Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mario Batali's Pizzeria La Mozza

Holy Moley - what a fantastic, fantastic meal last night. When Chef Mark suggested I go to La Mozza for dinner while in L.A., I thought "hmmm, that might be a good idea". So I checked out the website (of both the Pizzeria and the main restaurant) and decided that L.A. had finally grown up, and this place could possibly rival our humble city restaurants, or at least sidle right up next to them. It did not disappoint!

After a little delicious White Rioja at our friend Joe's house, and much jealousy that they didn't have space for our other two friends, we made our way down Melrose and found a parking space about 1/2 block from the restaurant (Melrose and N. Highland Avenue). Parking karma, gotta love that. La Mozza fronts on Melrose, but it's little sister is around the corner on N. Highland. Seems Mario's got a little monopoly on that corner, as soon another storefront will be taken by La Mozza To Go.

We were exactly on time for our 8:00 reso, and the host whisked us past the waiting crowds to a table in the far corner of the square room, a perfect vantage point to people watch, especially since Ricardo was nice enough to let me sit in the view seat.

The menu is broken into sections of antipasti, contorni (sides), salads and pizzas. We were pretty hungry and everything sounded great. R let me figure out the starters and I told him to choose a pizza.

The smattering of antipasti started with house cured Finocchiona, a nicely dry fennel and black pepper studded salumi. Sometimes salumi's can have a greasy feel to them. This one managed to not have that at all, i'm not sure how. As we snacked on the salumi, the order of meatballs arrived and shortly thereafter chicken liver on bruschetta. I seriously thought I had died and gone to heaven the moment I crunched into the ample bruschetta holding a creamy mixture of chopped chicken livers, spices, parmesan and a thin topping of cured pork belly. It was by far the best of this type of preparation I had ever had. In fact, if someone placed a plate of those before me, right now, on this smokey, food hangover-ey morning, I would happily lap them up. I was secretly thrilled that Ricardo wasn't interested in the "liver" dish, so I would have 3 beautiful crostini to myself! (I did make him eat one, and he did love it). The salad "tricolore" arrived next (hey we are running out of room on the table!). Frisee, baby arugula and radicchio were tossed together with a Reggiano and anchovy dressing, caesar like and a good counterpoint to all of the non vegetable items in front of us. I felt like the pace was a bit brisk., but if you saw the high ceilinged room, with straight rows of tables, placed cafeteria style and only 6" apart, and the bursting crowd at the front door, you would understand their desire to move people through their meals.

We had chosen a bottle of 2003 Nicodemi "Notari" Montepulciano from the list and were having a hard time with it opening up. It smelled slightly corkey, but the palate was fine. It was a nuisance really all through the meal, as when you take a sip of wine, your nose inevitably dips into the glass as well. Our server assured us upon opening the wine that is did have this funky character that would disappear as it opened up, and that she often mistakenly had sent this wine back as "corked" when the sommelier assured her it was fine. I am usually very sensitive to a wine that is corked, as the palate has a way of giving me an instant headache. This wine did not, it was rich, raisin-ey, smokey and earthy. If the server returned more often I would have had her decant it.

A new couple sat next to us, and when I overheard her order the meatballs, I chimed in, "good move", and that is when the "oops, I'm in LA" came to light. People in LA are way more standoffish than they should be. For chrissake, she was sitting inches from me, and I understood they didn't want to have an ongoing conversation with us for the duration of the meal. And believe me, the body builder type BF made sure that didn't happen with a casual "yeah, she has them every time" comment, that had a hint of don't evesdrop ever again mixed in. Oh, they are regulars! Considering it takes over a month to get a reservation (unbeknownst to me before tonight), I perhaps should have asked them for their autograph!

Speaking of wanna be celebrities, maybe it was the wine, but I was convinced Keanu Reeves was sitting in the next row of tables. Ricardo assured me it was not him, but in this trendy spot, star sightings are not a rarity.

Don't worry, I'm not about to skip over the meatballs, another incredibly tasty dish. Three plump, ample sized balls came drenched in a zesty tomato sauce with garlic toasts flanking the edges. I had to claim my 1.5 share before R absentmindedly wolfed them all down. The menu didn't list them as beef or pork, and I suspect they were mostly (if not all) pork, perfectly balanced with enough bread and spices to produce a succulent and soft meatball. These meatballs were on par with Terzo's back in SF, by far my favorite in the City.

We consolidated plates as the goat cheese pizza with caramelized onions and bacon was placed before us. Again, we were in heaven at how good the flavors were on yet another dish. The crust was chewy and blistered from the wood oven. The onions were plentiful with just enough pieces of barely cooked bacon to give a smokey, salty goodness to every bite. We finished off an "Asparagus al Forno" also done in the wood oven and topped with thin slices of Speck (a lovely northern Italian counterpart to proscuitto).

Yes, my fullness is being recreated just writing this. We actually did box up half the pizza and the remaining slices of finocchiona that somehow managed to not get devoured.

Since we were celebrating R's 44th a few days early, I insisted on dessert. We both chose gelato based desserts. He got a trio of mint, chocolate and vanilla (incredibly rich). Mine was a caramel gelato sundae topped with marshmallow sauce and spanish peanuts, a super tasty combination, with the saltiness of the spanish peanuts balancing the sweet marshmallow and caramel background. By then we were on dairy overload. It was 9:30pm, and the crowd at the door had not diminished as we made our way out onto the still 85F sidewalk.

Today the smoke from the fires have reached Hollywood, and my car is coated in ash. So much for the work-it-off run I planned to have. I will journey now to OC, affectionately known as "behind the orange curtain", to have a run on the beach, and meet up for dinner with one of my dearest old friends, Amy. Only one photo today, as totally un "PC" to take photos in restaurant in LA, as some unsuspecting starlet may make it into the frame, damnit!

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