RESTAURANT REVIEW – Orlando’s Pizzeria and Birreria: where Italy and Canada meet, with delicious results
Ask most Americans about Canadian food and they’ll mumble something about maple syrup. Savvy diners might mention poutine, the Quebec specialty of French fries topped with gravy and cheese, but it’s not too likely that they’ll come up with anything else. In fact Montréal is one of this hemisphere’s great dining cities, with items inspired by French, Italian, North African, and other cultures. In the same way that New York Italian and California French cooking aren’t quite what is practiced in the old country, local ideas filtered in and new cuisines were born.
Redondo Beach has a new restaurant that proudly serves Canadian and Italian food, Orlando’s Pizzeria and Birreria. Owner Orlando Mulé opened his restaurant in February and he’s a visible presence here – he regularly comes out of the kitchen to engage with diners and is happy to explain the traditions of his home city. This is good because the menu is surprisingly terse, with no explanation of the subtleties of this cuisine.
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Much of the menu appears to be standard Italian, such as the arancini that are one of the more popular starters. These balls of rice stuffed with peas, cheese, and sauce and then deep-fried are incredibly time-consuming to make at home, so ordering them when they’re offered is a good strategy. They’re an irresistible if not particularly healthy blast of carbs, crispiness, and cheese, and Orlando’s makes them very well.
Those who can resist fried foods will find a delightful alternative among the salads. It’s a plate of housemade burrata cheese with beets and toasted Italian bread, accented by drizzles of olive oil and balsamic with a sprinkling of herbs. What makes this special is that their burrata is made in-house and is perfectly fresh – after only a day burrata becomes rubbery and loses its unique flavor. It’s a good move to order anything with this burrata, and another salad here pairs it with tomatoes, arugula, and pesto. On one occasion when Orlando came by our table I suggested offering these as a sandwich; as the bread here is also baked in-house it would be a great way to show off another homemade ingredient. There are many other vegetarian choices on this menu too, including a fine fennel and arugula salad, and they make an excellent Caesar for those who appreciate the classics.
Another item available either as a starter or main course is poutine, that carb-heavy basket of fried potatoes topped with mild gravy and usually topped with fresh cheese curds, oddly enjoyable rubbery things that squeak when you bite into them. Cheese curds are mysteriously hard to find in California, and at Orlando’s they use the fresh burrata – more flavorful and rich, but without the squeak. I’m not a big fan of poutine as a general thing because it’s very filling and always served in mammoth portions, but a basket makes a good starter for a group. You can make it more interesting by topping it with the house-smoked brisket, which very closely resembles a Canadian delicacy known as Montreal smoked meat. The marinade and spice before smoking give this a unique taste — think of something halfway between corned beef and pastrami and you’re close. It’s available on a pizza, sandwich, or in various other combinations, and is a treat no matter what you do with it. Speaking of sandwiches, they also make an excellent lamb burger that includes marinated zucchini and caramelized onions, which gives it a slight Middle Eastern accent. Whether this comes from the ethnic stew that is Montréal or is Orlando’s own idea I don’t know, but it’s delicious.
The heart of this menu is the selection of pizzas and pastas, both of which have some quite unusual ingredients. You might rethink throwing away those dandelions you’ve been pulling out of your garden once you try the roots on a pizza with spinach and roasted garlic. They’re similar to chard, with an appealing slight bitterness that pairs well with sweeter vegetables. Other pizzas include one named in the honor of a customer of Orlando’s back in Canada. The Pizza Letarte has goat cheese, pancetta, Portobello mushrooms, pesto, and black olives and is delicious. My only quibble is that the pancetta was cut in very large pieces and sometimes overwhelmed other ingredients, so you might ask for it to be chopped a bit more finely.
All this talk of food might make someone thirsty, which Orlando’s is happy to help you with. As befits a place called a birreria, French for beer hall or brewery, there are many local taps here plus Belgian-style Canadian brews like Maudite and Fin du Monde. There is also a good wine selection, and it’s worth asking if any specials are being poured. On our most recent visit they offered a Brander Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc that paired nicely with the vegetable dishes.
It took Orlando’s a while to get their service sorted out – there was such a rush when they first opened that the place was often slammed and kitchen timing suffered. Things are smooth now and I can recommend it without hesitation. They’re a little more expensive than other pizza places in the neighborhood, but those guys are mostly using frozen dough and store-bought cheese. The difference is worth the pennies, so go and enjoy some Canadian-Italian hospitality.
Orlando’s Pizzeria & Birreria is at 1000 Torrance Boulevard, corner of Prospect. Open Tue-Sat 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Parking lot, wheelchair access good, beer and wine served, vegetarian options. Corkage $15. Phone 310-792-9300.