A Spiritual Pitstop at Pitfire Culver City

You’re having a long contentious day.  At the end of it, you need to relax, regroup, grab some perspective, get in touch with your other Inner Self, the one that’s not angsty, nerve-wracked and short-fused.  Do you:

a)  go to church/shul/mosque/Wiccan altar to pray

b)  meditate

c)  go to a good restaurant

The answer for the vast majority of people would be “c.”  And yet somehow we think of a and b as “religious” experiences while “c” is just going out to eat.

Food does what they do, for sure.

Last night—after one of those days—my wife and daughter and I drove a few blocks to try out the new Pitfire Pizza in Culver City on Washington Blvd. 

Forget the name that makes it sounds like an Italian-Kansas City concept restaurant. This place has exceptional food, wine and hospitality. 

But first I need to mention one important fact: it was free.

That’s right.  The three of us decided to try out the new place, and when we got there a handwritten sign on the door read, “Closed for Private Party. Open Tomorrow 12 pm.”

My wife—from Brooklyn—walked in anyway.  The host greetd her and explained that this was a pre-opening night try-out for friends and family.

“Well,” my wife said, a big friendly smile on her face, “we’re from the neighborhood.”

“Then come in!” The host smiled back. “Welcome.”

The place was packed, with friends, family…and us.

A large open kitchen, walls of windows onto the street, exposed beams.  What pulls focus on the large room is a wood-fired oven, sheathed in a bright red cylinder, stoked inside with flaming logs.

The menu is a shock.  You expect California Pizza Kitchen and you get Pizzeria Mozza, Oliveto, AOC—at CPK prices.  Farmer’s Market Roasted Vegetables with whipped ricotta; Burrata Pizza with Arugula; Field Mushroom Pizza with Crème Fraiche & Fontina; Tuna Lucca Panini with marinated tuna, eggs and capers.

I ordered some of this and that, along with homemade sangria and a Watermelon Lemonade, whipped out the credit card, and the cashier said, “It’s all on the house tonight.”

But here’s how good it was: I ate at Pizzeria Mozza last week and the pizza at Pitfire was more satisfying. The tuna Panini was simply better.  It was all so good I would have paid for it—and I would have paid almost half of what the same meal costs at Mozza. That doesn’t speak to Mozza’s value—it is excellent—but to Pitfire’s ambitions.  Mozza has its butterscotch budino, one of my favorite desserts in LA. Pitfire could settle for tepid tiramisu, but instead offers organic soft-serve Straus Dairy ice cream with homemade caramel sauce and Malden Sea Salt. 

I’d been to the Pitfire downtown on 2nd street, but this one is a step up in décor, spaciousness, and menu.  What happened?  I found out in The Los Angeles Times:

If you’re a fan of Pitfire Pizza’s BBQ chicken salad or their mac ‘n cheese, you should hurry and place an order before April 2. The local mini-chain with outposts in North Hollywood, downtown L.A. and Westwood (which recently acquired a beer and wine license), is changing its menu this Thursday and will eliminate both of those popular dishes. Pitfire is also getting rid of the Baked Ziti, Fiery Chicken Soup, Dixie Chicken Penne, Papardelle Pasta, Pumpkin Pizza, Folded Sausage Pizza and Folded Chicken Pizza. (The folded pizza is their approximation of a calzone.)

They’ll be replaced by approximately 15 new dishes created by chef/owners David Sanfield and Paul Hibler along with executive chef Mark Gold of Café Pinot and the Water Grill. (Gold earned three stars from Times Restaurant Critic S. Irene Virbila when he cooked at Leatherby’s Café Rouge in Costa Mesa.) The new dishes include the signature chicken salad ($9.75) featuring sous vide chicken on a bed of baby arugula topped by toasted pine nuts, pickled currants, shaved scallions and hand-torn bread crumbs tossed in a champagne vinaigrette; clam and bacon linguine featuring littleneck clams and Zoe nitrate-free bacon in a tomato broth. And a new mushroom pizza ($9.95)—with more whole mushrooms—will replace the old version, which had shaved mushrooms.

This was a gutsy move.  No Caesar Salad! No BBQ Chicken Pizza!  The menu takes locavore/gastropub/organic and injects it into a mainstream fast-casual dining format.  Plus good wines, beers and welcoming service—then again, we are “friends and family.”

The highlights were the burrata pizza, creamy burrata cooled with a mound of fresh arugula atop a nicely wood-charred crust; and the Roasted Vegetables, which were simply ideal: tender brussel sprouts, cauliflower, rapini, finger potatoes, onions and fennel, all roasted separately and laid out in wide platters as on a Venetian bar, then scooped out and served together on a plate with a dab of whipped ricotta and grilled bread.  That is breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I want it again now.

You can take your wounded soul to church or shul.  For me Pitfire was a spiritual pitstop, I left utterly rejuvenated, satiated, content.

(I’ll have pictures up tomorrow)

Pitfire Pizza Culver City

24 Washington Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90066

For map click here.