Friday, May 8, 2009

Pizzeria Ortica - 04/24/2009

650 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 445-4900

Just opened earlier this year, Pizzeria Ortica is the newest restaurant in Chef David Myers' portfolio, and his first in Orange County. While Myers' name might be attached to the restaurant, day to day operations are overseen by Executive Chef Steve Samson. A medical student turned chef, Samson has worked in a number of the top Italian restaurants in the world including the 3-star Del Pescatore. Located in the former site of Turner New Zealand, Ortica is one of the few restaurants serving Napoli-style pizza which is fast becoming my favorite.

Immediately after Ortica opened, I was eager try it, hoping that Myers would work the same magic at Ortica that he did at Sona. Reading a few early reviews quickly disabused me of that notion; the food seemed competent but unpolished, though I hoped this would change with time. As a result, I was still a bit curious and when Aaron suggested dinner at Ortica, I was happy to go along.

The dining room is abnormally narrow and gives the impression of eating in an arched hallway an experience I found a bit claustrophobic. Adding sign that the restaurant hasn't quite hit its stride: they still lack a full bar, offering only a small selection of beer, wine, and prosecco based cocktails.

Menabrea Blonde/Amber
Nondescript lager with typical notes of malt and grass, a nice way to cleanse the palate between slices of pizza.

White Peach Bellini - fresh peach puree
Abundant sweetness of the peach leads to a dry finish from the prosecco.

Cocomero - watermelon puree
Nice aroma of watermelon, a light refreshing way to settle into dinner though, the stringy texture of the puree was a bit off-putting

Pappardelle con pieselli e prosciutto - Pappardelle pasta, prosciutto di Parma, English peas
A nicely balanced preparation of pappardelle. The noodles had the perfect amount of firmness and the prosciutto and light sauce gave the dish a pleasant smoky flavor with just a touch of sweetness from the peas.

Risotto con radicchio e guanciale al vino rosso - Carnaroli rice, Valpolicella-braised radicchio, guanciale
I think the whole table thought of refried beans when we saw this. The rice was a bit overcooked and the resulting texture was a bit soft though acceptable. The flavor of the radicchio and guanciale were totally lost in the overwhelming tide of cheesiness. The overall effect was something akin to cheese grits.

Zuppa di cozze - Steamed Prince Edward Isle mussels, green garlic, chilies, mint, garlic crostino
The PEI mussels screamed old from the mushy texture to harsh bitter flavor. I couldn't even bring myself to try the soggy mass of crostino stuck at the bottom of the plate.

Scropigno - fresh house made limoncello sorbet
I was quite enamored of this drink, the sorbet providing a lovely citrus and nice chilling effect.

The Stinging Nettle - bitters and sugar
I didn't really taste too much of the bitters, this just felt like a generic sparkling wine to me.

Margherita - Crushed San Marzano tomatoes, Gioia mozzarella, basil
The classic preparation of Neapolitan pizza, the Margherita is fast becoming one of my favorite styles of pizza with its sweet sauce and light topping of cheese complimented by the fragrance of basil. This was a good presentation of the Margherita but it is difficult to say it truly stood out in any way.

Calabrese - San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, rapini, Calabrian chilies, bottarga
At first glance, the Calabrese is hard to distinguish from the Marherita. Indeed the main difference was the rapini which gave a sudden bitter twist to the pizza. This was my first experience with bottarga which is a silver mullet roe from the Mediterranean. The eggs had tinge of salty brine that seemed to accent the flavor of the cheese.

Salsiccia e finocchio - House-made sausage, caramelized fennel, marscarpone, red onion, buffalo grana
Surprisingly this was the only pizza we ordered with any meat. Lots of strong flavors on this pizza but they seemed to run together, definitely lacking the finesse of the earlier two pizzas.

Ricotta al forno - Baked ricotta with mosto cotto
I thought this was going to be a cheesecake and in some sense it was but nowhere near as sweet as I would have liked. Often the only thing I could taste was the mild flavor of the ricotta.

Torta di cioccolato - Chocolate tart, vanilla gelato, candied orange peel
If the other dessert was too bland this was overly intense. The chocolate vanilla contrast worked quite well, though I couldn't taste much of the orange peel. I found both desserts to be surprisingly blunt and overly simplistic, while decently executed the ideas could have been found anywhere.

Seems the consensus on Pizzeria Ortica is pretty spot-on. Logically, the restaurant is positioned perfectly, offering an upscale version of a popular casual food, both classy and approachable the same time. The pizza and pasta are all above average but given the pedigree of the restaurant's founders that isn't enough.

And to those who have told me I must try Pizzeria Mozza, don't worry, I will and soon.


Aaron said...

I was most disappointed by the mussels. Pizza was about what I expected. I think you hit it right on the nose when you say that Ortica is "unpolished"

Tangbro1 said...

The quality of the mussels was mind boggling. Maybe the restaurant will smooth out the quality issues with time.

How does the pizza compared to other Napoli style restaurants like Mozza?