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Dining Out: California Pizza Kitchen

A Thai personal pizza from the CPK in the United Terminal at LAX used to be a monthly ritual for me. In another career, I would go down to LA each month, give the same presentation to a different group of Japanese junior executives, accept some generally unusual gift from them (my favorite-a pair of yellow computer speakers I still use, with monkeys and bananas on them), take a frantic cab ride through rush hour traffic, then relax with my yummy expense account pizza while my United flight back to San Francisco was delayed for the umpteenth time in a row.

Those dot-com days are over. But when California Pizza Kitchen moved into that old art deco hunk of a former auto dealership at 16th and L in May, I was intrigued. I'm not usually much into chains, but when I was still living on the east coast and became aware of CPK, the combination of pizza and California seemed like about the coolest thing ever.

We finally made it to sit-down CPK last week. The first thing we noticed was that the space looked great. It's cavernous, with huge windows and lots of the old art deco features left outside. It was a Wednesday, but the combination of neon lights and oddly/scantily dressed people heading to Mix and other nearby nightclubs made it seem like a Saturday around midnight.

The menu is way more than pizza these days. We started out with the lettuce wraps appetizer with shrimp ($8.99). This consisted of shrimp diced with dried noodles and super spicy tangy sauce, all of which you'd wrap up in an iceberg lettuce leaf to eat. Maybe not the most authentic lettuce wrap I'd ever had, but it hit the spot.

Joy had the blackened salmon ($17.49). This was served rare and not too dry, with the peppery spices suffused through it. The mixed vegetables came in a generous portion with it. Cooked in olive oil, the backbone was Chinese broccoli.

I, of course, had to have pizza. I was tempted by the Jamaican jerk chicken ($12.49), but ultimately decided on the wild mushroom pizza with chicken. ($13.99). It came with four kinds of mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, portobello and white) with fontina and mozzarella cheeses. The highlight here was the excellent walnut pesto-I'm a sucker for pesto, and also for pizzas that aren't red. The waitress also talked me into substituting the normal thin crust for the honey wheat crust, which turned out to be a really good move.

This is one of the first restaurants I've been too where they post the calorie counts of nearly every item. This was pretty informative, especially when you realize you cut out nearly half the calories of a meal by substituting vegetables for pasta.

This, of course, didn't stop me from getting desert-the sticky toffee cake with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream ($7.79 and somewhere north of 800 calories). This came with caramelized pear and roasted pecans, covered in a butter toffee sauce. The cake was so sweet that the ice cream actually made it less so. The combination melted in my mouth. Luckily, we'd remembered to bring Tupperware for our entrees, which we only half finished.

California Pizza Kitchen

1132 16th St.

930 0706

Monday – Thursday 11 AM – 9 PM

Friday 11 AM – 11 PM

Saturday 11:30 AM – 11 PM

Sunday 11:30 AM – 9 PM

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