Sneak peek California Pizza Kitchen offers good, pricy food

I had the opportunity to visit a new restaurant at Ross Park Mall before it officially opened to the public.

Nestled alongside L.L. Bean and the Cheesecake Factory is California Pizza Kitchen, a Beverly Hills-founded chain restaurant.

It was an invite-only event one night before their grand opening, and it seemed staff members were well prepared for the big day to come. Two friends and I met there for dinner.

I’m familiar with California Pizza Kitchen’s grocery store line of frozen foods and have enjoyed them, but never have been into an actual restaurant in the chain. Until now.

The place seems a bit small and lacks much decor, but it keeps with the California style, even with the restaurant’s earth tone colors. It really has an open floor plan — nearly every table can see the televisions at the bar. The place was packed, but not loud at all, which was great.

So, what did we eat?

For an appetizer, we had spinach artichoke dip that tasted better than almost any other restaurant I remembered. Even the chips were extremely tasty — something a lot of restaurants have issues with.

There were limitations to what we could order, so the three of us opted to each get a pizza and share. We ordered buffalo chicken, tostada and goat cheese with roasted peppers.

My favorite was the buffalo chicken pizza, which offered a great spicy kick. It could have used a bit more chicken, but the amount it had was fine. The presentation of the buffalo chicken was great.

The tostada pizza was good, and the salsa dip that accompanied it tasted great, especially following a slice of the spicy buffalo chicken pizza. Each slice was filled with toppings.

Like the previous two, the goat cheese and roasted peppers pizza was good. This pizza also was filled with toppings.

Obviously, all the pizzas were on a thin crust, which was good, except some pieces did fall apart easily.

Each pizza wasn’t large — maybe six slices each? And each slice wasn’t terribly big, which can be a good thing!

None of the pizzas seemed out of this world, though. There’s a lot of hype over California Pizza Kitchen, but at the end of the meal, you realize that it’s just another pizza. Sure, the variety of pizza offerings differs from your local pizza joint, but I’m not sure California Pizza Kitchen lands in the “top five slices” category.

While the meal was free, the server did bring the bill over — our meal would have cost $72 and some change.

We ordered: an appetizer, three pizzas, four beers, a Pepsi, a Diet Pepsi and a slice of tiramisu for dessert.

The menu didn’t offer individual prices and I can’t seem to find them online, either, but $72 for three people is a bit much for pizza.

I’d love to see the restaurant add prices to its online and in-store menus.

The place certainly has potential, and no doubt will have long lines for the next several months as Pittsburghers flock to it. If I’m at Ross Park Mall, I’d certainly go back. I’m not sure I’d make it a destination visit, but if I’m in the area, I’d certainly consider dining there.