Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I've been wanting to write about how I've got a new favorite pizzeria but unfortunately it's 90 miles away. Alas, S. Irene Virbila of the LA Times wrote the review I wanted to write today, so if I write it, I'll seem like I'm copying her. But it was all in my head from the first moment I crunched one of those crusts. Pizzeria Mozza is that good, and not just because it's the brainchild of two superchefs, Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton. It actually overcomes all that, which isn't easy--for hype kills food almost faster than bad food itself can.

But, as Virbila points out, if anything the place goes out of its way to make simple its mantra. No matter the toppings, it's the crust that makes the pizza, and it makes this pizza pretty perfect. Wood-stove crisp and blistered, it still has some give in its lightness. Lusciously balanced, it might be a bit more pita than Neapolitan, but it's far from pitiful. I've never had dough that seems so fresh, either, just the first of the hints there's no skimping on ingredient quality. For, of course, if you opt to preach minimalism, that minimal better be damn tasty. Simple isn't always best but the best is always simple.

Oh, and don't be petrified about how hard it is to get a reservation. Sure, they originally promised to be on Open Table, and now aren't (maybe they're waiting for the Osteria to open?), but you can walk in, wait, and get seated at the bar or pizza bar. (There is a very good time of the week and day to do this, but I don't want to give away my secrets. In fact the last time Amy and I were there to sit at the bar, we even got a table, as long as we promised to be out in an hour. And the service, always meticulous, helped us make that goal right on the dot.) At the pizza bar you even get a free floor show, for each pizza is made directly in front of you. It does make ordering difficult, however, for each pie created is the one you want...till you spy the next one head into the oven. Virbilia is right, btw, about the egg and guanciale pie, which is the best bacon and eggs you'll ever have, and it's a pizza, so that's doubly good.

Sitting at the bar one time we got to watch Silverton herself, and it is something to observe a $50 million woman (or whatever they sold La Bread Bakery for) make pizzas for a living. She's firghtfully zen back there, never exhibiting haste or waste. Just steady, precise motion, slicing, sprinkling, eyeing, placing, ever working. Most shockingly she even looked up at one point and asked me, "How's your pizza?" and I barely got out a "it's great" while blushing. It's too much for modest me to have the star break the fourth wall.

The pizza's so good it's easy to forget that the appetizers and desserts are also worth the visit. (Maybe even the daily specials--the lasagne is ethereal, both full of flavor and so light in the mouth it must break some laws of physics. It's certainly a good omen for the Osteria.) Salads are so fresh you'd slap them if you didn't want to devour them, the arancini--greaseless yet fried risotto balls--are brilliant bursts of flavor, and the fritti misti also manages the near impossible, fried to a crunch without any excess oil and some lilting garlic-lemon aioli (plus wafer-thin sliced lemon fried, too). The desserts often are simple riffs on gilded gelato: affogato (espresso with gelato), budino (butterscotch pudding unlike any any mom, I'd dare say even in Italy, ever made), and coppetta (gelato, caramel, serious caramel, and salted peanuts--it puts the god in sundae).

Geez, I got to the candy without even talking about the dandy wine service--every bottle is $50 or under so you can't go wrong. The servers really know their stuff, ask you wise questions to send you in the right direction to match your tastes, and do it all with a sense of gee-whiz-wine-is-fun wonder and not a drop of condescension.

For if nothing else, this is a pizzeria. Just the best one you'll ever visit.


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