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<< Previous: American Idol Week 1... | Next: Skirt Chaser 2010 >>

CPK Small Cravings Menu
Sunday, 2010 May 30 - 12:58 pm
A few weeks ago I got an email from the director of "Social Media and Grassroots Marketing" for a marketing company:
My name is Jon and Iím working with California Pizza Kitchen to help promote their new Small Cravings menu. I noticed on your blog that youíre a fan of CPK and I wanted to share this video we created that documents CPK dinersí first impression of the new Small Cravings menu. Iíd like to invite you to visit CPK in hopes that youíd document your experience and write about your own reaction.. I can offer you $50 in CPK Dough so that you can head out to your local CPK on us.
Well, hey: a paying gig. I imagine this came about because of this review I did earlier. So, I took Jon up on the offer; sure enough, after a couple of weeks, $50 in "CPK dough" arrived in the mail.

Last weekend Amy and I went to CPK, and we ordered one of each item on the Small Cravings menu. That, coupled with the fact that I was photographing everything, probably had the waitstaff thinking I was some kind of Actual Journalist or something.

Anyway, here are the results.

The Wedge Salad: $4.29

CPK Wedge Salad

There's nothing really remarkable about this salad: it's a wedge of iceberg lettuce, with bacon, egg, tomato, and blue cheese dressing. It tastes exactly how you'd expect, and exactly like if you'd made it at home with ordinary bottled dressing. A little bit of red onion might have made this dish a little more lively.

Sweet Corn Tamale Ravioli $6.49

CPK Corn Tamale Ravioli

I guess this would be an Italian-Southwest fusion dish. It's ravioli with cheese and poblano peppers, topped with a cream sauce, corn, and bits of cilantro. It has a heavy corn taste; coupled with the cream sauce, the corn masks the flavors of the mild peppers. Some jalapeño peppers might have helped here, or maybe some chopped tomatoes.

Asparagus and Arugula Salad: $4.99

CPK Asparagus and Arugula Salad

It's asparagus, arugula, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and a light lemon dressing. The sun-dried tomatoes are a bit of a jarring contrast to the rest of the dish, which is fairly bland. Amy didn't like this much; I thought it wasn't bad. I think a stronger dressing would have helped, like maybe a balsamic vinaigrette.

Crispy Artichoke Hearts: $3.99

CPK Crispy Artichoke Hearts

Nothing fancy here: artichoke hearts breaded and deep-fried, served with a remoulade. It's not bad, but it's certainly not fine dining either. You can hardly tell there's an artichoke heart in there; the flavor is entirely masked by the breading and the dressing. At first Amy thought it was a broccoli stem. I'm not sure what could be done to save this dish; if you really want to highlight artichokes, you'd be better off grilling them than deep-frying them.

Buffalo Chicken: $5.29

CPK Buffalo Chicken

Easily the worst item on the menu. The chicken bits are dry and tough; they didn't seem to have the texture of real chicken. I guess you can coat just about anything in Buffalo wing sauce and people will eat it. But really, why not just serve real Buffalo wings instead of these seemingly pre-processed nuggets? And $5.29 for four little chunks of chicken? Come on.

Mediterranean Plate: $4.29

CPK Mediterranean Plate

A few pita points, some white bean hummus, feta cheese, and a Greek salad of sorts. First of all, it's not clear how this dish is supposed to be eaten: there aren't enough pita points for the hummus, much less everything else. Is the cheese supposed to go with the salad? Is everything supposed to be piled precariously on a pita point and eaten at once?

The hummus has too much tahini and not enough garlic. The salad is okay, but one of the olives had a pit that almost cracked Amy's tooth. Sloppy.

White Corn Guacamole and Chips: $4.49

CPK Corn Guacamole

We saved the best for last, I think. It's avocado, corn, black beans, jicama, green onions, red peppers, serrano peppers, and cilantro. It tastes fresh and lively. I just wish they'd given us a bit more; we were barely a third of the way through the chips before we ran out of guacamole.

Verdict

First of all, I must say this is a pretty clever marketing gimmick. I'm curious to know how many other bloggers took part in this. Now, that being said... if you want to have a successful viral marketing campaign, you'd better make sure your product is up to snuff.

I think this CPK Small Cravings menu falls a little short. CPK makes excellent pizza, and that's what you should get when you go there. When restaurants try to branch out and do too many things, inevitably, they fail to do any of them well. I like that they put effort into the presentation and I like that they controlled the portion sizes, but the dishes seem more like an attempt to improve profit margins than a foray into fine dining.

We have a little of the CPK dough left over. Next time, we're getting pizza.
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Posted by Ken in: food

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