Just a few weeks ago, in the midst of this year’s Pizza Week, New York Magazine published a list of “New York City’s 25 Most Iconic Pizzerias.” This was not necessarily a list of the best — though by default, most of them are the best — as much as it was a list of the joints that define the high concept of the New York pizzeria, bastions of thin-crust pies and that New York attitude.
Though the space, in what used to be a Daily Grill, is radically different from the original in Brooklyn, the powers behind Grimaldi’s growth have worked hard to re-create the New York experience. There’s a virtual museum of photos of the Big Apple back in the day on the walls, the setting is filled with the sort of dark wood restaurants don’t use much anymore and the kitchen seems to be everywhere you look. The place is virtually all kitchen.
Much is made of the “secret ingredient” pizza sauce (my guess is tomatoes, but what do I know?), the “handmade” mozzarella and dough, and most of all, the water.
“It’s all in the water when it comes to the dough ... and we believe that to be true,” according to a press release. “So, we had a chemist replicate the water and through a special filtration process, we truly bring you the same pizza we serve in Brooklyn.”
The food comes flying out of the kitchen with wonderful speed and the menu, for those of us used to pizzeria menus that offer dozens of strange ingredients, is blessedly brief. There are no garlic knots, no fried calamari, no breaded zucchini sticks. Just pizza and salad. And some good wines to drink.
There are a few other points of difference. There’s a sizable outdoor patio, which is a good place to sit, despite the view of traffic along Rosecrans.
The servers are young, fresh and friendly, a world apart from the grizzled veterans who sling the pies in Brooklyn. This is California. Except for old delis like Canter’s, we don’t have grizzled veterans. (They’ve all gone off to play golf in the desert.)
The salads are good and functional; a bit of greenery to eat while your pie cooks in the 1200-degree ovens. Like the pizzas, these are salads of the old school — antipasto, Mediterranean with feta cheese, spinach salad with Gorgonzola, a classic Caesar, a nicely busy house salad and a good caprese. But they’re just a warm-up act for the pizzas, which can be seen on every table in the place. Sorry, but no one comes here just for salad.
The basic pizzas are topped with sauce and islandlike slabs of mozzarella, and can be ordered with garlic or pesto. There’s an additional charge for any of the 24 toppings — black olives, Italian sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, all the usual suspects, which of course includes anchovies, and of course does not include pineapple. Or barbecue sauce. Or Alfredo sauce. (Thank goodness.) I guess jalapenos are about the wackiest the toppings get, or maybe the grilled chicken, which wasn’t served on pizza back in the day.
For dessert, there’s cheesecake, cannoli and tiramisu. And that’s pretty much it. There isn’t even pasta on the menu. Grimaldi’s is totally focused on doing one thing, and one thing only. And they get it right.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria
Rating: 3 stars.
Address: 2121 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo.
Hours: Lunch and dinner, every day.
Details: Beer and wine. Convenient building parking, and valet. Reservations essential for groups.
Prices: Salads, $7-$14. Entrees, $10-$19. Extra Toppings, $2-$5.
Cards: MC, V.
Information: 310-648-7503, www.grimaldispizzeria.com.