As a general rule, I view new pizza joints the same way I view new burger stands – with a healthy dose of skepticism. I mean, let’s face it, it’s hard to improve upon a classic and when it comes to burgers and pizzas, the book has largely been written. But every once in a while a place comes along that taps into that fragment of uncertainty we may have about that which we think we know so well by challenging convention and bringing an element of the unexpected to the mix. The new Wildcraft Pizza in Culver City is one such place.
That Wildcraft Pizza would land in Culver City isn’t particularly surprising given that, much like Downtown Los Angeles and Silver Lake, Culver City is a neighborhood that is experiencing something of a renaissance. New eateries and businesses are popping up at every turn along Washington and Culver Boulevards and Wildcraft is not only a welcome addition, it is a standout destined to bring even more attention to the already burgeoning Angeleno hamlet it calls home.
When I popped in for an 8:30 reservation last Thursday, the restaurant was humming and there wasn’t a single table to be had. Not bad for a brand spanking new place that had at that point only been open for 12 days. While I was waiting to be seated, I chatted with Executive Chef Tin Vuong (yes the same Tin Vuong behind Abigaile, Hermosa Beach’s hipster hotspot) as he scrutinized every plate that came out of his kitchen. As I watched Wildcraft’s pizzaiolos busy at work hand crafting each pizza, I immediately got the sense that this pizza might bolt right to the top of my list of favorites. Moreover, as I listened to Vuong, it became clear that he doesn’t just have a passion for pizza, he has a passion for food, which is evident in every dish on Wildcraft’s menu…starting with the restaurant’s signature sourdough pizza crust.
Vuong spent eight months in the kitchen of a Los Angeles bakery perfecting the sourdough that is the foundation of every Wildcraft pizza. The result is a unique pizza crust that is soft and chewy without being soggy or insubstantial. Actually it’s a bit hard to describe, particularly as I am generally a fan of a crispier crust, but all I can say is that tasting is believing and Vuong turned me into a convert of his authentically Neapolitan style.
The crust might be the shining star, but the supporting cast of “local and responsibly-sourced ingredients” that Vuong uses to top his pizzas is equally stellar. The pizza menu at Wildcraft is divided into two simple sections: Red and White. On the Red side, you’ll find creations with more muscularity…think pizzas with names like Carnage (porchetta, housemade pepperoni, pancetta, fennel sausage, provolone and scarmorza) and The OG (crushed tomato, fior di latte Mozzarella, garlic, basil and prosciutto). Meanwhile, on the White side, which is where I ventured, more subtle flavors are at play.
I opted to start with the Truffle Pizza, a rich, deliciously gooey combination of mushrooms, fontina, taleggio, fried sage and white truffle oil that partnered beautifully with that signature sourdough crust. I also sampled the Chef Vuong’s simply masterful ‘Pie of the Moment’ which on last Thursday was simply topped with arugula and speck ham and it was equally outstanding. But here’s the twist, Wildcraft doesn’t just do great pizza…they also do great sides.
Wildcraft’s Brussel Sprouts which are shredded and topped with almond brown butter, Meyer Lemon and parmesan cheese are the hands down cure for anyone who ever thought they didn’t like brussel sprouts. Trust me when I say these ain’t your mom’s boiled, soggy rendition of this much maligned vegetable. Ditto for the Spinach Salad, which Vuong takes to new heights by adding salt-roasted beets, avocado, goat cheese, and a walnut balsamic vinaigrette. There’s also Charred Cauliflower served with golden raisins, capers, pine nuts and toasted breadcrumbs, Broccolini and a selection of other inventive salads. Not necessarily the kinds of items you might normally associate with your average pizza joint but they are a welcome and fresh addition that help ease the blow of indulging in a feast of carbs in a most pleasant manner.
Whether you live near Culver City or not, Wildcraft is worth the trek. Because though you may think you know pizza, until you’ve been properly introduced to Wildcraft pizza you may find out you didn’t know pizza nearly as well as you thought you did.
For more information, visit www.wildcraftpizza.com and follow Wildcraft @wildcraftpizza.
Until next time…be well…live Wells.