By Jill Weinlein, 3/01/2012
After attending an art show in Hancock Park, we decided to get a light dinner at Pizzeria Mozza. Without reservations, there was a 35-minute wait for the bar area. Tables are usually reserved weeks in advance on the weekends. We placed our name on the list and walked next door to the sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza. I’ve never sat at Nancy Silverton’s Mozzarella Bar to watch her brilliance come alive right in front of guests. The wait for the bar there was about 20 minutes, so we put our name on the list and waited.
People take their time while dining at Mozza. They sip their Italian wines a little slower to savor the taste, they nibble on antipasti, primi and secondi longer than normal.
Still waiting, we walked back to Pizzeria Mozza. Two spots at the bar became available, and our name was called, so we cancelled our reservations next door and sat down on two bar stools.
Pizzeria Mozza is an interesting place. They leave tables empty for reserved guests. One table of six was left empty for over one hour. Guests with reservations are whisked to their table upon entering, as long as every member in the party is present. Come with your entire posse or you may have to wait with the rest of us.
As we sat down, Sean, the bartender and our server, had a friendly personality that made us comfortable sitting at the bar. He handed us a roll of wax paper with four crispy bread sticks inside. These crunchy sticks are made fresh daily at La Brea Bakery (originally owned and created by Silverton) and served warm at Pizzeria Mozza.
Gazing around the bar, we noticed most of the diners were drinking glasses of Italian Birra Moretti on tap or Vini al Quartinos of Italian wine. The glass carafe offers ¼ litre of Vini Spumanti Frizzanti between $10 to $14. Various Quartinos of Vini Blanca (white) wines are under $22. I ordered a ¼ litre of Refosco Rosato, Bastianich – Friuli. It was clean, dry and pink, an ideal wine to sip while enjoying Nancy’s chopped salad. The mound of insalate arrives on a white plate filled with shredded red onions, cherry tomatoes, salami, aged provolone, garbanzo beans, iceburg lettuce and pepperchinis. The radicchio gives the salad a bitter taste, while the pepperchinis give it a zip. The olive oil was a little too heavy for my liking and the Italian oregano overpowered the other flavors of the salad. I liked it more than my husband. He asked “Was this worth the wait?”
Sean our server chatted with us while serving the surrounding guests. He was there when the restaurant opened in 2006 by Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich.
“Years ago, this used to be Jack Warner’s private office. The dining room just right of the front door was once Warner’s meeting room,” Sean said. This site used to be Emilio’s for nearly 40 years. For the past six years, it has successfully been part of the mega-successful Mozza Group. They own the Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, Pizza 2 Go and Scuola de Pizza, a cooking school. Classes and demonstrations in pizza making, family style dinner preparation and ravioli making range from $50 to $175. The popular Mozza cookbook class offers students a five-course journey in preparing some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. For the $175 fee, participants also receive a signed Mozza cookbook.
Opening the menu, we realized this wasn’t a traditional pizza joint. There are fried squash blossoms with ricotta, panini sandwiches, signature plates of the day, and over 20 different types of pizzas. We ordered the most requested pizza on the menu, fennel sausage topped with panna (cream) and lit up with red onions and scallions. Sean said that we should smush the sausage with our fork into the pizza crust to get the full flavor of the fennel sausage. When I did, heavenly oil trickled onto the crust. As I took my first bite, I couldn’t get enough of these intricately laced flavors. I finally understood why people wait up to one hour for seat at the bar.
The crust is Silverton’s pizza dough. According to Sean, it took her over a year to perfect it. The dough is simple and baked in the pizza oven. The edges are darker in color than most pizza crusts. For those who eat pizza, but leave the edges of the crust on the plate, you won’t do that here. It’s too delicious.
Our second pizza was an afterthought. A young man, James, sitting next to me ordered the Pizza alla Benno with Speck, pineapple, jalapenos, tomatoes and mozzarella. He thought it tasted like a slice of Hawaii. Really? I wanted to be transported to Hawaii, so we ordered one.
The thinly sliced Speck is a juniper-flavored ham that is similar to Italian proscuitto. Mixed with the pineapple it weaves sweetness with a bite of heat from the sliced blanched jalapenos, an unexpected twist that tickles your lips.
A woman sitting next to my husband suggested we order the butterscotch budino for dessert.
“It’s one of the reasons why I am here tonight,” she said. It’s luscious and lovely with one of Silverton’s delicate rosemary pine nut cookies. The sweet butterscotch is embellished with a sprinkling of sea salt on the top.
Pizzeria Mozza will make you believe. $$ Open daily from noon to midnight. 641 N. Highland Ave. (323)297-0101.