Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Los Angeles- Pizzeria Mozza

Pie crusts (and molds) were meant to be broken
This would be your neighborhood pizzeria’s rich, city cousin. Walls of earthy, Tuscan gold and reds were the first hint that, though this might mimic a stereotypical pizza joint, some serious dough had been dropped to sling pie gourmet-stlye.

That was to be expected from Chef Mario Batali, along with partners Nancy Silverton (aka the mozzarella maestro) and Joseph Bastianich, who carried their high-end motif over from Mozza’s Osteria (next door) to the Pizzeria’s more casual vibe (641 N. Highland Ave.)

Fresh peppers and lemons popped as usable artwork along the pizza bar, a wood burning oven in the background. Tables danced cheek to cheek on the dining room floor - close quarters to say the least, but with familial appeal.

Our server, however, did not exude the same warmth as his venue. He would be playing the stock character- “LA waiter”- designer glasses framing a rushed and superior demeanor, as if we had just crashed his dinner party. But our wayward host was a minimal distraction compared to the food.

Appetizer: Stuffed squash blossoms with ricotta ($12) – Perfect pockets of delightfulness. “Nature’s Cheeto” exploded in hot, melted bursts from the tender valise of blossom. It had me considering a second round immediately and possibly another in lieu of dessert.

Salad: An anchovy vinagriette, rather than “dressing,” was drizzled over mixed greens with stalks of frisee and flashes of radicchio ($14.) We were left with its garlic-y afterglow and pearls of parmesan wisdom that even had the anti-anchovist at the table raving about its non-fishy finish.

Pizza: pies contained four squatty slices, arched on imperfectly shaped pizza crust, with the artisan individuality of a snowflake.

Sausage/rosemary pie- ($15) I wanted to take a sauna in its steam of smells. Can scents by lick-able? The sweet perfume was strong enough to overwhelm the neighboring table, who inquired, “What IS that?” and then ordered one of their own.

Squash blossom/Burrata pie ($18) - as mentioned, my addiction to the squash blossoms began early in the meal and picked up here, paired with Burrata mozzarella and tomato. Burrata’s consistency was similar to that of a Cadbury cream egg. It oozed. It ran. It pooled around the flesh of the blossoms and added a little give to the crunch of the crust.

Dessert: Gelato - (three scoops, $7)
1) We ordered the olive oil gelato, having already sampled it once at the Osteria (next door), and reveled in the memory of its savory, sea-salt sprinkles.
2) Giandiua (hazelnut) had a nutty roundness that meshed flawlessly with its chocolate background.
3) This chocolate chip mint (CCM) ruined me for life. I had been swindled, bamboozled, led astray by my past CCM experiences. But here, it was like chewing on a stalk of mint with a cold rush that ended in the deep swirl of dark chocolate. Its ivory hue ensured natural ingredients and a clean finish, leading me to believe that all other CCM’s were just green with envy.

Biscotti plate- this sampling was like an edible jigsaw puzzle, fitting various shapes on a plate to form one concise picture - decadence. Pieces ranged from delicate toasted almond cookies to the teeth cracking goodness of hazelnut biscotti.

Top it off: Before we left, I noticed we were sitting near Stephen the sommelier from the first season of Top Chef. He had his signature wide-topped tie and well-fitted suit, a decanter of red to his right. I leaned over and said, “You should have won.” It was a lie, but I had to say something. Chatting it up with celebs while eating at a “very now” place is sooo LA- didn’t you know daaarrling?

Street parking easily accessible (valet $8.50)