Author Topic: Pizzeria Mozza in LA  (Read 6377 times)

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Offline robert40

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Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« on: February 01, 2007, 02:39:16 PM »
My apologies if there is a existing thread as I could not seem to locate one.
Also unfortunately I don't seem able to post a link to some recent articles regarding this restaurant/pizzeria. But thought readers would be interested in knowing the LA Times gave Pizzeria Mozza owned by Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali 3 stars recently. Truly amazing and wonderful review.

Also found a interesting review from Ed Levine who claims Pizzeria Bianco a favorite of his may have met its match. That review can be found at Seriouseats.com.


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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2007, 03:32:01 PM »
Here is the article:

Hot spot? Mozza is on fire
By S. Irene Virbila
Times Staff Writer

January 31, 2007

PIZZERIA MOZZA isn't just a restaurant. It's an action film, a master class in the art of making pizza, a trip through Italy's wine regions and a magnet for a diverse crowd of hungry diners only Los Angeles could muster.

It's the toughest reservation in town, maybe in the country right now, the place where everybody in the food world wants to eat. After months of buzz and speculation, Nancy Silverton, who brought us La Brea Bakery and co-founded Campanile, and Mario Batali, the New York chef with a big appetite and an ever-growing collection of high-profile restaurants, have finally opened part one of Mozza at the corner of Melrose and Highland avenues. Part two, an osteria (casual tavern), is to follow in the spring.

From a seat at the counter in front of the wood-burning pizza oven, you can see everything — or at least everything that matters. A wire basket of brown eggs sits on the counter along with a bowl of pomegranates or persimmons and some cadmium red African daisies stuck casually into a vase. The fiftysomething woman behind the counter, dressed like a rich bohemian, her hair tucked up with barrettes and amber hanging from her earlobes, is Nancy Silverton.

Thwack! She attacks the billowy edges of a pizza that's just emerged from the oven, cutting the crackling crust into four quadrants with a rolling pizza cutter. Holding her thumb over the neck of an olive oil bottle, she splashes a little oil over, then rubs a bundle of dried oregano between her palms like somebody making a fire, showering the fragrant leaves over a simple tomato pizza.

To garnish the next pie in line, one with a loose, light tomato sauce garnished with saffron-colored squash blossoms, slit and spread out like the rays of the sun, she digs a spoon into a container of soft, creamy burrata cheese. She moves to the next pizza in line, a classic Margherita, hauls a bouquet of basil from a glass of water and clack, clack, clack — snips the leaves with a pair of scissors so that the leaves fall directly onto the pizza in artful disarray.

Her signature style

THERE'S something so sensual about Silverton's relationship to food and her aesthetic that's entirely her own — direct, focused, uncompromised. She doesn't primp or fuss over her food. It's not art-directed or scripted. But it is entirely original and recognizably hers. And even if you're an Italian purist who's scandalized that she doesn't make pizza exactly like they do in Naples or someone who finds her food too simple and wonders what all the fuss is about, it's precisely this: Her food is vibrant and alive.

That Margherita is a beautiful melding of fresh milky mozzarella delivered almost daily from Mozzarella Fresca in Northern California, with a light tomato sauce and the fresh, fragrant basil leaves on a crust that's both tender and crackling crisp on the bottom, blistered and smoky from the wood-burning oven. A pizza of funghi misti means mixed mushrooms on a soft carpet of tangled cheeses — Fontina and Taleggio, with a sprinkling of thyme leaves.

The woman next to me, ignored by the couple she came with, badgers the pizzaiola with questions. "Ooh, what's that?" she asks.

"Fennel sausage for the fennel sausage pizza, " he says. He takes meatball-sized pieces of the cooked sausage and places them sparsely over a circle of raw dough the cook next to him has already stretched out to a 10-inch round. Another cook works the wood-burning oven, stoking it with almond wood, moving the coals to the back and taking the pizzas in and out with a long-handled peel.

Executive chef Matt Molina, who worked with Silverton at Campanile, keeps a watchful eye on everything, stepping in to help when needed. Minutes later, when the edges of the dough are blistered and blackened from the heat of the oven, Silverton adds the final touch: a dusting of wild fennel pollen. The combination of flavors is sensational.

The pizzas are all so good, it's tough to pick a favorite, but if I had to choose, one would certainly be that fennel sausage pizza; another would be the egg and guanciale pie. The latter is topped with ribbons of ruby radicchio, thinly sliced guanciale (cured pig's jowl) and a little bagna cauda (the Piedmontese "warm bath" of garlic, anchovy and olive oil). Just before the pizzaiola slips the pie into the oven, he takes an egg from the wire basket and breaks it in the middle. The pizza cooks so quickly in the hot oven, the egg yolk is still molten when you bite into it, flooding the surface with gold.

It has been interesting to watch Pizzeria Mozza evolve in the three months it's been open. Mastering the wood-burning oven has been a challenge for Silverton — I watched one night as she went over to the oven and blew into it, trying to coax the flames back after someone forgot to add more wood at the proper moment. It's been difficult, too, to achieve a consistent dough. Though it's never going to be exactly the same from day to day (it's the same with sourdough), now the variations aren't so wide. There was the night someone forgot to add salt to the dough — and it took forever to cook.

The Margherita at first had too much tomato and not enough cheese. Some of the pizzas were almost too minimalist. But Silverton is a worker, putting in 12 hours and more a day for months, and a perfectionist about every detail, and in an amazingly short time, she's gotten all the way there.

If pizzas are center stage at Mozza, the rest of the menu, printed on one page with the wine list on the back, offers some other delicious items. Silverton regularly shuffles through the dozens of antipasti, in a short, revolving list of those she developed over her stint as guest antipasti chef on Tuesday nights at La Terza.

The choices might include fried squash blossoms with a sumptuous ricotta filling or shell beans with tomato and a breadcrumb topping, finished in the wood-burning oven. I love the caponata of velvety soft purple-black eggplant, skin and all, with sweet-sour onions and toasted pine nuts served in an antipasti cup. On my last visit, there was a new dish of yellow wax beans finished in a bright emerald salsa verde and a small bowl of intensely flavored whole marinated peppers in brilliant scarlet and gold.

Tables are closely packed at Mozza, and it's not unusual for tables next to each other to start up a conversation, usually with someone asking advice on what to order — you'll have to lean very close, though, because this is one of the noisiest restaurants around.

But when you've waited weeks for one of the 60 seats (only the seats at the two counters are unreserved), naturally, everybody wants to make sure they don't miss the best dishes, like the classic bruschetta of finely chopped chicken livers with lots of capers and parsley, embellished with a little crisped guanciale. The bruschetta of white beans alla Toscana is a killer, too. The cannellini beans are cooked the way they should be, soft and yielding instead of al dente, splashed with a great Tuscan olive oil from the wine producer Capezzana in Carmignano outside Florence.

Move over, the Ivy, and give way to "Nancy's" chopped salad, a tall pile of chickpeas, shredded iceberg lettuce, pear-shaped cherry tomatoes, aged provolone cheese, ribbons of finocchio salami and radicchio in a bright oregano vinegary dressing. It's an updated, pristine version of salads you used to find in New York's Little Italy, but this time made with top-notch ingredients.

Silverton's tricolore salad is a lovely mix of feathery frisée, sharp peppery arugula and red endive in an assertive, wildly delicious, anchovy dressing. Occasionally somebody sprinkles too much Parmesan over the top, but that's minor.

The tour de force of the salad lineup has to be Silverton's winter caprese — the most tender little bufala mozzarella bocconcini, or when she can't get that, burrata, drizzled with a very loose pesto and plated with tomatoes on the vine roasted whole to concentrate their flavor. It's a brilliant acknowledgment of the season.

Open the door of Pizzeria Mozza, and you'll hear the roar of the crowd happily eating, talking, flirting, with the bass from an old David Bowie album or the Beatles' new Love album thumping in the background. No getting around it, the place is very noisy, and only semi-quiets down well after 10, which incidentally offers the best chance of securing a table on the spur of the moment.

At Pizzeria Mozza, the tables are bare, furnished only with brown paper placemats printed with cartoons in Italian, or a recipe for pizza Margherita, or a guide to speaking Italian in seven easy steps (mostly with your hands). Sealed paper bags hold your silverware and a white paper napkin. The pottery is simple and sturdy, but the wineglasses are finer than anything you'd ever find in a pizzeria in Italy.

That's because Batali and general manager David Rosoff, who held the same post at Campanile, Opaline and Michael's, are serious about wine. Rosoff has come up with a list of fifty wines under $50 from practically every region that makes wine in Italy. Most of them are pretty obscure, but you can order many by the quartino, i.e., quarter of a liter, or third of a regular bottle. Try the minerally Greco di Tufo from Benito Ferrara in Campania or the cool, focused Riesling from Laimburg in the Alto Adige. In reds, you might introduce yourself to Refosco from Friuli or the Nerojbleo from Gulfi in Sicily.

Dreamy desserts

THE menu instructs "save some room for DESSERT." That's a tough order here, yet somehow you've got to do it. Pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez worked with Silverton at Campanile, and together they've devised the perfect desserts for this kind of food. Get something, if only the textbook-crunchy almond biscotti to accompany your espresso. Just introduced on the menu is a Meyer lemon gelato pie that's absolutely irresistible. It has a buttery dark graham cracker crust topped with a fragrant, but not too sweet Meyer lemon gelato and a drift of softly whipped cream.

Tops, too, is the butterscotch budino, or pudding, fine as silk, subtly sweet, a butterscotch dream in a cup. And the caramel coppetta, which is really an ice cream sundae of lush caramel gelato with a little caramel sauce drizzled over, toasted peanuts and a soft sticky marshmallow sauce, is pretty dreamy too.

Where's Molto Mario in all this? Except for a token appearance or two, he seems content to let Silverton be the face of Pizzeria Mozza. His organization's involvement, though, is felt in the dining room, in the crisp, confident moves of the staff. The Batali-Joe Bastianich team really knows how to run restaurants. And they've hired a staff that relishes the energy and the action. Other than off-peak hours, this place is jammed. It's loud. It's brash. It's fun.

All that, and great pizza, too? That's amore.

Offline shango

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2007, 09:22:29 PM »
do we have to call a pizza man in a fusion pizzeria "pizzaiolo"? 

It's insulting.
pizza, pizza, pizza

Offline Glutenboy

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2007, 05:15:40 PM »
I live in Hollywood just blocks from Pizzeria Mozza.  I'm going to try it very soon and I will report.  I'd have gone already, but it's reservation-only unless you want to wait and pray.  Ed Levine is right.  Los Angeles is a really crappy pizza town.  I've been hunting forever.  This place must be something to earn the high praise he gave it.  It'd better be something or I'm gonna be disappointed!  I'm hoping to have the time to go out to dinner next week or maybe weekend, so stand by.  :pizza:
Quote under my pic excludes Little Caesar's.

Offline scott r

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2007, 09:59:42 PM »
I don't think this place is going to disappoint anybody, but I also don't think it is up to the same quality standards as Biancos.  The ingredients are good, the pizzas are creative,  but the pies just don't seem to have that special something.   First off we know bianco's is using a very wet dough and a very quick (less than or around 1.5 minutes). My pies at mozza were timed at 6 and 7 minutes, and the dough was very dry. This resulted in a very very crisp and dry crackery crust on the pizza without sauce, and a moderately dry pizza for the one with sauce. The dough was mixed properly so there was at least a lightness to it even though it was a bit dry. I liked that. Still, it was no comparison to what can be done with a 2 minute bake. I was really missing that crispy, yet still soft and fluffy crust that is easily obtained with the faster cooking times.
 
The first pizza I ordered was a huge mistake, and I suggest that people follow a tip about ordering here. I would stick to the pizzas where the cheese is baked on the pie. For some reason a bunch of the pizza choices on the menu have the cheese (buffalo mozzarella or burratta) spooned on after the pizza has been taken out of the oven. I suppose this is necessitated by the long slow bake of the oven. The cheese is kept in a very very cold refrigerator right under the prep station and is not salted. What I ended up with was a pizza with a huge freezing cold glob of buffalo mozzarella on it that was totally unappealing. They then put on a very cold right out of the fridge pesto which was also gross at that temperature. I am a HUGE fan of buffalo mozzarella, but I ended up scooping it all off of my pizza and leaving it on my plate. All that was left after that was a dried out dough round with some fresh herbs and olive oil on it. Now if we were at a place like biancos with a tender melt in your mouth dough that might be ok, but not with this crust. It was a very sad pizza for sure. It is such a shame to waste that buffalo mozzarella by putting it on at 35 degrees. Melted buffala is such an amazing treat. Even if they used room temp cheese they might have had a little bit of melting just from the residual heat from the pie, but unfortunately my cheese was still rock hard and freezing cold after a stay on top of the pizza.
 
After my first mistake I ordered a margherita pie with sausage added.  I really wanted to give this place a chance. Unfortunately the sauce and the default pizza cheese here is nothing special. Maybe you could convince them to bake a pie with some cherry tomatoes and buffala put on before it goes in the oven.  Then you would have something much better.
 
The good news is that the meats here are amazing. This place has some of the best speck and fennel sausage I have ever tasted. Way to go mario! Next time I will go back and try some of the entrees skipping the pizza. The salads also looked amazing. They also use lots and lots of fresh herbs. All the ingredients seemed like they were of exceptionally high quality.
 
 More bad news. I saw a bowl of olives marinated in olive oil on the table next to me, and ordered that as my app thinking I would get some great bread baked by Nancy Silverton to dip in all that oil. What showed up were a few long skinny crackers. She is famous for her bread right?
 
My total after 20% tip was $50 for two 10 inch pizzas, tap water, and a small bowl of olives. Ouch.
 
Don't believe all the hype about how hard it is to get into this place. I called on the phone and asked if there was any room at the bar. She said that it is very difficult to get a seat there. I asked how long the wait would be and she said to stop by, but she could not guarantee anything. I showed up and every single seat at the bar, and in front of the pizza maker was open. The place was totally dead. There were only three tables in the whole restaurant that were occupied. I did get there between lunch and dinner, but I have a feeling they are playing up how tough it is to get in to this place.
 
Having said all this, this pizzeria might still be the best I have found in California for upscale pizza. It beats out what I have been able to find in San Francisco and elsewhere in Los Angeles. Unfortunately it does not hold a candle to what you can get in Pittsburgh at Il Pizzaiolo, or many of the pizzerias in New York City and the surrounding area. I have not been to Biancos yet, but after talking to Pete Taylor and others about their experiences there I can guarantee that Mozza is not even close.

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2007, 10:20:39 PM »

... great bread baked by Nancy Silverton to dip in all that oil. What showed up were a few long skinny crackers. She is famous for her bread right?
 
... this pizzeria might still be the best I have found in California for upscale pizza. It beats out what I have been able to find in San Francisco

Nice report, Scott. Yes, Nancy Silverton's bread at La Brea Bakery is legendary. My favorite local restaurant has her bread flown in. It is my dream to bake baguettes as good as those.

Regarding San Francisco and "upscale pizza", have you tried Chez Panisse in Berkeley? Been a while since I was there, but those pies were sensational.

Bill/SFNM
« Last Edit: February 08, 2007, 10:28:37 PM by Bill/SFNM »

Offline scott r

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2007, 10:25:33 PM »
figures bill, that's pretty much the only place I didn't try.   

I may be heading up there for a few days next week, so i will hit it then if I go.

Pizzaiolo is supposedly the pizza maker from Chez P, but those pies were nothing special.  It tasted like somebody accidentally spilled a box of sugar in the sauce.

Thanks for the tip!

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2007, 08:50:14 AM »
scott r,
I'm going to be in LA next week and will drop by Mozza. I suspect it is nothing more than a baker thinking they know what great pizza is. They have a hard time seperating bread from pizza. What a shame.

I would be interested in the mozzarella bar. Did you observe it during your visit? I think that is an elegant way to reduce the most expensive ingredient.
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Offline pftaylor

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2007, 09:29:37 AM »
I ate at Mozza last night and was able to spend a few minutes discussing pizza with Nancy.

Overall, I would have to say my experience was pleasant even though the pizza was nowhere near exceptional. Mozza struck me as a wine bar which happens to serve pizza. The 10" - 11" Margherita I ordered had a huge crispy rim which reminded me of a well done Thomas's English Muffin. The rim represented fully 1/3 the surface area of the pie. The best explanation I can put forth is that the pizza was toasted. Not a speckle of char was noticeable.

The observed bake time was at least seven minutes which led to a toasted muffin like crust. The inner portion of the crust was somewhat softer, no doubt due to being covered by wet toppings. I asked Nancy about the crispy rim and she stated it is by design. Apparently the process of building their pizzas involves painting a layer of olive oil on the entire skin first. Since the rim isn't covered by toppings, it develops a crispy texture in the 600 degree or so oven over the bake time.

Frankly, I expected to find a well developed, complex crumb structure but there wasn't any. It was bready looking with an overly thick bottom veneer and flat as a board with no holes to speak of - other than the huge rim area which seemed out of proportion relative to the diminutive size of the pizza. Still, the pizza produced a somewhat satisfying taste. Perhaps it was due to a better grade of ingredients.

The manner with which Mozza built my Margherita was decidedly not Neapolitan. After stretching the skin in the air, they applied a heavy dose of olive oil. Then a very light painting of freshly ground tomatoes followed by an ultra light chunking of Fresh Mozzarella cheese. Before inserting the dressed skin into the oven, they loaded the peel with a finely ground corn meal (or semolina flour). Then they sprinkled a dusting of spices on top. Seven minutes later, they removed the pie from the oven and brought it to Nancy for cutting (into four pieces) and applying a sprig or two of basil.

Was it artisan pizza? Well, it depends on your definition. If Chris Bianco is the benchmark, then the answer is clearly no. Mozza is not in the same league. I would say that it is gourmet wine bar pizza. The excellent toppings really did, in my mind, provide cover for an average crust - which sort of meets my typical definition for a California pizza.
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Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2007, 01:31:02 PM »
pftaylor,

Did you get a feeling for how much influence Batali had on the crust? One of the funnier parts of Buford's mildly amusing Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany , was his description of Batali's frantic attempts to get the crust right as his NYC pizzeria was opening. Sounds to me like he still doesn't have it right. I guess it is reassuring that people of the stature of Batali and Silverton struggle as we do to produce a decent crust.

Great report! Thanks.

Bill/SFNM


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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2007, 02:04:04 PM »
Bill/SFNM,
Interesting question about Mario's influence.

My view would be that Mario's possible influence was with the wine bar portion of the operation more than the pizza side of the operation - if that. Likely, he licensed use of his name to the restaurant and not much else. From a pizza perspective, Otto and Mozza pies share a similar size, an extremely dense crumb, and a "Beverly Hillbilly Grandma Clampet Biscuit" like hardness. To more fully illustrate just how hard the crust was at Mozza, I tapped the rim with the end of my dinner fork and ended up poking several holes through it's brittle exterior. They were clean punctures too. Quite a feat, eh?

Otto's pies visually appeared somewhat more in the Neapolitan style(though not authentic Neapolitan by any stretch) and had a rather small rim, a heavier dose of toppings and was baked using an unusual combination of a griddle and a conveyor oven. Mozza used a low temperature wood burning oven, had a very light amount of toppings, and a huge rim. So the two pizzas appear to be completely different animals in my mind.

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Offline PIGMON

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2007, 10:09:40 AM »
After reading this thread as well as some serious accolades thrown Pizzeria Mozza's way, I made it a must stop on my recent visit to L.A.
I really don't have much more to add to the wonderfully thorough discussion above but I will say that I couldn't agree more with scott r and pftaylor's assessments.
From my perspective, I thought the highlight of the place was the pizza's crust and that the toppings didn't do justice to it since the proportions were all wrong.
On the 2 pies we tried, the heavy use of Parmigiano Reggiano overwhelmed the littleneck clams (as did the dried rosemary) and on other, ridulously large-sized fennel sausage pieces are completely unmanagable. I ate them separately from the pizza.
In a nutshell, there was no continuity to these pies whatsoever. The toppings didn't work together with their wonderful crust.

I walked out of Mozza thinking that Silverton is holding up her end of the bargain but was wondering what Batali's contribution to the operation truly was.


Offline Boy Hits Car

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2007, 10:18:10 AM »
After reading this thread as well as some serious accolades thrown Pizzeria Mozza's way, I made it a must stop on my recent visit to L.A.
I really don't have much more to add to the wonderfully thorough discussion above but I will say that I couldn't agree more with scott r and pftaylor's assessments.
From my perspective, I thought the highlight of the place was the pizza's crust and that the toppings didn't do justice to it since the proportions were all wrong.
On the 2 pies we tried, the heavy use of Parmigiano Reggiano overwhelmed the littleneck clams (as did the dried rosemary) and on other, ridulously large-sized fennel sausage pieces are completely unmanagable. I ate them separately from the pizza.
In a nutshell, there was no continuity to these pies whatsoever. The toppings didn't work together with their wonderful crust.

I walked out of Mozza thinking that Silverton is holding up her end of the bargain but was wondering what Batali's contribution to the operation truly was.



Probably just his name to get PR.

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2007, 05:24:51 PM »
For a recent review by the New York Times of Pizzeria Mozza, see http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mozz.html. Those interested in seeing the photos may want to read the article promptly since it is likely to go into the NYT’s paid archived section within a week or two. 

For those who miss the actual article, I have copied and pasted it below:

May 9, 2007
Critic’s Notebook
In Los Angeles, the Accidental Pizza Maker
By FRANK BRUNI
LOS ANGELES

A FUNNY thing happened on Nancy Silverton’s way to opening a new Italian restaurant here. Actually, a doughy, cheesy, wonderful thing happened, and neither she nor Los Angeles may ever be quite the same.

Looking for the right spot for her restaurant, she homed in on one that happened to have a pizzeria attached to it. And it hit her: pizzas. She should do pizzas herself. She should do them in this annex, next to the rest of her operation, because the space was already set up that way, with the right kind of wood-burning oven right where an oven should be.

Her restaurant, Osteria Mozza, would be the star. Its scrappy sibling, Pizzeria Mozza, would lend amusing support. That was the idea.

This is the reality: Osteria Mozza, after extensive construction and repeated delays, still isn’t open. July, Ms. Silverton promises, but does it matter?

Pizzeria Mozza began serving lunch and dinner in November and became so madly popular and widely revered that food lovers in Los Angeles and elsewhere stopped asking when, oh when, Ms. Silverton’s proper restaurant would be ready.

Instead they asked how, oh how, they could land a table at her pizza joint.

It accepts reservations up to a month in advance and pretty much books up a month in advance. Some entertainment-industry bigwigs have their secretaries set up a reservation a week, while others sidestep the craziness and crowds by doing takeout. When I spoke to Ms. Silverton on the phone recently, she said that she had made a to-go order for Jeffrey Katzenberg early that day and one for Steven Spielberg later on. She sounded exhausted and, well, baffled.

“It’s a small, little, loud restaurant, right?” she said, adding that she “never, ever, ever, ever” expected this kind of reaction.

The instant and outsize swoon over Mozza owes something to the reputation she made for herself at La Brea Bakery and the restaurant Campanile. It’s fueled by the long-distance involvement of the New York chef Mario Batali and his frequent collaborator, Joseph Bastianich, who are partners in Mozza, their first West Coast venture.

And it reflects the spread of a certain kind of haute pizza culture across the country. In growing numbers, serious chefs and bakers are making — and the food cognoscenti are devouring — exemplary pies inspired at least loosely by the thin-crust pizza of Naples. Usually measuring 10 to 12 inches in diameter, they’re sculptured from dough that’s been lovingly tended by the pizzaioli themselves and cooked at blazingly high temperatures in wood-burning ovens of Italian design.

You can find them in Manhattan at Una Pizza Napoletana, in Chicago at Spacca Napoli and in Phoenix at Pizzeria Bianco, whose chef and owner, Chris Bianco, is the unofficial godfather of this movement. And you can find them in Los Angeles at Mozza, where they were greeted with so much excitement that The Los Angeles Times didn’t wait for the rest of the restaurant to weigh in with a review.

The newspaper awarded the pizzeria a head-turning three out of four stars under the headline: “Hot spot? Mozza is on fire.”

To get into Mozza on a recent night, I booked about three weeks ahead and had to accept a 5 p.m. dinner reservation: anything at a saner hour was long gone. Mozza is open daily from noon to midnight, and when I arrived it was two-thirds full. By 5:45, there wasn’t an empty seat. By 6:30, the area just inside the door was jammed with people waiting for one of 40 reserved spots at tables or one of 20 counter perches — half at a wine bar, half facing the pizza oven — that are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.

As my friends and I worked our way through several rounds of antipasti, I noticed a woman with tiger-stripe pants and a beehive hairdo just a few tables away. Then I noticed her pizza, which managed to make an even more compelling visual statement, its crust a veritable topography of canyons and buttes. John Ford could have shot a miniature Western on one of Ms. Silverton’s pies.

The woman and I swapped smiles, a familiar wordless exchange between two food adventurers thrilled to be exploring a coveted frontier. She held my gaze as she lifted a slice of pizza and took a bite. Then, after a slow-motion, self-consciously dramatic chew or two, she nodded and flashed me an “O.K.” sign. The pizza passed muster.

I’ll say. Ms. Silverton, who started her career as a pastry chef and is an accomplished baker, makes crusts with extraordinary character: softly chewy in spots, crisply charred in others, ever so faintly sweet, even more faintly sour. There’s some rye flour in her dough and some malt, and she lets it sit for 36 hours before she uses it.

Although not conventionally thick, her crusts are denser and weightier than the Neapolitan ideal, reflecting her stated love of the pizza bianca sold by several bakeries around Campo de’ Fiori in Rome. Instead of an actual topping, pizza bianca has perhaps a gloss of oil and maybe a dusting of herbs, forcing you to focus on what has become of the dough. It’s spongy, like focaccia, but with less air inside and more crunch outside.

The obsessive attention that Ms. Silverton and her peers pay to dough and crusts is part of what separates their pies from the trailblazing pizza that came out of the wood-fired ovens at Spago more than two decades ago. Their pies are also being baked in smaller or more exactingly designed ovens that reach 900 degrees. Two minutes or less and they’re done.

Ms. Silverton’s pies take nearly four minutes, and her oven temperature is about 700 degrees, she said. She said she has determined that that’s what’s best for her dough, which she described as unusually strong, due to the way she hydrates and folds it during those 36 hours.

And the oven, in the end, isn’t the one she inherited from the pizzeria that preceded hers. She said that Mr. Batali had realized quickly that, from a commercial standpoint, she would need something bigger — something just like the terra-cotta Italian import in the backyard of his northern Michigan vacation home.

So they got one of those ovens, with a front of yellow tiles, for Mozza. The 10 diners at the counter that faces it, along with diners elsewhere who have a view of it, tend to stare at its fiery mouth as the pies go in and out. It’s as if they’re witnessing sacrifices to a tempestuous god, and their hushed, rapt focus is a tidy illustration of food fetishism today.

Although Ms. Silverton is fixated on dough, she doesn’t ignore the balance of the pizza. The toppings for each of roughly 15 kinds of pies have well-chosen, well-balanced ingredients: meaty fennel sausage, creamy buffalo milk mozzarella, expertly cured meats.

Most of the Mozza devotees I spoke to favor the pizza with fennel sausage and red onion. I was partial to one with mixed mushrooms, fontina, taleggio and thyme, and to another with salame, mozzarella, tomato and hot chilies. The latter tasted like an elegant, electric riff on a traditional pepperoni pie.

While Ms. Silverton’s pizza isn’t flawless, and while the crusts of a few of the pies had rims so monstrously broad they muscled the toppings out of the picture, I had terrific meals at Mozza. And that’s partly because of what Mozza serves, without much fanfare, in addition to pizza. Its salads and antipasti were fantastic.

A dish that placed shreds of slowly braised lamb shank, olives and capers over creamy polenta was salty, rustic bliss. Fried squash blossoms had a light, crisp shell that underscored the creaminess of the ricotta and mozzarella inside them.

But the most delightful wedding of crunchy and gooey came courtesy of Mozza’s arancine, deep-fried risotto balls without any of the greasiness to which these fritters often fall prey.

I was also wild about a bruschetta with a mash of chicken livers, capers and guanciale. But Mozza reached perhaps its loftiest peak toward the end of each meal, when its butterscotch budino, a pudding to shame all other puddings, arrived.

Mozza veterans had told me not to miss it. They should have told me to take only tiny bites of everything beforehand so that I would have room for a second budino and maybe a third. The budino’s simple master stroke? Over the pudding hovers a thin layer of caramel with an audaciously generous sprinkling of sea salt. You show me a compulsively eatable dessert, I’ll show you a salty one.

Pizzeria Mozza is, when you add all of its components together, a serious and impressive restaurant in its own right. Its all-Italian wine list has principles: without a single Chianti, Barolo or brunello on it, diners are prodded to try less familiar wines, and there’s not a bottle over $50.

With that adventurous wine list, red and gold colors and focus on pizza and small plates, Mozza struck me as a less sprawling, much sharper version of Otto in Greenwich Village, whose inferior pizzas are cooked on a griddle. Of course the similarities are no accident, given that Otto’s principal owners are Mr. Batali and Mr. Bastianich.

But the makers of Mozza weren’t focused on pizza at the start. Ms. Silverton envisioned a restaurant devoted to mozzarella (hence the name), and Mr. Batali and Mr. Bastianich wanted a part of it. Then they took a digression that turned into a destination. It’s a movie-style twist, befitting Mozza’s location on the edge of Hollywood. It’s also a very happy ending

Offline pizza concerto

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2007, 10:43:22 PM »
Hi all,

Just returned from lunch at Mozza, and thought I'd throw my 2 lira in...These pies are totally different than anything I've ever tried before. In a different class if you will.  The crust was way buttery on the edge, and with a snap and then chew.  Kinda like a croissant, only not flaky or as light, with a crunchy exterior and then chew.  I have to admit, after reading some of the the previous posts from others here (not the newspapers) I was expecting less, but was pleasantly surprised.  I liked it!  Even my wife who never eats her crust (yes, one of those) ate every last bite.  I applaud the quest that was made for pizza with a spin.  I can't see placing this on par with other "California" styled pizzas.  This certainly is not California Pizza Kitchen.

Toppings were imaginative and fresh.  Especially the meatball sized Fennel Sausage. The only weak topping was the tomato sauce on the Margherita...tasted like tomato paste.

We also had some fried Zuchini Blossoms filled with Ricotta cheese...good, but Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill's are way better IMO.  For desert we tried the 3 flavor Gellato...good again, in fact better than any I've had in the states, (but not like San Crispino in Rome...) ?

Personally, I'd recommend this place for uniqueness alone, to add to ones memory arsenal of what can be accomplished with flour, water, salt, yeast and probably a stick or two of drawn, brushed butter...

Here's some photos of several of the pies...

Fennel sausage, panna & red onion
Margherita with mozzarella, tomato & basil
Prosciutto di Parma, rucola, tomato & mozzarella
Littleneck clams, oregano, parmigiano & pecorino

I say, give it a chance!

Dan

"Only Irish Coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fat." -- Alex Levine

Offline Grog

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #15 on: November 13, 2007, 09:44:39 AM »
I visited Mozza last night after reading a lot of fawning press in LA Magazine, as well as Ed Levine's announcement that Mozza may have bested Pizzeria Bianco for the best pizza in the nation.  I wish I had read this thread first, because it would have tempered my expectations a bit.

Initially I was worried that I would not get a seat.  This place is the hottest restaurant in L.A. at the moment.  The articles I read said that the place is fully booked 30 days in advance.  Luckily, when I arrived at 6 pm on a holiday (Veteran's Day), the hostess was able to seat me at the bar immediately.  It was good timing on my part, because for most of the time I was there, the place was packed. 

The restaurant itself is cozy and a bit loud, about 60 seats, with southwestern colors and tasteful decor.  I was seated at the end of the bar and bumped a lot by the waitstaff.

My perch directly overlooked the oven and the five-person pizza-making assembly line.  The first guy shaped the skins with a well hydrated soft-looking dough.  His technique involved generously coating the dough with bench flour, patting out the dough into a disk, and then stretching it by letting it hang from his fists.  The stretched skins looked at least double the size of the the end product, so there is a lot of shrinkage in the cooking process (which happens to me a lot when using a sourdough starter).  The second guy in the line dressed the skins on small wood and aluminum peels.  He brushed a coating of olive oil on every pizza.  Then he set the pizza aside for the third guy, who was handling the oven.  The third  guy placed pizzas into the oven with the small peels, then moved them around with a longer metal peel.  He moved the pizzas around in the oven a lot, and when finished, placed the pizzas back on the counter on metal plates next to assembly line workers #4 and #5.  These two dressed the pizzas with the uncooked toppings, such as prosciutto, burrata cheese and basil, then slid the pizzas onto plates or into take-out boxes.  I cannot emphasize enough that all of the ingredients I saw were of the highest quality. 

These guys are efficient!  During the hour I was there, I saw them make at least 100 pizzas.  This was no easy feat considering the low temperature of the oven.  The cook times were 4+ minutes.  I tried counting to get the exact time, but gave up after 4 minutes.  Also, I get the sense that cook times are not consistent.  I saw one undercooked pizza that had been cut returned to the oven on a metal plate.  The oven had a fairly high dome and appeared to be a prefab unit made of refractory cement.  (no bricks).  Also, I saw wood added to the oven exactly once during the hour I was there, when the fire went out. 

I ordered a Margherita.  Because of the sheer volume of pizzas being made, it took more than 30 minutes from the time I ordered to be served.  When it arrived, it was well done in comparison to the other pizzas I saw, with more than the usual amount of char.  The crust was cracker hard, like a thin-crusted baguette, but soft and chewy on the inside.  The texture was not unpleasant, but it didn't have the same crisp-soft texture of a well-made Neapolitan pie.  I think the olive oil coating is responsible for the crispy outer shell.  The flavor of the crust was unremarkable.  The sauce was very dense and tasted cooked, like tomato paste or ketchup.  The homemade cheese was fine, but there was not enough of it.  In short, the pizza did not meet my (perhaps unreasonably) high expectations for this place.  If I return, I think I'll order something with more toppings in order to dress up the crust.   

Although I was disappointed by my Margherita, I have to stress that Mozza, despite the ridiculous overhyping in the press, is worth a visit.The non-pizza dishes are phenomenal.  I had an amazing butterscotch pudding for desert.  The pizzas are made with lots of thought and care, and while it didn't satisfy my preferences for Neapolitan style artisan pizza, the non-aficionado is likely to be blown away.  It is also a fabulously hip place.  If I were not so good-looking and fashionable myself, I probably would have felt self-conscious.  ;-)
« Last Edit: November 14, 2007, 05:28:49 PM by Grog »

Offline Grog

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Re: Pizzeria Mozza in LA
« Reply #16 on: November 14, 2007, 05:27:54 PM »
After visiting another L.A. pizzeria (Antica) and re-reading my post, I think I was a bit harsh.  The pizza at Mozza does not comport with my Neapolitan ideal, but it is prepared carefully, with lots of thought, care, and top-notch ingredients.  Unless someone opens a new Nepolitan pizzeria in L.A., I'll probably return to Mozza on my next visit.

Offline MozzaMatt

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Pizzeria Mozza
« Reply #17 on: August 27, 2009, 09:23:55 AM »
Having gone to Pizzeria Mozza recently (June 2009), I thought it was very well executed pizza...it was gourmet pizza, but very good pizza nonetheless.  The high price and lame valet parking will likely keep me from going there again for pleasure, unless I am doing business.

The one puzzle I have been yet to figure out is how they got the ring of crust so big and billowy, like in the pictures above?  Any ideas??

Also, to throw out another LA pizza conversation point...Has anyone tried Tomato Pie?  It was voted over Pizzeria Mozza in GQ magazine as the best pizza in LA.  I have been to the Melrose (bad location) and Silver Lake (recommended) and was very impressed with their stable of "Eastern Flavor" pizzas.  Their Grandma pizza is their hyped up pie and it has yet to disappoint after several experiences with friends.


 

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