Clusi Batusi is Surprisingly Decent, But Can It Handle 800 Degree-Like Lines?
The strip of West L.A. on Sawtelle between Olympic and Santa Monica has long been known as a hub for good Japanese food; the Osaka to Downtown’s Tokyo. The great Asian hope, in a Westside sea of duds. And its resurrection as a popular lunchtime destination over the past year or two has been well documented. But most recently it’s been interesting to see how many non Japanese success stories have popped up on this half mile stretch. Food options that might not be Japanese, but still appeal to the ever growing Sawtelle crowd. Whether it’s Korean soondubu from the 7 month old Seoul House of Tofu, the Umami-like burgers at Plan Check, or Vietnamese food at the super packed NongLA, Sawtelle is no longer just ramen, curry and sushi.
But the biggest gamble has got to be the pizza. Earlier this year Slice Truck brought their New York style pies to a brick and mortar up by Sawtelle Kitchen, and even more recently Clusi Batusi opened their doors, another in a new school batch of pizzerias looking to turn quick cooking Neapolitan’ish pizza into fast food.
Early word on Clusi Batusi was that it was going to be a disciple of 800 Degrees, the Umami owned Westwood based mega-chain-in-the-making that has applied the Chipotle model to pizza. Assembly line ordering + high oven temperature + cheap prices = fast food. Well, Clusi Batusi has the cheap prices down (it too serves a $6 margherita), and they offer a menu of pre-decided flavor combos in addition to a build your own pizza option. But assembly line? Not so much. Here, you order at a register and your pizza is cooked inside an unimpressive, fast food’ish looking gas oven located right behind the counter. It doesn’t inspire the same confidence or excitement as the well oiled machine that is 800 Degrees. Of course, who cares what the oven looks like if the food tastes good, right?
Fans of a lot of cheese might be disappointed by the margherita, but it was tasty enough. On the other hand, if your biggest complaint against 800 Degrees is how watery their freshly crushed tomato sauce makes the pizza, you’ll likely prefer the cooked tomato sauce version at Clusi Batusi. The Neapolitan authenticity police might take issue, but in the end it’s really just a matter of preference.
Too boring for you? You can select from a menu of pre made topping options for just $8, including the Spicy Meatball (w/ meatballs and pickled pepperoncini), the cotto & funghi (ham and mushrooms), the romana (capers and anchovies), and San Gennaro (sausage and peperonata). There’s also a proscuitto and arugula topped margherita for $10.
Don’t like red sauce? They do a pesto pie w/ chicken, grilled asparagus and oven roasted tomatoes for $10.
And the Clusi’s Favorite, which features balsamic mushrooms, arugula and fresh mozzarella on top of a white Pecarino sauce. It’s not as garlicy as the white pie at 800 Degrees, but I enjoyed it.
And if you like spicy, make sure you track down some of their chili oil. It’s a lot of fun.
There are certainly things people will find to not like about Clusi Batusi. The crust, even around the edges, is super thin leaving not much in the way of hole structure (if such things are important to you.) And the consistency of the pie makes it feel less like a pizza than places like 800 Degrees, or Pitfire, or the fancier places like Mozza. But I have to say, it reminded a lot of the pizzas I had on my last trip to Northern Italy, more so than any other pizza I’ve had in L.A. So consider that before you go on about authenticity and the such.
In the end, the question most people will probably ask is how does it stand up to 800 Degrees? And from a taste perspective it’s hard to say so early in the game. In the end, some will like one and others will like the other, and there is no denying that both are pretty great for the price. The real issue is whether or not they’re set up to the do the kind of volume they have to do to be able to charge these kind of prices. The Clusi pizzas are slightly smaller, and seem to use less ingredients, which will work in the favor financially. But half the amazement coming out of 800 Degrees was over the setup. How efficiently they can serve massive amounts of people during lunchtime is a sight to behold. And even though Clusi Batusi’s oven can fit 8 pizzas at a time, I wonder how they’ll manage once the lines get longer and longer. And if there’s one thing you can guarantee with something like this opening on Sawtelle… the lines will get longer and longer. Until then, enjoy the pizzas and the prices. I doubt 800 Degrees has anything to worry about when they begin their inevitable march across the country… but in the meantime, Clusi Batusi is worth checking out if you work anywhere near Sawtelle.
Clusi Batusi, 2047 Sawtelle Blvd. 310-477-7707