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DAVID NELSON/ON RESTAURANTS

Ever-Popular Sammy's Adds New Pizzeria Site

August 27, 1992|DAVID NELSON | David Nelson regularly reviews restaurants for The Times in San Diego. His column also appears in Calendar on Fridays.

If you want to make dough, peddle pizza.

Real estate may have been the route preferred by would-be millionaires in the 1980s, but in the slimmed-down Nineties, selling the cuisine with the broadest appeal seems a likelier meal ticket.

At the moment, the one inviolable law of Southern California real estate development is that for every new corner shopping center, there must be at least one pizza place (just look around your own neighborhood for proof of this proposition). However, this law is not inflexible: One pizza joint is mandatory, but no prejudice exists against locating two or more in the same center.

Sami Ladeki, proprietor of the enormously popular Sammy's California Woodfired Pizza in La Jolla, has displayed remarkable restraint in the years since he opened that restaurant. Many entrepreneurs would have followed their original success with a string of new locations. But Ladeki bided his time patiently and only now has opened a second Sammy's, this time in one of the several new shopping centers in the booming North City West neighborhood just East of Del Mar. Judging by the size of the crowd on a recent Monday, usually a slow night for most restaurants, he could have leased a location twice the size.

For better or worse, almost everyone in the restaurant business has a formula. Ladeki's is simple: Offer good food and plenty of it. Ladeki has done this for years at his La Jolla eatery, but in Del Mar, he picks up the mantle formerly worn by the late but once-popular Remington's, whose motto always could have been "Nothing succeeds like excess."

The menu breaks down into four categories that can be taken as components and, if the party is large or hungry enough, ordered in full succession to make a lavish but not overly extravagant meal; this arrangement did not come about by chance. Sammy's offers huge, well-composed salads; a list of well-made "designer" pizzas created for the La Jolla location by Ed LaDou, once the chief pizza honcho at Wolfgang Puck's fancy Spago in Hollywood; a good range of pastas, from simple to inventive, and desserts that seem to compete among themselves for the titles of richest and most indulgent. All dishes are meant to be shared.

The great thing about Sammy's is that it does not impose a point of view. The pizza list jets off to trendy territory with offerings like the Peking duck, spicy Jamaican shrimp and bacon, lettuce and tomato pies. But it also offers safe harbor to traditionalists by including the classic Margherita (topped simply with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil, just like they do it in Naples) and the zesty New York-style pizza, finished with sausage, salami and pepperoni.

Other options abound, and a good one is the vegetarian pie, which is tasty rather than austere and tops a blend of mozzarella and fontina cheeses with eggplant, Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and bell peppers.

Sammy's salads are sized to take no prisoners, and one will feed from two to four guests. These are done with particular panache, although a recently sampled "chopped" salad (lettuce, pepperoni, tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and basil) lacked both cheese and flavor. But the Caesar is handsomely done, and has a strong anchovy flavor that is quite likable--unless, of course, you don't like anchovy paste. The simple house salad, of greens with kalamata olives, a few peppers and a bouncy vinaigrette, also is excellent. Large samples of all three can be ordered on a combination platter.

Pasta choices run from a basic linguine in marinara sauce to versions that take their cues from the more adventurous pizzas; examples would be the linguine with chicken and sesame seeds in a gingered peanut sauce, and fettuccine with duck sausage, fennel, tomatoes and goat cheese.

Ladeki has left his mark on local gastronomy with desserts that nearly overwhelm by their sheer size. They also happen to be excellent, especially the semi-silly "messy" sundae, which coats the outside of the glass in chocolate syrup and chopped nuts and then fills the innards to overflowing with ice cream, more syrup and whipped cream. The a la mode chocolate brownie rises high and is garnished at the summit by a single, coy cherry that seems intended to point up the size of the serving. There is also an exceptionally rich carrot cake.

The restaurant has a cool, trendy decor and an outdoor terrace that seems the better choice of location--given the noise level inside--in temperate weather.

Sammy's California Woodfired Pizza

12925 El Camino Real, Del Mar Highlands Town Center

Calls: 259-6600

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Cost: Salads, pastas and pizzas priced $6.25 to $9.95. A meal for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $25 to $40.

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