Santa Monica and Houston eats.

This week’s episode of the Behind the Dish podcast is up, as is my piece for Insiders on potential breakout candidates for 2013.

My nationwide pizza crawl continued at Stella Rosa in Santa Monica on Tuesday night, convenient since I’d just seen Dominic Smith play around the corner at Santa Monica High School. Stella Rosa is also on that Food and Wine list of the best pizzerias in the U.S., but I thought it was just kind of average overall, a little better than the Arizona chain Grimaldi’s (related to but not owned by the same folks who run the original in Brooklyn) but not close to the others on the list I’ve tried. Stella Rosa makes the sausage for their sausage pizza in-house and they dust the pizza with fennel pollen, all of which is great, but the pizza was overtopped so that it was swimming in water – not just wet in the center, Neapolitan-style, but just watery overall, and with mozzarella that was so moisture-reduced already it became a little tough in the cooking. Their dough is more New York-style than ultra-thin Italian-style, crunchy underneath like the exterior of a baguette instead of like a cracker. They have an interesting menu of salads, so it might be a better experience with a crowd, and the attached marketplace (called “M”) offers some enormous cookies, including a chocolate chip cookie with dark chunks of chocolate and fleur de sel sprinkled on top that I may or may not have just inhaled.

I also neglected to mention the one meal I ate in Houston last week, at Bryan Caswell’s very highly regarded seafood restaurant Reef. Caswell was a guest judge on one episode of Top Chef: Texas, competed on the Next Iron Chef, and won a Food and Wine Best New Chef award … but Reef was really disappointing start to finish. The snapper in the snapper carpaccio was sliced too thickly and was very tough in parts, without enough of the tangy grapefruit agrodolce to go around. The redfish in that entree was very high-quality, but way too mildly flavored and in desperate need of a hit of acid. (Aren’t we all, though?) Even the dessert, a key lime tart with toasted meringue and fresh raspberries, was overdone – the meringue was smeared on the plate and then browned, so eating it with the tart, which is kind of the entire point of having it on the plate, was extremely difficult. I had been looking forward to this meal for a while, but every step of it was a letdown.


  1. Judging from your experience at Stella Rosa, you probably would have been better off going five miles or so down Wilshire and trying 800 Degrees in Westwood. C’est la vie.

  2. I agree with Mike. 800 Degrees would have been solid. Wildcraft in Culver City wouldn’t be a bad bet either.

  3. Meherab Amaria

    Since you’ve started your “pizza crawl”, Keith, I invite you to my house the next time you’re in Denver. I’ve recently started making pizza on the bbq grill. Fantastic, in my honest opinion.

  4. Keith I can vouch for Tacconelli’s in Phila. If your ever in the city try their white pizza with spinach and tomatos.

  5. as an angeleno, I actually think Stella Rossa is way overrated. I would suggest Mother Dough in Los Feliz next time you’re at Dodger Stadium (or in the vicinity) for some damn good neapolitan pie

  6. 800 Degrees is on the list too – but the point of the list is to try them all, or as many as I can, and I was barely a mile away from Stella Rosa. I would have regretted skipping it.

  7. Don’t know if you are planning another trip to Houston again Keith but if you are try and check out the newly opened MF Sushi. The Kinjo brothers were based in Atlanta but recently pulled up stakes here and moved to operations to Houston. I’ve heard good things. I’ll actually be checking it out for myself in two weeks.

  8. Keith,
    sorry to hear about your experience at Reef, though I’m not too surprised. While I haven’t been there recently to speak from personal experience, its been fairly well-known locally that they’ve taken a step back from where they were a few years ago – whether that’s from resting on laurels, lack of direct attention from Caswell, or other reasons, I can’t say. If you make it back to Houston soon, there are a variety of places that I’d recommend well ahead of Reef, including places like Oxheart, Pass and Provisions, Underbelly (though I’m not as big a fan as others), and the local outpost of Uchi.

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