In the year and a half since Pizzeria Mozza has opened, it has been one of the hottest spots in town.
The product of a match between Nancy
Silverton of La Brea Bakery and celebrity chef Mario Batali, this unassuming boite was meant to be the opening act for the adjacent osteria. But to everyone's surprise, it has become the main event. With prime reservations being snapped up nearly a month in advance, the place is packing them in. It left us wondering why Angelenos are making such a fuss over a little dough and melted cheese.
Though she started her career as pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck's Spago, culinary maestro Silverton made a name for herself with the La Brea Bakery and Campanile in a partnership with Mark Peel. When she sold off the lion's share of the bakery and departed Campanile, many of her followers were left wondering what was next. After moonlighting at Jar and La Terza, Silverton envisioned an osteria centered on mozzarella and all its accoutrements, an idea that came to fruition through her partnership with the pony-tailed, orange-clogged Batali. Silverton returned to her bakery roots to create the perfect pizza dough, an obsession that has resulted in Pizzeria Mozza nearly eclipsing its swankier sibling, Osteria Mozza.
To say that getting a reservation for the pizzeria is difficult would be to understate the arduous process: be ready to wait at least five minutes in queue just to speak to the reservationist. Feeling put out after being offered a 3 p.m. lunch reservation (the earliest available for a Friday lunch even days ahead), I almost gave up but am glad I didn't.
Even mid-afternoon, the tiny dining room is packed. With only 40 seats plus 20 stools at the bar facing the wood-burning oven (these are first-come, first-served), tables are arranged cafeteria-style in long rows and sitting at the banquette requires pulling out the table. Once you are seated, forget about getting up. The room, bathed in ochre and rust hues, is far from ornate. The focus is the large-mouthed oven and perimeter bar, decorated by wine bottles that line the shelves and wire baskets filled with eggs and multi-colored peppers. Tables are adorned simply by brown paper place mats; the cutlery is sealed in similar wrapping.
The menu is one simple sheet divided into categories of antipasti, salads, and pizzas. It's well organized and detailed, though the Italian verbiage makes the competency of the waitstaff crucial. Service is exceptional, especially the hostesses who have the hardest job, keeping order of what could easily descend into chaos.
The pizzas ah! the pizzas are unique, unlike anything ever called by that name. In the press kit, the cuisine is dubbed "Silvertonian/Batalian," and this is not mere cleverness. The toppings are specific and thought out. The long-cooked broccoli and chiles come with caciocavallo, comically translated as "cheese on horseback." Though it is unforgivably salty, the intent behind it shines through. The crust is neither the thin, crispy flatbread nor the doughy panini-style bread associated with real Italian pizza. It is a combination of chewiness and crunchy goodness, full of air pockets and touched occasionally by char. On one pizza, the bitterness of rapini is matched by the sweetness of whole cherry tomatoes; olives and anchovies provide the savory element. The fennel sausage the most popular pie comes with marble-size balls of meat and long shreds of scallion that pack a nice crunch, counteracting the inherent grease. Our favorite is the funghi misti with assorted mushrooms. Sprinkled sparingly with taleggio and fontina, the simplicity allows appreciation for Silverton's epic crust.
Though meals should revolve around the pizza selection, the antipasti stand alone. The mussels al forno are huge and daubed with a delectable aioli. The cold Brussels sprouts with prosciutto breadcrumbs should be skipped in favor of the fried squash blossoms filled with molten ricotta. Nancy's chopped salad features thick slices of salami and provolone undercut by the tang of radicchio. Surprisingly good are the raw peas and mint served with a hunk of house-made yogurt. Innocuous sounding, the dish is refeshing and original the best antipasto on the menu.
In a restaurant run by a pastry chef, you can count on great desserts, and Pizzeria Mozza does not disappoint. Though some assistance from a server or an Italian dictionary is necessary to know exactly what you are ordering, Campanile veteran Dahlia Narvaez is more than equipped to satisfy the discerning sweet tooth. The caramel copetta, recommended by our server, is a haute version of a sundae, switching out the vanilla ice cream for caramel gelato. Topped with marshmallow sauce and Spanish peanuts, the sweet and salty combo lives up to the raves. The soffiata, or profiteroles, with pistachio gelato are good, though the amarena cherries tossed in seem superfluous. An assortment of biscotti is offered along with a variety of sorbets and gelatos. Unusual flavors, such as blood orange and pinenut, are available alongside the standard vanilla and espresso, but our favorites are the coconut sorbet and olive oil gelato. The latter sounds slightly odd but is a necessary ending to any meal here.
Though food snobs have long griped about the authenticity of fancy "California pizza," and bemoaned the lack decent pies on the left coast, Silverton has made them eat their words. The people and the critics have spoken, making Pizzeria Mozza a favorite. And for the doubters who question the feeding frenzy created over the marriage of a little bread and cheese: let your taste buds be the judge just don't forget to book your reservations well in advance.
Reviewer Lindsey Styrwoll can be reached at L_Styrwoll@yahoo.com.
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