Saturday 23 February, 2013

Savage Pizza: Wildcraft Preview


I got a chance to visit Culver City's new Wildcraft Sourdough Pizza last night during their 'friends & family' tester nights, and while it would be unfair to make any kind of permanent statement after 48 hours in operation, I thought it would be fair to share what I had, briefly:

Wildcraft is a casual concept by Tin Vuong, chef/restaurateur of Hermosa Beach's Abigaile, based around the idea of a sourdough pizza crust, topped with seasonal/local/housemade ingredients and cooked in a Napoli style wood oven. Interesting idea.

The space is classically urban (you could imagine it in Seattle, Brooklyn or even Genoa): High ceilings, communal tables --no reservations taken, fyi-- uncomfortable stools. Eat. Love. Leave. Okay? LOL. The marble topped bar has old style office lamps for lighting, very cool.

At the moment they offer 16 well-chosen craft beers (the most common might be Firestone Pale 31 or Allagash White). I enjoyed their own brew Abigaile Amber Ale, an excellent, smooth food beer. They also offer six red and six white wines by taste/glass/liter that you can tell were chosen by people who like interesting wine. The most recognizable name is Doug Margerum's M3 GSM blend--and if you splurge on it ($15/glass, the most expensive by far) you will not be disappointed. Soft drinks include local Spindrift sodas (ahem to another restauranteur who is offering Dr. Brown's as 'specialty' sodas) They also offer house filtered sparkling water FREE, which is the kind of nice touch I think should be LOUDLY APPLAUDED.

For starters they have a good variety of 'snacks' but I went straight for the Fried Green Olives, stuffed with fennel sausage, and breaded with almonds and parmesan before frying. It's a classic Italian assaggino, but you don't see it many places here. So order them. Immediately.

Wildcraft offers a few just-slightly-creative panini and salads, but I jumped straight to the main attraction from there: the pizza, of which Vuong offers 7 varieties each 'red' (tomato sauce) and 'white' (not), all finished with grana padano cheese, EVOO and sea salt of course. [Trust the Chef: Substitutions politely declined, ya big dummy] Having just discussed Frank Pepe's in New Haven the night before, the Clam & Pork called out to me.

However, a couple minutes after I ordered, Vuong and one of his partners came over to tell me the wood oven had dropped in temperature from his mandated 800 degrees, so I'd have to wait about 20 minutes before they could fire the pizza (it takes about 90 seconds at that temperature). They offered to get me something else while I waited... but I'm not sure if just anyone on a regular day would get the same courtesy. A few moments later, my server also confided that the sourdough crust tends to change flavor a bit throughout the day. That's the kind of thing that, depending on your mindset, is either really cool and 'authentic,' or kind of annoying and 'unreliable' (personally, I'm in the middle). Not sure if this will evolve as they perfect their formula.

Anyway, in the meantime I ordered the foraged mushrooms with crispy polenta. I'm not sure why, but I was expecting something more porridgey. What came out was a relatively thin, chewy fontina-crusted slice of fried polenta with some straw (?) mushrooms and sage on top. It plated nicely, but was chewy and didn't integrate well. Sorry.... needs work.

Next, pizza, brought in a cloud of aroma, piping hot to the table. The sourdough crust is both crispy and pillowy, but actually didn't have much of that 'sourness' you would expect. For this pizza, it held up pretty well to being picked up and eaten by hand. Oddly the fried sage dominated over the fresh Manila clams (impressively mild) and pork belly, giving a distinctly 'mature' flavor profile with an unusual floral quality, and a little afterbite (you can and should ask from some of their chili oil to push that afterbite farther). It was the kind of pie--with a goodly amount of oven char, by the way--that would make even a Wolfgang Puck pizza seem run-of-the-mill.

Not that it wasn't enough food, but I wasn't sure that pie was a fair representative, so I ordered 'The Other Sausage' red pie, with chorizo, crushed tomato, scamorza, ricotta salata, bloomsdale spinach, chili, oregano. If that seems like a lot on one pie, you got that right. It came quickly, and though the crust was better on this one, it was nearly impossible to eat even with fork and knife (or even get to the plate) without falling apart. The fresh tomato flavor and chili dominated like a woman in head-to-toe latex and 5" heels. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Either of them. ;)

For some reason, my ride-along friend insisted on ordering the Cookie Crisp dessert, which despite the intriguing name, is really just a handful of mini cookies with some dipping caramel and 4 oz of organic milk. I'm not sure what the point of ordering it was (and then picking it apart), and I'm not sure what the point of the dessert is, either. Workshop that one.

By the way, pies here start at $10, totally reasonable for the quality. These folks like you. You should like them back.

Wildcraft Pizza