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CASA BIANCA / REVIEW (B-)

Hi, all. I'm a big fan of this site, and of this community. I read this board often, however rarely post. I consider myself a dedicated foodie, and I try to eat at the most acclaimed places of every ethnicity -- whether they're upscale or holes-in-the-wall (or on four wheels), and regardless of neighborhood. that's my intro.

I've long heard about the fabled Casa Bianca pizza as being the "best in LA." I live in West Hollywood, and hadn't yet made the pilgrimage to Eagle Rock for pizza. I'll set the stage a little... Today was a great day to eat pizza. I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. When me & my girl strolled in to Casa Bianca around 5:00pm we were chilly, and famished. It was around 50 degrees outside, and the wind was gusting. Inside, the place was packed & lively & warm, and smelled great... All in all, these are what I would call very favorable conditions in which to enjoy large quantities of hot pizza! (right?)

okay, let's get to the pizza review... we ordered a large pie -- half vegetable (mushroom, olive, artichoke, etc.), the other half meatball & mushroom. it was incredibly below-average! what a disappointment. cardboard-y (machine-made?) crust. not merely frozen pizza-esque (because there have been some innovations in frozen pizza crusts); rather this was like Mama Celeste ("abundanza") low-budget frozen pizza crust! what a travesty. and the toppings... the veggies looked & tasted like they were out of a can; definitely the artichokes were, maybe the olives and mushrooms. the meatball half of the pizza was similarly uninspired. (and i don't care to hear about the much-ballyhooed fennel sausage, because that couldn't have redeemed this pizza -- i don't care if they sprinkled kobe beef on this.) This pie lacked honesty.

And of lesser importance, but reflective of the overall mediocrity: the garlic bread was phony, with a garlicky oily breadcrumb mixture slathered on warm rolls; and the cannoli came with multi-colored sprinkles on either side & maraschino cherry!

it wasn't that expensive, and besides, i don't even care about the price -- i'd pay double that for an culinary experience that had some authenticity/integrity to it.

(Seriously, I made homemade pizza for the 1st time ever a couple of weeks ago using a simple mark bittman recipe for the dough, trader joe's sauce (to save time), and good ingredients diced in cuisineart -- and it was much, much better than this place.)

There's just so many places to get a good pizza in LA: casa buono, mozza, terroni (even albano's on melrose & patsy's in the farmer's market), etc. Why go here? It's a california-style fraud, with a charming/inviting old neon sign out front.

Avoid.

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  1. Even the best restaurants have their dishes to avoid. At Casa Bianca, the thing to avoid is the canned mushrooms. It's not laziness; the owner actually thinks they taste better on pizza.

    Sorry to hear you didn't like it. CB seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Bjartmarr

      I've never been to CB, but Petrillo's uses canned mushrooms and their pizza is excellent. I would prefer fresh ones but their use of canned doesn't make a dent in how wonderful their pizzas are.

      1. re: Bjartmarr

        If the eggplant and sausage topings are so great, then why not just get a bowl of them and forget the rest? Honestly, to suggest that those two toppings will magically transform a complex creation of textures, cheeses, sauces, bread, olive oil plus the magical characteristics of an oven, the porosity of a baking stone, etc, into magic just smacks of apologies. A great pizza is made by the crust, the cheese, and the sauce. Toppings may be great but will not change those basics.
        Having said that, I do like the basic pizza at Bianca. My point, made repeatedly over the years, is that it is not good enough to have to put up with the hassles and the service. I thought your opening, with the windy, chilly night was going to include a comment about endlessly waiting outside with no apologies or amenities. That is my characterization of Bianca, not the slightly above average basic pie.

        1. re: Griller141

          Now that I got myself started, don't think that ordering take out will ameliorate your ordeal. Even if you can get through, same wait, same attitide.

          1. re: Griller141

            I agree, the crust, cheese and sauce make or break the pizza (in that order) but on the other hand I think even the best basic pizza can be ruined by the wrong topping. That said, what the OP ordered are things that have been put on pizzas for years and years and ought to work just fine.

          2. re: Bjartmarr

            "It's not laziness; the owner actually thinks they taste better on pizza." And certain of us who grew up with this style of pizza agree with him. Fresh mushrooms on pizza, to me, are disturbingly tasteless and crunchy. Pizza toppings in my world are not crunchy. They're oozy, gooey, slippery and soft, and I have firmly believed this since at least 1956.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Crunchy? I prefer them fresh to canned, but count me in the anti-crunchy camp...

          3. Hi, and thanks for your review (with which many will agree agree, and many will as well protest). Your enthusiasm in the beginning of your post is much to your credit - you like good pizza! However, at Casa Bianca, you chose poorly. Not that your selection was wrong by dint of your personal preferences in toppings, but some of what you ordered is simply not the joint's strength. You state that you don't wanna hear about the sausage pie, but that's what most of the joint's lovers like on the menu. That, and the eggplant pie. As for your last sentence, I'd opt for the opposite conclusion. Casa Bianca (fraud or not) is definitely not california-style, though some of what YOU ordered (and some of your possible expectations) were california-styled (such as artichokes on pizza - the joint should just take that off the menu; as for canned mushrooms, the expectation of fresh mushrooms definitely seems to be a california-style mindset). Your strongest argument, in my opinion, rests with your conclusions regarding the crust, which you seemed to loathe. I always order a pie 'extra crispy' or 'well done' which seems to have a favorable effect both on the cheese/toppings as well as the crust below... Their clearly Chicago thin-crust (square cut) style sausage pie and related sides like their antipasti salad and cheap house vino are about as anti-california-style as it gets. Whether 'fraud' or not, is for each to decide. Which you have done! Thanks again for your perspective...

            5 Replies
            1. re: silence9

              I have to echo Silence9's statements. The key to Casa Bianca is ordering the right toppings. Back when I was an omnivore, the sausage was divine. Since my veggie days began, I've become an eggplant convert. CB is easily the "best in L.A." in my humble opinion.

              1. re: Hollis Greene

                To try to replicate what my dad has eaten at Barone's for over 50 years, we order green pepper, sausage and pepperoni. Yum.

                1. re: Hollis Greene

                  Yup. It gets boring saying it, but CB does have the best pizza in town WITH the qualification that you must only order either the sausage or the eggplant. I usually do half sausage/onion, half eggplant/garlic.

                2. re: silence9

                  we've taken out from casa bianca a zillion times. however, could someone enlighten me as to how they cut the damn thing? i used to think squares, but i can't for the life of me follow the lines, so i think it might be more complicated than that. the shapes seem really irregular, too.
                  it's almost impossible to remove a piece, especially from the middle, without taking a boatload of topping from the rest of the pie with it. so everyone takes the edge pieces first, and we're left with mush in the middle.
                  i stand, pizza wheel in hand, waiting for some guidance.
                  also, has anyone ever asked them to cut the pizza in a normal pie way? have they complied?

                  1. re: silence9

                    Agreed, it's a finicky pie that only rewards if you order the right toppings (eggplant + sausage). When you do, it's one of the best pies in LA. Everything else, caveat emptor.

                  2. You are 100% correct when you say, “low-budget frozen pizza crust! what a travesty.” IMO, Casa Bianca is way over priced also. A good pizza, like a good sandwich, begins with the crust – bread. About the fennel sausage. I did add that and found it to be very good but not enough of it was on the pie. All it did was remind me that I should have gone to Petrillo’s for a real pizza crust and lots of quality toppings.

                    Petrillo's Pizza Restaurant and take-out (IMO, the best real pizza crust in LA. Also, high quality cheese, Pepperoni and sausage. The negative here is they give you too much. Therefore, you could ask them to be easy on the cheese, Pepperoni and sausage. Also, if you want a thin crust you must SAY SO. You Must try the thin crust and pie cut – not squares)
                    833 E Valley Blvd
                    San Gabriel, CA 91776
                    (626) 280-7332

                    24 Replies
                    1. re: JeetJet

                      Is Petrillo's a real restaurant or a take out with a few tables? Is there typically a wait time to get seated? If so, when are good times to go? Do they do other things well or is it just pizza?

                      1. re: Fru

                        Petrillo's Restaurant in San Gabriel is a large restaurant with two large dinning rooms. I could make a meal of their table bread served with real butter. The antipasto salad is also very good. We usually order the lasagna (maybe too much cheese in it) and spaghetti with sausage dinners with a medium pizza in the middle of the table. The left over pizza makes a great breakfast the next day – cold from the fridge.

                        The take-out place is next door to the Restaurant. The Glendora location has pretty much the same set-up -- Restaurant.and take-out. The Upland location is Take-out only. On Friday and Saturday nights you will wait in line but they move people pretty good. If we go to eat inside we go on weeknights only.

                        Petrillo's Pizza Restaurant and take-out
                        750 W Rte 66 Ste A
                        Glendora, CA 91740-4163
                        (626) 335-1289

                        Petrillo's Pizza (Take-out only)
                        110 South Mountain, Suite F
                        Upland, CA
                        (909) 981-8114

                        1. re: JeetJet

                          Thank you for the info JeetJet. This sounds promising! A place to make my dad and husband happy. One more question. Have you had their minestrone?

                          1. re: Fru

                            I do not have an opinion about minestrone other than I do not like it anyplace. But I have had it at Petrillo's and thought that it was not over done with too many flavors coming at me at one tme -- not over flavored like some others.

                            One more thing, I only ordered the "spaghetti bolognese" once and found it to have way too much meat. There was enough meat for two big dinners. The flavor of that sauce was very good IMO but I could even think of eating that much food. Likewise, the lasagna makes two meals for for my wife. She always has a good lunch the next day with some of that great table bread on the side.

                      2. re: JeetJet

                        I went to Petrillo's once, and it was precisely the kind of pizza I don't like - medium-thick crust. That seems to be the prevailing method throughout SoCal...I like my crusts either thick like Chicago deep-dish or thin, Italian (Neapolitan I suppose), but not in between. I might have to try it again, specifying thin crust. What I like about CB is that it IS thin enough. And yeah, I didn't tell them to go easy on the toppings, either at Petrillo's. So, what I wound up with was heavy and soggy.

                        I suppose it really is about knowing what and how to order, which is true at lots of places.

                        1. re: Jack Flash

                          You Can order Thin Or Extra thick crust......

                          1. re: Skunk2Racer

                            I have noticed that sign for "extra thick" crust also. IMO the regular crust at Petrillo's is already extra thick and makes for a really heavy box full of food with all that cheese and sausage on top. Their extra thick must be one crazy looking pizza. I ate the regular crust for many years but ever since I asked about the thin crust (I ask them to make it as thin as they can) I cannot eat the regular crust because it just seems too thick.

                          2. re: Jack Flash

                            Soggy is bad. Therefore I will not order any pizza toppings that have too much moisture (mushrooms, peppers, olives), or if I do I will say be easy with it. At CB you do not have to say be easy with the toppings because if you do you may not get anything on top. But my first problem with CB is that bad crust. It is like a cracker and not pizza crust at all.

                            I agree with you that knowing what and how to order is the key to good food at lots of places.

                          3. re: JeetJet

                            In the same token, Petrillo's just as disgusting and equally over-priced as CB.

                            Casa Bianca + Petrillo adds up to about a big F-. A good pie can't be broken due to one lousy topping. It's a boring / bad pie, no matter how you top it. "Can't polish a turd". Petrillo's serves a horribly bland, doughy, monotonous, overly sauced pie eaten in a room that's equally Shakey-esque. The fact "real butter" is used as a praise shows complete lack of merit.

                            In SGV, Bollini's the only pizza worth eating and even their crust can use some improvement.

                            1. re: TonyC

                              I happen to like Petrillo's as well as Bollini's.. and in the SGV, Tony's in San Marino as well. To each their own but since you find Petrilo's so repulsive, and Bollini's lacking in the crust department, what places get your nod of approval, then?

                              1. re: TonyC

                                Such blasphemy. Everyone knows that when the LORD GOD and JESUS feel the need for a truly divine pepperoni pizza, they make the drive to San Gabriel and Petrillo's...last time I was there I saw Jesus eating a family size with his twelve apostles...

                                Truly the greatest pizza on earth.

                                1. re: lottoman7210

                                  lol! you know one's desperate when Jesus and God are being used for pizza valuation ;)

                                  Terroni is the finest pie for me at the moment. of course i haven't tried EVERY pizza joint in the greater LA county but...

                                  Bollini might have a wood burning brick oven, but apparently Terroni knows a Neapolitan crust/pie better than Bollini.

                                  1. re: TonyC

                                    "Bollini might have a wood burning brick oven." No! When I walked in the front door the first thing that took my eye was the sheet metal/copper Home Depot patio style fireplace burning wood. From the way you talk I thought you ate at Bollini.

                                    But we are talking about pizza and IMO "Neapolitan" is not pizza. It is open-face quesadilla – Italian style. No pizza crust but only a thin tortilla. I have been to Bollini three times (my last time maybe seven months ago) and each time I found it to be over priced and over rated. I could get two really stuffed quesadillas for the price of that so called pizza. I understand that people like it because I like a good quesadilla myself but really. Lets compare Neapolitan with Neapolitan and pizza with pizza, brick with brick and sheet metal with sheet metal.

                                    See a photo of Bollini's oven here
                                    http://www.bollinispizzeria.com/

                                    1. re: JeetJet

                                      So, are you saying that genuine pizza isn't pizza? Neapolitan pizza IS most definitely authentic. You might not like it, but it's not "Italian quesadilla." It's pizza.

                                      1. re: Jack Flash

                                        "IMO "Neapolitan" is not pizza" Yep, that is what I am saying. I guess it is a First Amendment issue / USA Pizza pie thing. Free speach and all. To be more clear, IMO, this idea of "authentic" when it comes to pizza in the USA is about as useful as looking to Hamburg, Germany for a authentic cheese burger. I would put my money on In 'N Out first -- more "authentic" IMO. For pizza in the USA, Pettrillo's IMO is more authentic. IMO. Neapolitan looks, feels and taste like a quesadilla, Italian style!

                                        The main point I am making is to compare Neapolitan with Neapolitan and pizza with pizza. If you want to think of Neapolitan as pizza that is OK. But it still would be wrong to compare it with the USA standard thin crust, medium crust, thick crust or a Chicago Deep Dish. Another main point is that the last time I walked into Bollini there was no brick oven. That might be a good thing because just think what a rhot brick oven would do to those poor paper thin layers of what ever they are -- anything but pizza crust.

                                        1. re: JeetJet

                                          Bollini isn't really a good example of "authentic" Neopolitan pizza. It's way too thin. From what I've heard, Antica is the closest you'll probably get in LA.

                                          Of course "authentic" can mean different things to different people, but in terms of true pizza napoletana, there are very strict standards in terms of what can be considered "authentic".

                                          I don't think your analogy about hamburgers is quite apt, as pizza is an Italian invention, even if it has been popularized (and changed quite a bit) here, whereas the hamburger was invented in the United States.

                                          1. re: will47

                                            Interesting...I still haven't tried Bollini, much to my regret. But based on the pictures, it sure doesn't look like traditional Neapolitan pizza. Regardless, I can attest that Antica serves the real deal (i.e., Neapolitan style) and is thus a useful benchmark for comparison.

                                          2. re: JeetJet

                                            I think if we can call deep dish pizza "pizza" then we can call the opposite very thin Bollini's type pizza "pizza" as well. However, I do agree that when most people think of "pizza" the image in their mind is of what's in the middle, not either extremes of thickness so if I were to recommend Bollini's to someone (which I would because I like the place), I would also mention to them that the pizza is very thin. Reason being is because most people would not expect a pizza to be that thin. But on the other hand, I still see it as "pizza."

                                        2. re: JeetJet

                                          uhhhh.. pardon my faux pas. no need to nitpicking a minor point. "wood burning" is the crux. apparently i wanted to give Bollini more kudos than it's actually owed?

                                          been to Bollini many times since i live down the block and I swear I see some bricks behind the shiny front? see pix attached.

                                          as far as Neapolitan not a pizza: "to each his own". feel free to continue to eat Petrillos and think it's the best "American" something. freedom of choice & opinions keeps CH great. i don't care if Neapolitan is "authentic". from only 3 weeks in Italy, i've learn to appreciate a Nea pie as the tastiest.

                                          to clarify, i like Bollini's for the efforts they're making (and since i drive by almost every night) but wouldn't feed Petrilo's to my dog.

                                           
                                          1. re: TonyC

                                            I cut and pasted the following from Bollii's website:

                                            What makes Bollini’s Pizzeria Napolitana so authentic is our wood fire oven, which originated in Italy.

                                            This oven burns up to 1200 degrees, and only uses wood.
                                            The wood fire oven gives our pizza that smoky, “crispy chewy crust” which only a wood fire oven can produce.

                                            1. re: monkuboy

                                              As far as I'm concerned, Bollini and Petrillo's both kick some pizza ass... they are just different. We're lucky to have 2 such places in the SGV to appeal to our pizza cravings -- whether we want something hearty and family-style versus something a bit lighter and crunchier.

                                              1. re: snooze button

                                                I totally agree, I love the pizzas from both! And also Tony's in San Marino. Their crust is right in the middle of the other two.

                                                1. re: monkuboy

                                                  I went to Tony's for lunch the other day and was pleasantly surprised. As a NJ native, I think they do a pretty good job, and the atmosphere was spot on too. Even if the pizza wasn't perfect, it indulged my nostalgia perfectly... I might go out on a limb and say it's pretty close to the other places people rate for NY style pizza.

                                                  And not that anyone was trying to say I was dissing Bollini (that was the other guy), but just for the record, I've been there and liked it pretty well.... but the second time I went there, they seem to have made their crust even thinner. Another (minor) pet peeve - their "wild" mushrooms are not wild at all; just your garden variety cultivated cremini or button mushroom.

                                              2. re: monkuboy

                                                I have tried several places in Chicago and LA for that "Deep Dish" and if I were to tell someone what to expect when they try it I might consider saying "Casserole -- Chicago style" with more of a apple pie crust under it than a pizza crustl. I am sure that someone might not like my saying that but I am only trying to report what I saw and ate.

                                                So Bollini’s thinks their "pizza" crust is smoky, crispy and chewy?
                                                I have ate from at least seven different "pizza pies" at Bollini’s and have never tasted anything near being "smoky." I would say dried-out (as you might expect something that thin to become after being put into a 1200 degree oven) before saying “crispy." That 1/16" disk is not "chewy" IMO, but each one I had was more like "crumbly." Still, I have returned and likely will again because it is different.

                                  2. Hey mr.foodie

                                    I feel your pain.

                                    Having grown up in New Jersey on what the rest of the country refers to as "New York style pizza" (to us, it's just pizza), I'm often disappointed by other pies which come out limp, soggy, no contrast in texture, etc. That's not to say that I feel that only NY-style pies are worthy-- I've had some very good Neapolitan pie at Antica and even some of the frozen pizzas at Trader Joe's at tasty if cooked right. However my litmus test for pizza has always been the 1) crust (texture) and then 2) balance of flavors. I've always operated on the theory that a low quality pie needs embellishment with toppings to hide its inferiority, but a great pie can stand up to the best with just cheese and tomatoes.

                                    Casa Bianca toys around with my rule just enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

                                    On my first visit many years ago (I've only been there 3 times), I ordered the mushroom pie and was similarly horrified. The pie was bland, the musrooms canned, and the crust tasted mealy with no contrast in texture. It was entirely forgettable, and to add insult to injury we waited an hour in line for a table.

                                    Many years passed and I all but forgot about Casa Bianca (I satisfied my pizza cravings with Vito's old location on Vermont).

                                    However I just couldn't resist the rumblings... it was hard to ignore Jonathan Gold's assertion (as well as many Chowhounds here) that the combo fennel sausage and fried eggplant pie was the way to go.

                                    It was a cold night in Eagle Rock when a friend and I decided to brave the line again. We were seated 90 minutes later and ordered accordingly. The pie arrived and we took a bite.

                                    I can't explain it, but it's true. Somehow those toppings transformed a truly mediocre pizza into something worth eating. It was delicious.

                                    Now I wouldn't by a long shot rate it as the best pizza in LA by far. And I certainly don't think it's worth waiting in line for 90 or even 60 minutes. (After all, in 11 years I've only been back there once since my eggplant/sausage revelation.) But I definitely want to emphasize that CB is an oddity in the LA pizza world. I don't entirely understand the fanatical devotion, but I would urge you to give the eggplant/sausage pie a shot before completely dismissing the joint.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      I have never ordered meat balls on a pizza and never will - same for pineapple and chicken. The toppings ordered don't do justice to the pizza. The toppings you ordered are for California style pizza which is not Casa Bianca, Italian sausage with fennel is my favorite topping well-done. Casa Bianca is still tops in my book. Given the places you mentioned that are good I could predict you would not like CB. The fennel sausage (not Italian) at Mozza was bland and overcooked. Terroni is thin crust and falls apart immediately. Alabano's is closed but was ok for NY style. As for Petrillo's, I found the sauce lacked bite as well as the Italian sausage, however you can request thin crust and avoid the heavty dough routine.

                                    2. I like Caoti's pizza, I have no idea what that says about my taste or discrimination.