Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pizza Pizza LA Mario Batali Style - Pizzeria Mozza

To end 2008, we decided to go to Mario Batali's Pizzeria Mozza -- located at the edge of a residential neighborhood at Melrose and Highland, the brightly painted Pizzeria Mozza stands out (note Pizzeria Mozza's sister restaurant Osteria Mozza is right next door). In contrast, the inside of the restaurant itself is dimly lit (mood lighting?) and quite cozy. You would never know that a celebrity chef owned this casual eatery except for the fact that it was absolutely packed. (The seats are tightly packed, but we didn't feel overcrowded.)

We came to Pizzeria Mozza on New Years Eve -- we spent the day flying across the country, so we thought it would be a fun, delicious, yet relaxing way to end the year. Unfortunately, we were greeted by a few unfriendly and cranky hosts and a wait to be seated despite reservations. Note that if you are going to head over to Pizzeria Mozza - reservations are a must (the phone lines open at 10 am PST each morning and reservations fill up a month in advance, so call exactly a month ahead of time!) - also, whatever you do, don't show up early - other than the bar area (which seemed to always be packed), there is almost nowhere to wait for your table, except for the crawl space next to the private wine room (beware of the swinging door through which waiters coming in and out of the room). We huddled in the small "waiting" area, jumping every now and then to avoid the waiters, and trying to avoid being hit by the front door.

Our experience improved exponentially once we were seated. Although we had one rude waitress who kept trying to have us purchase the most expensive bottle of champagne, our actual waitress was charming, informative, and a breath of fresh air from other staff.

Then, we began to feast our eyes on the menu. The menu is packed with delicious sounding options with many types of antipasti, insalate, carni, bruschette, panini, plates of the day, and of course, pizza. We decided to sample several of the antipasti and two pizzas to experience a wide array of the dishes. The antipasti we ordered: mussels al forno with Calabrian sauce (tasty, but nothing to write home about), arrancine alla bolognese (essentially, small risotto balls, one of my faves), fried squash blossoms with ricotta (left; yum), and a board of proscuitto di parma.

Then the PIZZA. I mean, this is what you come to Pizzeria Mozza for right? The pizzas are large enough to be shared (2 pizzas plus our antipasti plus dessert satisfied our table of 4) and were cooked up just the way I like them -- thin crust, crispy, and flavorful. Our selections: (1) long cooked broccoli, caciocavallo & chiles (right) and (2) tomato, mozzarella, sausage, salami, bacon & guanciale.

With some stomach space to spare, we decided to just go the whole way and get dessert. We each got different dishes -- I had the butterscotch budino, essentially a butterscotch pudding, that I craved for days afterwards (this is truly for butterscotch fans!). The other desserts at our table -- "hot chocolate" (like a mix between thick hot chocolate syrup and a chocolate mousse) with toasted marshmallow and spiced ginger pigs (cookies!), gelati (pistachio, vanilla, and mint chip), and a banana gelato pie.

The restaurant was clearly meant to be fun. I admit that I loved all the little details that were incorporated into the menu, the placemats, and so forth. Interesting facts about pizza (favorite world toppings? Costa Rica loves coconut! Brazil - green peas, and Russia - red herring!), Italian comic strips, tidbits about the restaurant. From the conversation-starting placemats to the bundles of red balloons everywhere to the easily shared dishes, it is a place meant for celebrations.

I enjoyed Pizzeria Mozza for the most part -- I was sad that the staff's attitudes had to dampen an otherwise delicious meal. If I lived in LA, I would certainly come back if for no other reason than to try more of the food. But living across the country, I'm not sure if Pizzeria Mozza would be at the top of my list of re-visits.

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