The pizza looked different right off the bat. It was a light color with a lot of noticeable spices. It was a light color because it was lacking the right amount of sauce. The sauce was a thicker heavily spiced sauce and put on very light. So mainly it was just the cheese and the thicker than average bread-y dough. The dough did get ever so slightly crispy on the bottom but it was mainly just doughy and had a oil taste taste to it. The wild card with this pizza was an unusual pizza spice, Rosemary. It was a pretty noticeable flavor and one not usually associated with pizza. So that alone made it original which I give credit for, however the lack of sauce and the thick dough didn't really do much for me.

Kosher Pizza Station
8965 W. Pico Blvd LA 90035
Price: $$

Kosher Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizza Mania

Driving down Pico, in a relatively Jewish neighborhood, with several Kosher pizza joints from Shalom Pizza to Pizza Station, is Pizza Mania. You can't miss it with the larger than life cut outs of pizza on top of the building. This is not a Kosher place. Which really makes no difference. The pizzas are technically the same. If you ask the guy who runs Pizza Mania he'll say the difference is price. Which could be true. I got a Large 14'' cheese for 9 dollars. Three dollars less than Pizza Station.

I of course was to hungry to wait before I took a picture, so here is a nice Pacman shaped pizza. This pizza based on the picture looks really good. I have to say the first few bits were just as good. There was a great balance between salty, oily and sweet tomatoes. The sauce was plain tomatoes that were sweet and slightly bitter, with only the slightest hint of spices. The cheese was right and put on with the right amount compared with the sauce. There was a slight reminiscent flavor of a NY pizza, whether it was the messy oil or the sweet sauce or the floury bottom, it had that going on.
But not so fast it wasn't near perfect. The crust as usual is where it faltered. The bottom and for the most part the outer edge was not crispy. The bottom center was floppy and soggy and the thickness inclined quickly, so after a couple bits the crust was just too thick and doughy. The dough didn't taste too bad, the quality was a bit generic and had it been crispy and thin, it would have been the right consistency. So unfortunately another average pizza. But in an area where all there seems to be is average food this might be the best bet.

Pizza Mania
6116 1/2 Pico Blvd LA 90035
Price: $

Pizza Mania on Urbanspoon

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