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May 24, 2007 10:50 PM

Yes, it's another Pizzeria Mozza review...

A group of friends and I decided to get together for lunch someplace none of us had gone before. I have been wanting to go to Pizzeria Mozza for a long time, and my coworkers, who had never heard of it, were excited about it after reading the reviews I provided and, most especially, the menu. So Mozza it was.

The earliest we could score a reservation for lunch at Mozza on a Tuesday was 1:45, but I pounced on it nonetheless. We spent the rest of the previous afternoon drooling over the menu taken from the website, trying to narrow down what pizzas we would order (as well as a few choice Chowhound threads for guidance). On arrival, we were seated promptly, despite arriving about five minutes early, but it took a bit of time to get our order taken, and service was consistently a little tardy throughout the meal, with just two harried waitresses to serve a room that was packed to the rafters even in the mid-afternoon. At no point during our nearly two-hour-long meal did the crowd ever wane. If you are pressed for time, Mozza is not the place for you.

We settled on two antipasti, a salad, the plate of the day, and, initially one pizza. The arancine arrived first, perfect tiny little balls of risotto melded with cheese, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried, served atop marinara. (If you want descriptions on your menus, you are out of luck. Fortunately for my fellow diners, I knew what they were.) I think their small size kept them from being greasy, as larger versions of the dish have a reputation for being. The gooey cheese and marinara recall those wonderful comfort foods of Little Italy trattorias. One diner, the Healthy Eater, ordered the asparagus antipasto, expecting to inject a little healthfulness into the meal, and her face visibly fell when she saw the thin, crisp spears come deep-fried and served with an aioli, golden with plenty of egg yolk. They were fried just enough to make them slightly tender but enough not lose their snap; though excellent, I’m not sure I would jump to order them over trying other menu items.

We saw plate after plate of “Nancy’s” Chopped Salad being brought out to other tables, and with good reason. It is really excellent. Shredded iceberg lettuce, red onion, grape tomato halves, garbanzo beans, salami, and flakes of fontina cheese, tossed in oil and vinegar. Like the arancine, it recalls Little Italy more than the Old Country itself. We could not stop eating this. Of course, this was another blow to the Healthy Eater, to whom I teased, “The salad may just be the most fattening thing we ordered today,” as she began picking out her excess salami. The plate of the day was the Crisp Duck Leg with Lentils. I was a bit reluctant to get this, thinking we should focus on pizza at a pizzeria, but I am mighty glad we did. The duck’s skin was the crispiest this side of Chinatown, with the meat’s being rich and buttery, and the lentils had soaked in all the bird’s meaty flavor. Dressed with rosemary and sage leaves, the dish had a flavor that seemed more suited to cooler fall weather – this would be the perfect dish for a rainy January day, if L.A. ever gets any more of those again.

When there is a pizza on the menu featuring lardo, how could we not order it? So the Lardo with Rosemary was our choice. It arrived, and, at first, we mistook the lardo for shavings of some kind of cheese. It was a unique pizza to say the least: One really has to have a love of nuanced, rich foods. The Healthy Eater was picking off the lardo and declaring the pizza “tasteless.” “It has a taste. It tastes like fat,” I replied. I myself enjoyed it, though I am not sure it deserves the high praise it received on the favorite pizza thread here in the past. The lardo pizza is a tribute to simplicity, striking me as what pizza might be like had the French invented it. If you are a pizza eater who automatically discards any piece of crust lacking topping, do not think of ordering this. (While we ate this one, the Healthy Eater was greedily eyeballing the goat cheese pizza at the next table.) The crust of the pizza was much-discussed: I think it is remarkably good, neither too thin nor chewy and pasty. Others used to a lot of take-out pizza thought it a bit too thin and flavorless, wishing it had been flavored on the edges.

Not entirely sated – not because we were still hungry, but because we were seeing all these other beautiful pies coming out – we tacked on the Sausage, Panna, and Onion Pizza (another recommendation taken from this board) to our order. This one was stellar. The sausage was rich with fennel, and the fresh spring onions gave it a nice light character, keeping it from being too strong. But that delicious crème fraîche base was the best surprise, a great change from the normal cheese underpinning. It was rich, but not too rich, familiar, but not too familiar. (The Healthy Eater took the a piece ostensibly because it was the smallest, but it also happened to have the most pieces of sausage, prompting the other diner with us to exclaim loudly, to my surprise, “[Expletive] took the piece with the most sausage!” Clearly, Mozza inspires passion.)

For dessert to live up to everything the preceded it would be a mighty feat, but it did. The Butterscotch Budino is pretty much all is has been cracked up to be: sweet and rich and yes, touched with that wonderful flavor of sea salt. Without that salty tang, I would run for the hills, but what a difference a little salt makes. The Strawberry Gelato Pie shows wonderful restraint with the sugar, and the cookie crust has a nice dose of cinnamon. But the real hit of the show were the pine nut and rosemary biscotti that came with the budino and in the biscotti assortment. Thankfully we had enough biscotti – and were too full (and a little too tipsy) – that we did not come to blows over them. They are definitely worthy of a full plate’s order.

There are no cheap, cheap bottles of wine on the wine list, but there is nothing to make you faint dead away, either. We had a Trebbiano at $32, followed by a Dolcetto at $30. From the prices posted on the website, it appeared they raised prices in the restaurant some recently. Still, the wine steward – a disarmingly young, hip guy wearing Dior, not like the usual graying-at-the-temples type; I felt like carding him – was actually kind enough to recommend a wine that he said was “not only better, but cheaper.” I like that kind of service.

The room is tiny and crowded. It is noisy. The service can be stretched, so it can take a long time to get through a meal. And no, this is not discount pizza. But these are wonderful pizzas, made one by one, with fresh ingredients – no California Pizza Kitchen-style freezer pizza here, and the prices actually are CPK-comparable – in a convivial atmosphere. Mozza is more than just good food. That small, buzzing room; leaning in that get close; ordering that second bottle while you wait and getting a little more tipsy: Mozza is just a good time.

Who cares if the Osteria ever opens? Just expand the pizzeria already…

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  1. I love that you can get a bottle of perfectly nice wine at Mozza for around $30. Are there many other places in LA where one can do that? Perhaps certain wine bars, or the newly opened Fraiche, but not many other places.

    At $30, that means retail was $10-15, which is what I'm comfortable drinking at home when there's no special occassion. Any lower and we're talking Trader Joe's bargain bin/two buck chuck.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Pei

      Sure, you can get a fantastic bottleof wine for less than thirty bucks at a lot of places.

      If Mozza is charging $30, they probably paid $7-$10 for it. They mark up more than others.

      I've had amazing bottles reccomended to me at places like Vendome and Woodland Hills wine that cost $8 or so-so I'm leery of the "two buck chuck" comment.

      Of course, dining out, I have't seen much at all for below $25 or so-but the true wine lover knows that rating wine is a little more complex than price and vaue alone. Presonal preferences, food, climate, presentation, storage, etc are all a small part of it.

      We brought our own wine to Mozza. it wasn't on their list, and wasn;t something you mach with pizza normally-but it went fabulously. The corkage was steep!

      1. re: Diana

        What I meant was what restaurants can you get wine at $30ish? Not many. You either have to bring your own and pay steep corkage, not drink wine, or buy $40+ bottles. Even if Mozza is paying only $7-10 per bottle, I appreciate the effort to offer bottles to customers at a lower price than area restaurants.

        1. re: Pei

          Umm, actually, many places have wine for $30 on the wine list..

          Here is Caffe Angeli's (right down Melrose, by the way) wine list:

          Reds by the Bottle
          Barbera d'Asti Prunotto 1998 $20.00
          Valpolicella Classico Allergrini 1999 $20.00
          Chianti Classico Castellare 1998 $25.00
          Chianti Classico Antinori – Peppoli 1998 $28.00
          Dolcetto d'Alba Bruno Giacosa 1999 $25.00
          Sassoalloro Iacopo Biondi Santi 1997 $36.00
          Barolo Abbona Terlo Ravera 1996 $38.00
          Merlot Hawley-Dry Creek 1997 $32.00
          Cigare de Volante Bonny Doon 1998 $25.00
          Zinfandel Edmeades Estate 1997 $24.00
          Pinot Noir Cambria-Julia's Vines 1998 $30.00
          Cabernet Sauvignon BV Rutherford 1997 $26.00
          Cabernet Sauvignon Stonestreet 1997 $44.00

          Whites by the Bottle
          Pinot Grigio Pighin – Collio 1999 $28.00
          Terre di Tufi Teruzzi e Puthod 1998 $24.00
          Cervaro Antinori-Castello della Sala 1997 $39.00
          Sauvignon Blanc Pepi...Napa Valley 1998 $22.00
          Chardonnay Sonoma Cutrer-RR 1999 $25.00
          Chardonnay Iron Horse 1998 $25.00
          Chardonnay Silverado 1998 $28.00
          Chardonnay Stonestreet 1996 $26.00
          Chardonnay Cakebread 1999 $35.00
          Chardonnay Edna Valley 1998 $36.00

          The list t Il Tiramisu aso has several:

          Sona has a few bottles:

          I can find more if you want-it's easy.

          My point is, Mozza is good- good pizza, nice wines. but it costs too much-and some people have been fooled into thinking it doesn't

          1. re: Pei

            The $30-$40 wine list a nice thing. It forces you to try lesser known wines from smaller regions. Batali established it with Lupa in NY many years ago and even Babbo has a moderate markup of 1.6-1.8x on even higher priced wines. I'm guessing that Mozza's list has some Batali influence on it. It's nice because it allows you to enjoy wines in a restaurant without feeling ripped off and it's savy because you probably end up ordering more wine and more food or going back more often.

            1. re: Porthos

              I believe that Joseph Basianich of Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy has something to do with Mozza and its wine list. Mozza's theme is 50 wines under $50. I think they do very well. I like to bring my wine to most restaurant but not here. I am always interested in these relatively inexpensive representations of small producers. I think a lot of thought went into their list.

              To further explore this topic, I recommend Wine Expo in Santa Monica (retailer) and A-16 in San Francisco's Marina District (restaurant).

              1. re: Alta Bob

                Actually you are probably correct regarding Bastianich. Batali and Bastianich co-own Babbo, Lupa, Otto (also many wines in the $40 range along with many quartinos), Italian Wine Merchants, and are now in partnership with Silverton in the Mozza endeavor. I'm not sure who's idea it was first but I think you're right in that Bastianich is responsible for the wine lists at their restaurants.

                A-16's list is very similar in philosophy but I believe with a skew towards southern Italy.

                1. re: Porthos

                  Bastianich also makes wines as well. They own a vineyard in Italy.

                  1. re: WildSwede

                    A lot of Bastianich's wines are on the wine lists at the two Mozzas.

                    1. re: Woolsey

                      Are they any good? Have you had them?

                      1. re: WildSwede

                        Not yet. But I will say, I have yet to have a bad wine at Mozza, or even a "meh" wine, and I've always ordered off the lower-priced end of the list. They have an excellent, excellent selection. (I think I liked the wines from the Pizzeria better than the ones from the Osteria.)

                2. re: Alta Bob

                  So according to the LA times article the wine list at Mozza seems more Batali and Rosoff than Bastianich.

                  From the LA times:

                  "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"

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. The original comment has been removed
            1. "The Healthy Eater was picking off the lardo and declaring the pizza “tasteless.” “It has a taste. It tastes like fat,” I replied."

              Great line.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JudiAU

                Wait'll the Healthy Eater tries Babbo. It's grosser to watch someone picking organ meats out of their food. Pig snout love pillows anyone?

              2. Ya think I can get reservations tonight? Or mebbe try the bar?

                1 Reply
                1. re: cynthia105

                  >>Ya think I can get reservations tonight? Or mebbe try the bar?<<

                  You might try calling to see if they have any cancellations, but a same-day reservation on a Friday is unlikely.

                  Re. sitting at the bar: I was there a few weeks ago on a Thursday night without a reservation; we got there around 7 -- they keep a list for people waiting for seats at the bar, and it only took about 15-20 minutes to be seated for a party of two. We were pretty impressed, especially given that the place was crowded. This was the third time I've gone without a reservation (the other times were once at lunch and the other on a Friday around 4:45), and all three times I was seated within a 30 minute period. So, as long as you don't mind waiting a bit, I'd say go for it.