David Pratt lets it drop nonchalantly that he breaks down whole pigs weekly at Brick Pizzeria, his restaurant in San Clemente. In the same breath, he also informs us in a no-big-deal manner that he makes his own cheese, crafts all of the restaurant’s pastas from scratch and composes Brick’s salads using a selection of ingredients that arrive daily from various local farms. And that’s all before diners start to swarm the restaurant for lunch and dinner.
Pratt is what one would dub a superhero of local dining. His recently opened restaurant on San Clemente’s main thoroughfare has convinced locals of the need for a pizzeria they didn’t even think they needed or wanted, and his artisanal approach to food has elevated the standard of dining in OC’s sleepiest beach town without pretense and off-putting prices. And then there’s the wine list, a 100% Italian selection that includes grape varietals we hadn’t seen or heard of since our last trip to the Old Country.
And he breaks down whole pigs. Every week. Did we mention that?
Brick was buzzing when we arrived, full of warm ambiance, a substantial bar area and an open kitchen, where chefs work at a near-frantic pace to keep up with the demand for pizzas fresh out of the Italian brick oven. A lavender lemondrop was refreshing and aromatic, and a prelude to what we were least expecting to arrive tableside: a whole roasted acorn squash filled with melting burrata and sprinkled with roasted hazelnuts and sage. The combination at first struck us as texturally antagonistic, a conglomeration of similarly mushy items all crowded together into one squishy vessel. But after digging into the meat of the acorn squash, retrieving a glob of burrata and spreading it on warm focaccia (Pratt makes this in-house as well), we couldn’t help but be transported back to a frigid day in the northern Italian Dolomites, holed up in a refugio as a storm passes. Crunchy hazelnuts helped alleviate mush overload, and sage added a pleasant herbaceous aftertaste. Next, zucchini blossoms had been stuffed with herbed ricotta, and fried, accompanied by marinara sauce. We didn’t get the same sense of overwhelm on this occasion, and the marinara sauce felt out of place.
Pratt’s salads are where his locavore sensibilities shine. A farmers’ market salad was a stunning rainbow of color, with the best of the season’s produce on display. Bright green lettuces were topped with an array of thinly sliced red and pink radishes, whose horseradish-like pungency was enhanced with a tangy shallot vinaigrette. Vibrant, peppery notes from the greens were tamed by farm-fresh goat cheese spread across crispy crostini.
Pastas are another source of pride for Pratt. Hand-crafted daily, they are individually cut, strung, shaped, and otherwise authentically made to serve as a base for Brick’s five pasta dishes. The carbonara was assembled with pasta made on a chitarra, so named to reflect the instrument’s resemblance to guitar strings, and resulting in spaghetti-like ribbons of dough. Traditional carbonara uses pancetta (salt-cured pork belly) to give it its smoky flavor, but Brick’s version contained pork belly confit, along with garlic, thyme, Grana, and a healthy dose of black pepper. We were thrilled for our first taste of Pratt’s weekly pig, but were left underwhelmed by its use in the carbonara. Already a dish lacking in strong flavors, carbonara needs a defining backbone, and the pork belly confit, while delicious in its own right, didn’t have the oomph to perk up otherwise delicately seasoned pasta. Orecchiette (little ear-shaped pasta) fared much better, with appealing pieces of flavorful house-made sausage (the second weekly pig appearance), flowering broccoli and a medley of mushrooms.
Brick’s next specialty, pizza, was highly anticipated. Imported Italian brick ovens are a rarity, even among serious pizza restaurants, and Pratt puts his to full use. A funghi pizza, replete with a variety of mushrooms, braised leeks, mozzarella, Grana, and truffle oil, could be compared to a fantasy-like wander through an enchanted forest, so intoxicating was the combination of earthy mushrooms, delicate cheese and aromatic truffle. The porchetta pizza (the third and final weekly pig appearance) featured herbed pork, salsa verde, garlic, tomato, ricotta, and tapenade, which weighed heavily on the thin crust, and had enough symbiotic flavor to stand on its own. If this pizza suffered from anything, it was an overload of toppings, which took something away from the perfectly calibrated chew and crisp of the crust.
Zeppole, Italian-style beignets, served with dulce de leche dipping sauce, and chocolate budino were dessert. Although the zeppole were warm and fluffy (and made from pizza dough) and the sauce divine, the chocolate budino was the star, with a chocolate cookie crust and velvety chocolate interior finished with olive oil and fleur de sel. Simple but done extremely well, much like the rest of Brick.
Brick is located at 216 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente.
949.429.1199 :: brickpizzeria.com