The Burnham at CBD Bar (Christchurch, NZ)

Of the pizzas she’s had in Christchurch, my daughter likes best the wood-fired ones served, not at a pizzeria but a brewery out in the borough of Woolston. Known for award-winning beers that they’ve been crafting since 2010, Cassels & Sons added a gastropub to the brewery. Enter the pizzas. I’ve eaten there three times on the way back from Sumner, the Port Hills or The Tannery, of which the brewery is a part. Like my daughter and her family, my impression of the pizzas has been very good.

C&S opened CBD Bar in Christchurch recently with almost the same pizza menu, with slight differences. Its presence near the central business district (CBD) attracts the big city folk—and would make it more convenient for my NZ family to get a good pizza.

CBD Bar lists 13 wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas on the menu. All of them are named for local geographic areas and nearby towns. Mine was the Burnham, simply prepared with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, olives, red onions and mushrooms, all from the Woolston Market. The tomato sauce is fresh tasting, with no strong herbal or zesty notes, that places more flavor emphasis on the other ingredients. The only complaint I had were burnt, bitter spots on the bottom that a minute less in the oven could solve. Otherwise, this was practically a perfect pie (☆☆☆½).

208 Madras St
Christchurch Central
Christchurch 8011
03-379 4223

Patxi’s Pizza

Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood has a stellar group of pizzerias, several of which opened only recently. Delancy, Veraci, Ballard Pizza, Stoneburner and Pagliacci come to mind. The latest entry is Patxi’s Pizza serving a Chicago-style, thick crust pie. It originates from the San Francisco Bay Area, where the chain has nine outlets.

There is great effort to use quality ingredients. The recent introduction of a thin-crust option, for example, boasts an imported Italian flour best for making pizza, the double zero (“00”) finest ground, lower gluten classification that yields the ideal elasticity. Patxi’s also uses four kinds of mozzarella and house-made tomato sauce. Charcuterie items are supplied by two Bay Area companies that don’t add preservatives to their meats, Zoe’s Meats and Fra’ Mani, whose soppressata wins my vote for the best ever. Admirable as these practices are, they likely are matched by other fine pizzerias, including the ones in Ballard that I listed. So, in the end quality still boils down to taste.

Besides a bacon and pineapple pizza (which I didn’t sample because Hawaiian-style doesn’t appeal to me), the other one our party ordered was Tre Porcellini on a thin crust. Topped with Fra’ Mani salami, garlic-fennel sausage, Zoe’s pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato sauce, it is an outstanding pizza (☆☆☆☆) with exquisite savoriness, sausages that even my two-year-old granddaughter kept liberating from me, fresh-tasting tomato sauce and outer crust that puffed up gloriously with perfect chew. I would order this pizza again in a heartbeat, except that there are others on the menu that are obviously worth trying.

porcellini pizza

I am not a fan of Chicago-style pizza. There is too much dough for my liking. But my daughter, who is also not a fan, tells me that Patxi’s crust, reinforced with cornmeal, was surprisingly good. The deep dish pizza menu is different from that of the thin crust.

Patxi’s can hold its own against the home-grown pizzerias in Seattle.

Patxi’s Pizza
5323 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107
(206) 946-1512


Ramen Burgers: What’s the Beef?

“Want ground beef and cheese with your ramen?”

This question you don’t ever expect to hear at a ramen restaurant. At least, for now anyway. But can it be that far behind when the latest craze of Japanifying popular American food is the ramen burger? Yep, that’s right, a ground beef patty sandwiched between two ramen “buns.” But, before I get to that, let’s consider what has gone on before, what blazed the trail to this brain child of enterprising Manhattan Japanese chef, Keizo Shimamoto.

When pizza became an international food, Japan was quick to adapt it to its tastes. While some toppings may be familiar to Americans, others such as octopus, squid, scallops, clams, crab, tuna, mayonnaise (Kewpie brand, no doubt), shimeji mushrooms, bamboo shoots, nori (seaweed), shiso (perilla), among others, are about as alien as making pork & beans with natto. Personally, a lot of those toppings don’t sound half bad. But, the pizzas are made for Japanese consumption and what people eat on their own shores is, to put it mildly, none of my business.

Pizza topped with clams, shrimp and nori (from

Then, in Vancouver, B.C., some ambitious businesspeople launched Japadog. The concept is simple: offer traditional Japanese condiments to accessorize a standard hot dog. To some die-hards, the idea might be sacrilege. Substitute teriyaki mayonnaise for catsup, grated horseradish (daikon oroshi) for sauerkraut, wasabi for mustard? You get the idea. But, at least, the foundations remain the same: sausage and bun. With the right combinations, could this work? Happily, it does at Japadog. Along the same lines, Seattle has its Gourmet Dog Japon.

Oroshi dog

Oroshi dog (Japadog)

And now, live from New York, we have the ramen burger. If the concept were similar to the Japanese hot dog, namely replacing traditional condiments with Japanese ones, okay. For someone like me who’d rather have an unadorned burger, maybe the addition of grilled shishito peppers, Japanese green onions (negi), a dash of shichimi might be worth a try. But Shimamoto’s idea was to replace the burger bun entirely with coiled ramen noodles shaped like buns and fried. Granted, like bread, ramen noodles are taste-neutral, but viscerally the thought of biting through a bunch of chewy and crusted pasta and a beef patty at the same time just doesn’t do it for me. How about adding a slice of cheese with that, which is actually an option? The bun is supposed to play second fiddle, a supporter of the patty, not an equal partner. You don’t normally pay much mind to the bread, unless it’s dry or otherwise indisposed. But ramen? It competes for your attention. And therein lies its lack of appeal for me. While the adaptations described above have some draw (to me, anyway), the ramen burger doesn’t, not even remotely.

The next thing you know, someone’s going to want to pair musubi with Spam.

Ramen burger (image from

Pizza at Ballard Pizza Company (Seattle)

My wife and I have been dog-sitting for our daughter this weekend. Rather than having her dog over to our house, we thought it would be best if we did the sitting where she would be most comfortable, at home, especially since this would be the first time my daughter would be away for a few days. This is the reason there has lately been a flurry of reviews of places to eat in the Ballard neighborhood, one of Seattle’s hot spots for dining.

Ethan Stowell already has a presence in Ballard with Staple & Fancy Mercantile. We dined there a year ago and had the fixed-price meal, which turned out to be not only delicious but far too much food than we could comfortably stuff in our stomachs, rather unusual for this kind of menu option.

To give customers value for their money, Stowell has decided to try a different concept—”natural fast food.” Think burgers, fish & chips and fried chicken. While “upscale” may not be the right descriptor, maybe “redefined?” Ballard Pizza Company is the first of this kind of venture, located only blocks away from Staple on Ballard Ave.

You can order a whole pie or a slice of pizza. But what a slice. Called a “fat” slice, it is one-sixth of a pie for $4. You can see what’s available along the kitchen-assembly line as you walk toward the cashier at the rear. Add a pint of one of several beers on tap, the combo should be enough to satisfy most modest appetites and eaten at one of the butcher block tables in front. Sit-down tables are reserved for whole-pie customers. For variety, there are several kinds of salad and pasta.

Our two choices were sun-dried tomato-Kalamata olive, and roasted garlic-rapini (both ☆☆½). The crust is New York-style, meaning that it is thin. The underside is baked a deep brown, crispy enough to lift without too much drooping. In fact, the tomato-olive pizza crust was over-toasted, almost crackery, while the garlic pizza was just fine. The topping was tasty with the olives providing the saltiness that the crust was spare on. On the other slice, roasted garlic provided a nice sweetness that was not balanced by adequate saltiness, from my point-of-view, and I scarcely consider myself a salt fiend. Bottom line: nice crusts but hardly stellar toppings.

Sun-dried tomato & olives; rapini & roasted garlic

Sun-dried tomato & olives; rapini & roasted garlic

We also shared an arugula salad (☆☆☆½). A generous mound of arugula leaves were served on top of wonderfully flavorful, thinly sliced prosciutto and drizzled with EVOO and lemon juice. High-quality Parmesan added extra savoriness.

Arugula salad (prosciutto, EVOO, lemon juice, Parmesan)

Arugula salad (prosciutto, EVOO, lemon juice, Parmesan)

BPC employs an old-fashioned pizza dough maker, one who tosses it into the air. The process involves massaging the dough with all fingers, flattening with palms, throwing the dough back-and-forth between left and right hands, then tossing the dough into the air, catching it with the backs of the closed hands, stretching (again with reverse fists) and repeating until the desired diameter is achieved. The crust maker, or I should say “master,” was able to finish one pie crust in 35 seconds, more if he had to repair tears.

Pizza crust maker

Pizza crust maker

Ballard Pizza Company
5107 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA

Pizza Magic at Stoneburner

The recently opened Stoneburner has two meanings, our waiter informed us. Not only does it refer to the stone hearth oven in the kitchen but also to the namesake chef, Jason Stoneburner, who is also the executive chef at Bastille, only a block away in Ballard. The waiter added that the menu is Italian-inspired, much as Bastille’s is French. And like Bastille, the interior was designed to evoke a certain European ambience, including the actual interior of an Argentine Italian embassy which decorates the back portion of the restaurant. There a doorway connects to the Hotel Ballard, giving the impression that Stoneburner is a hotel dining room. One wonders if this was done in exchange for the customers’ use of the hotel restrooms. Just kidding.

The restaurant’s specialties are pizza and pasta, both of which are made from scratch. Small plates and seasonal vegetables are also prominent on the menu, as well as cocktails, local beers and wines, the latter in abundant supply along the southeast wall. The dinner menu offers proteins of various sorts, including an immense 60-oz steak that can (should) be shared by 4-5 people.

Three of us shared various items at lunchtime.

A nice beverage was the watermelon and mint shrub (☆☆☆), a seltzer acidulated with lime, but tasted unexpectedly of Chinese dried plum (li hing mui), complete with some saltiness.

Beef crudo (☆☆½), even when sprinkled with fried garlic chips, lacked distinction. Though the slices of raw beef were very fresh, the standard way of dressing carpaccio with lemon juice, olive oil and Parmesan cheese is my preferred preparation.

Grass-fed beef crudo with salt & pepper garlic chips

Grass-fed beef crudo with salt & pepper garlic chips

Categorized as a vegetable, Marinated Zucchini (☆☆☆) was more like a salad. Thinly shaved ribbons of zucchini were nicely dressed with lemon juice and sprinkled with mint, Italian parsley and tarragon. Toasted pistachios gave crunch to this tasty side dish.

Marinated zucchini with toasted pistachios, mint, parsley & tarragon

Marinated zucchini with toasted pistachios, mint, parsley & tarragon

Less successful were the Roasted Turnips (☆☆), partly because they aren’t the tastiest of vegetables, partly because the hazelnut accompaniment was unremarkable and partly because of under-seasoning. The larger bulbs were a bit fibrous. The smoked hazelnuts were tossed with a lovage gremolata that needed more inspiration, though they were tasty enough.

Roasted turnips with smoked hazelnuts and lovage gremolata

Roasted turnips with smoked hazelnuts and lovage gremolata

The crowning glory of the meal was unquestionably the pizza special of the day (☆☆☆½). Crumpled slices of mortadella—which is beyond me how they did it—were combined with a wonderful sauce, with potent tomato flavor, and savory cheese, dotted with slices of Castelvetrano olives. With its intense heat sources from above and below, the stone oven crisped up the pizza shell and mortadella nicely. A bit longer of an exposure could turn into a scorched disaster, which some early reviews complained about. Stoneburner pizzas are on the thinner side, though not as thin as Delancey’s, according to my daughter. It was possible to hold  a slice horizontally without the middle sagging down, despite its relative thinness.

Special pizza of the day

Special pizza of the day

Reviews of Stoneburner’s pastas have been positive. That will be on my list of things to try next time.

5214 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA ‎

Zion Pizza & Noodle Company (Springdale, UT)

Combo Pizza

This is our second time at Zion Pizza & Noodle Company; the first time was in 2008. Pizzas here are pretty good, the dough thicker than we prefer. Our Combo Pizza of tomato sauce, pepperoni, black olives, onions, mushrooms, Canadian bacon, and two kinds of cheese really hit the spot after a long day. You can have your pizza in the Beer Garden in back.

And there are plenty of brewskis, both on tap and in bottles. Utah beers, a term that invites oxymoronic humor, are featured. I still love Polygamy Porter if for no other reason than its motto that offends some people, “Why just have one?” It’s pretty good beer.

Zion Pizza & Noodle Company
868 Zion Park Boulevard
Springdale, UT 84767
Link to menus