Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Inevitable Mozza Post

It's been said that sex is like pizza: even when it's lousy, it's still pretty good. Now, imagine it with a fat guy with a ponytail, and a nice Jewish girl who's been known to pack in the sandwiches. So, how is it?

click photo for detailsAbsolute ecstasy.

I'm talking about the pizza, people. The partners in this little dalliance are Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, and of course, the deed went down at Mozza, their new pizza place on Highland and Melrose. Usually with these restaurant posts, I try to find the story in the situation -- the Hollywood power dinner, the sexy waitstaff, the enigmatic couple. But in this case, the food is the story. We sat at the counter for lunch and watched as Nancy Silverton and her staff deftly created individual masterpieces, each receiving delicate care, each irresistibly delicious.

Every Mozza pizza goes through two stages of preparation: before and after the oven. First the dough is stretched, and covered with the ingredients to be baked -- say, emerald green squash blossoms and a light tomato sauce, or fennel sausage and red onions. After a stint in the wood burning oven gets the crust bubbly and slightly charred, they get individual attention: in the case of the fennel sausage, just a drizzle of Italian olive oil; for the squash blossoms, stretchy oozy dollops of burrata, individually seasoned and drizzled with olive oil in their own right. Others might get pandered with a sprinkle of fresh herbs, a gentle rain of freshly grated parmesan (er, Parmigiano-Reggiano no doubt), or a pixie-dust shake from the bunch of dried oregano sitting on the counter. Every pizza, from the ripe, earthy funghi misti with taleggio and fontina, to the brightly flavored rapini gets a quick but meticulous once-over before it's served. Then, two quick slashes with the pizza cutter, and off they go.

And it's not just the pizzas that get this star treatment: I think mine was the day's first order of the agua fresca special, clementine basil limonata. But I had to wait until Ms. Silverton had a taste and made sure it was just so before I got my glass, vibrant with fresh basil, garnished sweetly with 3 tiny clementine sections. Believe me it was worth it. The winter caprese might give its sunny counterpart a run for its money: more creamy burrata, covered generously with pesto and fresh basil, and topped with a handful of oven roasted cherry tomatoes, still on the vine. And then there's the butterscotch budino: a dessert of rich caramelly pudding, touched with fleur de sel and served with a pair of pretty little pinenut rosemary butter cookies. So damn delicious.

In spite of all this indulgent -- and indulged -- food, there was no snobbery. The varied paper placemats set the casual scene with a sense of humor: one had the 'handwritten' recipe for the margherita, another, 7 important Italian hand gestures, and others had pizza fun facts and comic strips. The room was set with cheery orange tones and simple informal furnishings, and Ms. Silverton herself warmly warned us of hot plates and engaged us in a short conversation about the fried cauliflower at Pizzeria Delfina.

I feel like we need more restaurants like this: outstanding food, hip setting, friendly vibe. Mozza is more than just a pretty face, and it's certainly not a cheap fling -- it has personality. It's a pizzeria you'd want to come back to, time after time. I'm telling you now -- this fiery tryst is the just the beginning of a lasting relationship.

Mozza is at 641 N. Highland Ave., at Melrose Ave. Good luck getting a reservation: 323 297 0101. Check the 'Press Kit' link on their website for a sample menu. Update: The full webpage is now up and includes menus.

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