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Mar 30, 2008 03:32 AM

Casa Bianca Pizza in Eagle Rock

Summary at the bottom if you want to skip ahead . . .

I have been reading Chowhound for years and decided to become a member tonight, probably about 10 years. I can post about Casa Bianca Pizza, which I also saw for years driving past going to Art Center and just exploring at night. I hopefully planned on giving a good review. I always liked the neon signs outside. There is no parking, but I immediately found a spot on the side street adjacent to the place.

I ordered mozzarella sticks, garlic bread, vegetarian lasagna with red sauce, and a large pizza with mushrooms totaling $32 (well, a penny short).

I believe the man who took my order was Ned Martorana (a well tanned man with pepper hair) and the old woman puttering around I guess was Jennie Martorana. I was not offered a menu or a receipt. (I meant to ask for a receipt before I left but I was so hungry so I forgot so I do not know if they give them.) There were great looking chicks serving, also. I chatted up a bird before she left to party with others getting off of work from the Casa. I saw a lot of people my age, from Occidental I guess, and bar-hoppers. The place has the atmosphere of the local pizza parlor. I did not have any line problems, and there was no one in line when I got there, because I ordered food to go.

I had to wait 20 minutes for my lasagna, which will not color my opinion because I am a very patient man and I understand it's not McDonald's. I got there around 10:45 PM, witnessing someone rear end a car in front of me on the way, right in the 110 tunnels in the I-5 lane.

Anyways, I got my order, and rushed to my car to eat it. The mozzarella sticks were fine but I know I could get the same at Jack-in-the-Box. One of the reasons I ordered the sticks was in some online pics, I saw them served with ranch sauce or something. I thought it was great I would get two different sauces. All I received was the standard marinara. The garlic bread was also fine, not too much bread like you can be stuck with. It was kind of salty though not dry. It was probably the best thing I ate. It was mild in garlic taste but my breath definitely stinks.

The pizza did not look as good as the pizzas many people captured and posted, but it was close enough that I figured I got a good representation. Even if not, I have to review the food based on what I received. The mushrooms tasted canned. I don't know how to describe what canned mushrooms taste like, except from my experience that's what they tasted like--sort of water-y and rubber-y. Which is strange in Southern California, because if it's not a result of their cooking, then they must forego the cheap and easily available mushrooms sold around here. The crust was like cardboard. If you enjoy this style of pizza crust, you might as well go to Little Caesars and pay $5 for your Pizza! Pizza! This is exactly what it tasted like. There were spices on top of the pizza, the kind and the overall taste that you can get in microwavable pizza. I always wondered how they got away with claiming that it tasted like authentic pizzeria pizza. I added some of the parmesan that I had been given in one canister. The parmesan itself was not very good, though you might like it if you like the strong salty style.

I think the crust was trying to be like what you can get at Me-n-Ed's in Santa Ana (I think they may still have one or two other local spots) with cornmeal crusted crispy-ness, light and flaky, the cheese and sauce to the edge, with a thin crunchy thickness. It just was not that. The vegetarian lasagna I ordered was just cheese, sauce, and pasta and some spinach leaves at the top (I thought it was basil at first until I tasted it). It was okay, but nothing to write home about . . . or blog about (I guess the first phrase is out of date). I also did not receive any plastic utensils. Luckily, I had some in my car. There was an unwrapped dinner roll with sesame seeds and no butter also. I took a bite of it to start off, but it wasn't really tasty and was probably just there to eat with the sauce in the lasagna.

I was going to take pictures with my new camera, a Sanyo Xacti, but did not because it was raining and then I was extremely hungry. I came with my appetite so I ate enough of the food to taste it and was probably overcompensating in ranking the food's taste because I was so hungry.

Re-reading Pulitzer Prize awarding winning journalist Jonathan Gold's reviews, I did not order the fried eggplant or the sweetly spiced homemade sausage. It seems to me from the reviews that are actually informed (a Phillip Bazan described it as "quietly nestled among the many Asian establishments on Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel"), the food was not as good as he and others raved about. Not even close . . . I am not sure how you can compare it to Damiano's or Jacopo's. In that area, there used to be Domenico's Old Town (closed down) that I really enjoyed, and Julio's (closed down, which has re-opened in Artesia with inconsistent food--close to their opening, they may have gotten it down--and exorbitant prices). As I drove east on Colorado and south on Figueroa, I saw a pizza place with a large glass window that simply said PIZZA. I meant to ask if anyone here if they knew the place, it was just past York on Figueroa . . . I will re-confirm details and ask again.

I am not one of those people who loves to complain or bash things that other people love. I ordered the food there, and paid a lot of money (well that is always relative, so for me) and really hoped that it was decent if not even good. I love all different kinds of pizza, from the thin crust soft New York style, to the thick crust deep dish Chicago eat with a fork and knife pizza, crunchy thin crust Italian, to the kind of pizza Casa Bianca is, to the kind of premade ones on what tastes like hard biscuits sold by a French baker at the Village Bakery in the Camp in Costa Mesa, etceteras. I just did not expect the pizza to be bad. I ended up eating the cheese and sauce and mushrooms off the top because I was so hungry. I wish I wasn't so hungry because I did feel slightly naseous after I finished. I am a picky eater, and I always regret eating something that doesn't make me feel good (I didn't mean healthy). I still have a bunch of food left in my car that I will probably trash.

Before someone starts attacking my review or me, put your money where your mouth is. If you really enjoy the food that I tried refund me my $31.99 (I will happily accept Paypal), and if you give me more I will go back and give it one more try (this time with eggplant). Otherwise, I suggest people who have not been there save their money, and look for somewhere else. And those who love the place accept my review for what it is, unless you are willing to go the distance for Casa Bianca. I think I might actually write Jon Gold and ask him for a refund, haha . . . I guess, even though it's 3:30 AM I can still go to Berri's on 3rd or Damiano's Mr. Pizza . . .

SUMMARY: Good neon signs and atmosphere, expensive food, and bad pizza . . . someone got in an accident during the course of this review . . . not worth the gas getting there and back even . . . my whole article [sic]

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  1. I was there last night for my first time as well after reading many good reviews (and some dissenters)
    I have to say that if pizza came in a can, Casa Bianca would happily open it and pour it out. My pizza had canned mushrooms, canned sauce, bad fennel sausage, horrible cheap slimy cheese, and bell peppers. The crust was reminiscent of Shakey's (which is not a bad thing) but no one is calling Shakey's great.

    13 Replies
    1. re: cls

      Seriously, I actually prefer Shakey's. At least, at Shakey's I can order the all you can eat and eat as much I want for a reasonable price. I also think the crust is better at the Shakey's I have been to. I was reading some more reviews about Casa Bianca, and many say that to get good crust you have to ask them to bake it about 3 minutes longer. I find it dubious that you have to instruct a pizzeria on how to bake pizzas, especially one this lauded. Also, I am always afraid someone will spit in my food if I am the slightest bit demanding. My strategy is just to never return and warn others about places that are not up to snuff. The old woman, who I presumed was Jennie, was complaining to Ned, at least who I think is Ned, that the employees were not up to snuff, but she seemed to be talking about cleanliness and getting salad dressings or something ready ahead of service not food quality.

      1. re: apple7blue

        Please don't take this the wrong way but, if you had read the many, many, many previous threads about Casa Bianca, you would know that the mushrooms are canned. I am not a mushroom fan period so it has no impact on me. Also, it's been said to ask for your pizza well done, which we always do but on our last visit didn't happen and it was noticeable. I don't think it is the best but it is a known quantity for me and I love my pizza with sausage and pepperoni. I think their minestrone is very good and I love the old fashioned Italian bread with butter. I don't think I have ever or ever would order mozzarella sticks so I can't comment on how good they were compared to Jack in the Box other than I can't imagine them being much different. I have no interest in refunding you and I'm not sorry that you won't be going back because there are too many other fools out there like me who go at 5:30 on weekdays to avoid the mess later.

        1. re: Fru

          What's the wrong way? I didn't read all of them. I just did a search, and I narrowed the limits as much as I could and there are currently 24 pages with my narrow search limits. I was reading some of them even after my review. I read Gold's reviews, and like the 2-3 most recent. A lot of reviews I read in the past were not in detail though, they simply said they are the best or something like that, and that its an institution. Well, I guess that explains why the mushrooms tasted the way they do.

          I could kind of see how it might be good pizza, if the crust was done right. However, the fact is that it was not done right. It was hardly edible. I do not know about old fashioned Italian bread, all I got was a sesame roll that tasted like you could buy in a bag from Smart and Final. I wish they gave me butter also, because I heard one of the waitresses say that the butter bin has not been filled to Ned, prompting Jennie's complaint. Anyways, I can excuse very much poor service if the food is good. I have received plenty of mild abuse for good food. I do not know what mess people keep talking about. I went on Saturday evening and there were no lines, plenty of tables were open. I do not really expect someone in taking me up in my refund offer, especially considering the food I got. I doubt someone very much cares about the food that much. I would get the garlic bread if I was near there, but you could not really expect me to go there for that. You described it as a known quantity so if you found a better place would you venture there? I know that Damiano's is better food, definitely Casa Bianca is a nicer place to eat at--just to bring up one example. Is that a big attraction of Casa Bianca? Because I will say, that the dining room is a comfortable place that I would enjoy eating at.

          1. re: apple7blue

            Please tell me what and where Damiano's is as I am open to try anywhere within reason for pizza. I know people love Tony's in San Marino but don't mistake it for sit down though. I tried to go to Brownstone down the street from Casa Bianca only to have my whole thread deleted because of my disappointing experience of being told it would be an hour wait just to order a pizza in house because of a previous phone in. But if you are getting it to go, I would suggest you try there. Believe me, I am not defending Casa Bianca other than to say that there are a few things there that I really, really like and you will or have read that many, many people love the sausage like I do. That in itself is not enough of a reason to go especially with the experience that you had but I don't think I would have the same expectations for any take out to be as good as eating it in the restaurant. Hopefully you are taking my comments the way I intend them and not as a bash to your experience.

            1. re: Fru

              Damiano's Mr. Pizza is on Fairfax in Los Angeles just north of the Farmer's Market across the street from Canter's Deli. I will try Brownstone some day. I never heard of it. I expect the food to be the same takeout or dining in, just different services.

              I am not sure that many people would enjoy eating inside Damiano's it's dark and dingy. I have gotten pizza and garlic bread from them, and the food was good--I have only gotten take out also. You can order slices. They are a family pizzeria like Casa Bianca also. It seems like the Mexican kitchen staff is what keeps their food consistently decent. When you enter on the right hand sign, they have an article posting a background of the place. They are open until 6AM also. If you like Sausage as a topping then you should try Berri's on 3rd, which is on 3rd street just east of La Cienega and right by Orlando. The atmosphere is not familial like Casa Bianca, it's a hip night club sort of place. The pizza is probably among the best in So Cal. I never ordered the sausage but I see that many people do, and I hear from many that it's good. They are open until 4 AM. Try both places and tell me what you think, judge the food alone, and then in concert with all the other factors.

              No bashing felt . . . cheers . . .

              1. re: apple7blue

                I know the area well but unfortunately or fortunately, I live in Pasadena now and don't head over the hill as often as I used to but I will put this thread in my favorites and give Damiano's a try next time I'm cruizing Fairfax or going to the PDC. Thanks for the reply!

                1. re: Fru

                  Have you ever been to Old Town Pasadena's Domenico's? Their pizza was excellent, the family has some other locations. The Old Town location closed, as much of the great chowhound places there have left, but there is still one in another area of Pasadena on Washington I think. I ordered some food there, but the pizza was not as good. That time though I did drive it all the way to Santa Ana. Haha I ate my slices in the car immediately, but I remember pawning it off on my brother who greedily took my offer I guess expecting it to be like the Old Town fare. I got a vegetable pizza, so it may have been that the steam from the vegetables just made it too soggy even in the short time from the restaurant to the car and while I ate my mozzarella sticks. Their mozzarella sticks are really good.

              2. re: Fru

                i used to live down the street from CB and damiano's and i can say that neither are mozza or lucques but CB wins by long shot for me just based on food.

                the one thing i learned from living down the street from both pizzerias. eat it there, especially CB. we only lived two blocks from CB but every time we ordered it to go somehow the pizza got soggy. every time we ate it at the restaurant it was a world difference. damiano's was dry by the time it got to my door. both pizza places get a big minus for their inability to travel well. after all, what's a pizza if you can't take it home or have it delivered?

                where i grew up (westchester co. NY and then murray hill in the city) pizza always had canned mushrooms. casa bianca is not NY pizza by any means but i hear from chicago friends that old school pizzas always had canned mushrooms. i think using canned is not a bad thing and in fact i prefer it (better than raw undercooked mushrooms) but it's really a matter of preference and shouldn't be a meter to whether the pizza is worthy or not.

                is CB worth an hour wait? i'm not sure if any restaurant is worth waiting an hour. but their eggplant and sausage pizza fresh out of the oven is pretty darn good.

                1. re: trolley

                  I love Mozza and Lucques although I didn't know Lucques specialized in pizza. That being said, why make any kind of comparison between CB and Damiano's vs Mozza or Lucques? They are completely different species and I don't think that is what this thread was about.

                  1. re: Fru

                    my point is just that. it's a different species.

                  2. re: trolley

                    Pizza in NY and Philly always had canned mushrooms. Regular mushrooms are dry to start with and can burn, but are less rubbery. Canned cooked up nice, but are a bit more rubbery, out here most older places made it fresh and that's what people who are native are use to and like. 6 of one kind...

                    1. re: LuigiOrtega

                      Can't remember canned mushrooms at John's, Joe's, or Patsy's... Maybe the typical NY place has them, but I stick with cheese or pepperoni at the typical NY place. And, although they are NY pizza, the typical NY place is not that good, just different. For me, the problem with CB goes way beyond canned mushrooms, from my experience there was a general lack of quality ingredients.

                      1. re: cls

                        I should point out, I always order with a topping because I hate burnt cheese pizzas, does anyone know what I mean? Also, I mentioned Damiano's and only their biggest size pizza is consistently good in my opinion (consistency being key, so you can get good other sizes), the one they sell slices from. They do that thing where they take the same size dough and just size it differently for large and xlarge or xxlarge, whatever it is. A few pizzerias do that and so the taste of the crust actually varies depending on what size you order. The cheese and toppings bake at the same time, the crust being different thickness ends up being different, they cannot leave it longer or shorter because the cheese melting seems to be what decides when they take it out.

                        the thread was just to review Casa Bianca, and get people's opinions. I will certainly try Mozza and Lucques, I have only heard about them on Chowhounds, and have not even seen them or noticed them driving past, and I drive a lot through Southern California. Is Mozza owned by Mario Batali or he involved somehow? And Nancy Silverton too? I like her La Brea Bakery and also Panini night at Campanile. (my memory is fuzzy on names sometimes). I said I enjoy different styles of pizzas, and I know Casa Bianca isn't the same style as these places but even for what it was, my order came out tasting bad, even inedible. I wanted to add the parmesan is like the parmesan you get in buitoni jars in refrigerated area of Ralph's and such places . . .

        2. We went to try it out one saturday afternoon for lunch, drove all the way from Encino and found it closed! It was closed until 4:00PM on a Saturday, which was so annoying, and they are completely closed Sunday. We ended up going to Oinker instead. I don't understand the hours they keep.

          1 Reply
          1. re: CarlieInLA

            My feeling from the food I received and the responses here and also an incident I saw in the place is that the place exists by hype, and it makes money off of student labor and easy hours. I cannot see how this could ever be considered the best pizzeria in Southern California as Jon Gold claimed. Also, after I paid, an Asian man pointed out a picture of Ned's dad and said it was the best picture in the place seemed like he was sort of trying to ingratiate himself. I noticed that many of the customers like to say hi and bye, people really want it to be like their hangout or something where the staff know them. Not that it is a bad thing, but I am just saying it seems the attraction is less about the food and more about the atmosphere, and I would praise that aspect of their operation. I am just not that type of customer, I go where good food exists for the most part. I know I read a column long ago by S. Irene Virbila, food critic for Los Angeles Times where she gave a restaurant the highest marks by the quality of their service. For me, the criteria usually boils down to food and price and service effect that, but I would give the highest marks to a place that had the best food and even poor service and atmosphere . . .

          2. The original comment has been removed