Monday, December 15, 2008

Delicious, Round, Baked Bread with Toppings :) - Pizzeria Mozza

"Great Pizza." Utter those two words and you can get a non-stop debate for weeks, if not months, on what "Great Pizza" really means. Pizza is one of the most divisive, passionate topics amongst food lovers today. Part of the reason has to do with all the regional variations of Pizza: What "Pizza" means in Italy is far different than what it means in New York. For my friend in Chicago, "Pizza" is all about two types, the famous Chicago-style Thick Crust / Deep Dish variety, and a square-cut, Thin Crust version (both of which I was fortunate enough to try when I went to visit her in the Windy City). In some countries in Asia, Canned Corn & Peas and Mayonnaise are toppings regularly found on "Pizza" (which was an interesting taste, to say the least (~_~)).

So when a new Pizzeria opens up around town and starts getting buzz and excitement, criticism will inevitably follow. Everyone has their own notion of what a good Pizza means (let alone what a good Pizzeria should entail), and when they compare their ideal to the Pizza in front of them, chances are high that that version of Pizza may not match at all. Such is the case with Pizzeria Mozza, which opened up with a splash in 2006 due to the pedigree of its owners - Nancy Silverton (of La Brea Bakery fame), and Mario Batali (of Iron Chef, Food Network TV fame) - but has since gained as many detractors as supporters for the restaurant.

Criticism ranged from "it's not *real* pizza," to "it's a rip-off; it should be loaded with toppings at that price," to "[insert favorite pizza joint] is so much better!" For an outsider looking at this, it's humourous, but understandable: Everyone has their favorite interpretation of Pizza, and if it differs from their notion of the famous baked pie, it's "no good" at that point, or disappointing at best.

I still remember my first visit to Pizzeria Mozza, about 1 month after it opened. This was pre-Osteria Mozza, and Chef-Owner Nancy Silverton was behind the Pizza Bar, tirelessly turning out her version of Pizzas to the packed restaurant. Prior to that first visit, I had been lucky enough to try Pizza in a few places across the world, but most of my impressions of "Pizza" were from the local offerings while growing up in So Cal. But none of that prepared me for the delight that was Nancy Silverton's version of the Round, Baked Bread Thingy with Toppings. :) What follows is a reflection on the ~7 times I've visited Pizzeria Mozza, with each visit being more delightful than the last.

Pizzeria Mozza occupies a busy spot of Highland, near the corner of Melrose Avenue. It's a cheery, lively spot, and if getting a reservation proves difficult, Nancy and company save the entire Pizza Bar and Drink Bar area for first-come, first-serve, walk-in diners only.

One of the surprises of Pizzeria Mozza has been its selection of tasty and standout Antipasti (Starters), Bruschette (Grilled Breads) and Insalate (Salads). I've enjoyed all five of the Insalate offered at Pizzeria Mozza. They've always been well-dressed and relatively "healthy." (^_~) For one of the most recent visits, we started with their Tricolore with Parmigiano Reggiano & Anchovy Dressing.

One of my favorite salads served here, it is at once light and crisp, while still providing some real character to the salad. The bitterness of the Endive and Frisee match well with the herbal and peppery Arugula, and all three contrast nicely with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Anchovy Dressing (which is surprisingly the most mild aspect of this salad).

Out of all the Antipasti we've tried on multiple visits, the most eye-catching, yet disappointing one would have to be the Fried Squash Blossoms with Ricotta. It's not that it's "bad" per se, but of the 2-3 times we've ordered it, it's been consistently bland. The overwhelming characteristic of this dish is the fried breading and little else.

Their Crispy Goat Cheese & Umbrian Lentils on the other hand, is another winner, depending on your penchant for Goat Cheese. :) A nicely-fried, crispy sphere of Goat Cheese sits atop the oven-baked Umbrian Lentils. Breaking into the Goat Cheese and eating a bit of the Lentils, the Goat Cheese is milder than usual in this preparation, and makes a great way to start a meal at Pizzeria Mozza.

Another standout Antipasti would have to be their Mussels al Forno with Salsa Calabrian.

The Mussels have been consistently fresh and lightly sweet, each time we've ordered this dish. Their Salsa Calabrian adds a beautiful, light spiciness and heat to the garlicky Mussels. And the Broth: A fresh, briny (in a good way) Seafood Broth that just makes your tastebuds sing. :)

And for Bone Marrow fans, look no further than Pizzeria Mozza's Bone Marrow al Forno. Three large Bones just packed with Marrow goodness! (^_^) Freshness is key for the success of this dish (as it is with just about anything, but especially so with Bone Marrow, which can leave a funk when eating a version that uses an older product).

Mozza's version is nicely roasted, and served with Salt and Roasted Garlic in Olive Oil, along with some Grilled Bread for a perfect pairing. Definitely one of the better Bone Marrow dishes around town.

Moving on to their Pizzas - that which has gained Pizzeria Mozza so much praise and infamy - the first time I took a bite into one of Nancy's Pizzas, it was a revelation of what a "Pizza" could be. It wasn't better or worse than the great Chicago-style Pizzas my friend introduced me to in Chicago, nor better or worse than the Pizza I had in New York. But it was light and manageable. It had interesting toppings and great ingredients and a wonderful, crunch to its crust. And with that first bite, I fell in love with the "Pizzeria Mozza-type Pizza" and have been addicted to it ever since. (^_~)

On one of our recent visits, we began with the Coach Farm Goat Cheese, Leeks, Scallions & Bacon Pizza.

Like all the Pizzas we've had, a great, thin, crispy crust serves as the base, with the Coach Farms Goat Cheese standing up perfectly with the fragrant Leeks, Scallions and fresh Bacon. This is a bold flavor combination and one of my favorites. :)

If you're a Mushroom lover, definitely give the Funghi Misti, Fontina, Taleggio & Thyme Pizza a try. Loaded with fresh slices of Mushrooms, the Fontina provides a great complement, with subtle notes of Thyme peppering each bite, but never overpowering.

For seafood lovers, their Ipswich Clams, Garlic, Oregano, Pecorino & Parmigiano Pizza is worth a try.

Clams & Garlic are a classic flavor combination, and when baked just through - still tender, with a nice, slight chew - combined with the fragrant Pecorino and Parmigiano... it makes for a good variation on the traditional flavors usually found on Pizzas.

One of the most recommended Pizzas at Mozza is their Fennel Sausage, Panna, Red Onion & Scallions Pizza. And while I had kept getting recommendations to try it, I just never got around to ordering it until my most recent visit, and after trying it, I'm extremely sad that I never listened to the recommendations until now.

While it may sound rather basic, when the Fennel Sausage Pizza arrived, we could smell the beautiful, aromatic fragrance the moment it appeared before us. Then taking a bite... simply amazing! Who knew that Fennel-infused Sausage could be *this* good?? It had the addictive, true savoriness from a fresh Sausage, but lifted to another plane with the Fennel infusion. The Panna creme, Red Onion and Scallions were all the perfect supporting cast for the Fennel Sausage, and with the airy, crispy Silverton crust, this instantly became my favorite Pizza at Mozza! (^_^)

The Squash Blossoms, Burrata & Tomato Pizza arrived soon after the Fennel Sausage, and while it was excellent, it just didn't match up to the previous masterpiece we had just sampled.

Still, it's a gorgeous, visually striking Pizza, and still delicious - just don't order it at the same time you order the Fennel Sausage (^_~). The Burrata Cheese is so soft and creamy, and unlike the Antipasti, the Squash Blossoms were allowed to shine here. This is a more subtle pizza, but flowery and fragrant, and delicate. The silky and creamy Burrata caresses the flavors of the Squash Blossoms and fresh Tomatoes, and makes for a great, lighter option.

In addition to all the Pizzas and other Starters, Pizzeria Mozza also gets creative with a special dish of the day. We've always been too busy ordering their various Pizzas to try these, but today, we decided to try one of them: Lamb Stracotto.

Their Lamb Stracotto is slow-cooked for hours, resulting in an extremely tender, fall-off-the-bone dish that rivals any Lamb dish in town for tenderness and freshness. Unfortunately, the Pesto and Olive Tapenade that's slathered all over the Lamb turns it a touch too salty. It's a good idea, but the base flavors of the Onions, Carrots and Celery and the natural jus are more than enough. Perhaps the Pesto or the Olive mixture, but not both.

Still, luckily we were able to scrape away enough of the Olive sauce and Pesto to lessen the sodium and enjoy the beautifully tender Lamb on its own.

There've been some complaints about the service at Pizzeria Mozza over the years, but in each of our 7 visits, we've been fortunate enough to have excellent servers who've been congenial and upbeat. And as a Pizzeria, I'm not expecting "5 Star" service, but there've never been any problems. Starters range from $3 - $24, with most in the ~$12 range. Pizzas range from $10 - $18. We average about ~$35 per person (including tax and tip).

Pizzeria Mozza marks a great endeavor from Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali: A fun, festive, relaxed place to enjoy some delicious Antipasti, Insalate, and *their* version of Pizzas. :) From the well-executed, engaging Starters like the Bone Marrow al Forno, to their outstanding Round, Baked Bread with enticing Toppings (^_~), Pizzeria Mozza is a winner. Their "Pizza" may not be the most authentic Italian Pizza around, nor is it better or worse than the "Pizza" of Chicago and New York. It may not meet your individual expectation for what "Great Pizza" truly is. But if nothing else, Pizzeria Mozza delivers unique, delightful, airy and enjoyable Round, Baked Bread with various fresh Toppings, and that's something worth cheering for. Just don't call it a Pizza and you'll be fine. (^_~) Recommended.

Rating: 8.6 (out of 10.0)

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 297-0101

Hours: 7 Days A Week, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 12:00 a.m. Midnight


Pepsi Monster said...

Hi Exile Kiss,

You are such a camera ninja! I always thought they frown on people snapping away. Then again, it's daytime and no flashes necessary.

I'm glad on one thing. You didn't ordered just pizza, but other dishes as well. That Mussels al Forno with Salsa Calabrian looks delicious! The Fennel Sausage Pizza looks amazing too.

I don't how you do it, but eating all those dishes and still live to tell about is my dream too. Can't wait to try out some of their dishes.

By the way, did you spot any celebrities in that place? I have heard you can spot one or two at any given time. LOL

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pepsi Monster,

Hehehe, no, I'm not a camera ninja. (^_~) I've never had a problem with Pizzeria Mozza and photos in my various visits. I think it's when people resort to using Flash, which would be annoying in any situation (which is why I avoid using it).

Celebs? I usually don't care for star watching, so I don't look around the dining room much when I'm there. :)

If you get a chance to go, let me know how your visit turns out. Some great dishes. :)

Michael said...

Seriously... this is such an awesome restaurant. I've been twice, with about a year separating each visit, and was totally floored. The bacon and sausage pizza and the squash blossom with burrata were by far the standouts for me.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the report back. I'm glad you enjoyed it as well. :)

I'll have to try the Bacon and Sausage next time.

H. C. said...

Indeed, with so many great things it's hard to decide if I want to stick to something I already love (bone marrow, fennel sausage / mushroom / goat cheese-bacon "pizzas" ;) ) or try something new. Though it's never hard for me to round up a few friends so we can all try a little something delicious :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Nice! :) I loved the Bone Marrow and Fennel Sausage as well. :) Definitely give a few of their other appetizers and other pizzas a try next time.

edjusted said...

Another great review. This is another restaurant on my list to try, but I'm glad you reviewed the other dishes or else I probably would've just gotten pizza. The bone marrow sounds really good!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi edjusted,

Thanks. :) I hope you get a chance to visit Pizzeria Mozza soon. Let me know what you think of it if you go. (And "yes," the Bone Marrow is delicious! :)

sha said...

Hi Exile Kiss, I went to Batali's Otto Pizzeria in NYC and liked it a lot (not so much on the gelato), but I love the different types of cheese they have to put on the pizza, salad, and pasta. Have you been there? How does Mozza compare? Mozza has bone marrow which was not on Otto's menu, and Mozza is a lot easier to get to than Otto. =]

Exile Kiss said...

Hi sha,

I haven't been to Otto yet, thanks for your insight! :) I will have to try it the next time I'm in NY.

But like you said, Pizzeria Mozza is a lot closer and they have some good choices for toppings (and the delicious Bone Marrow :).

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