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Molto Mozza! Just Not a Lot of Cheese.
We like it when our parents come to the Big City to visit. We like our parents generally, but when they decide to fight traffic down the 101 on a Saturday, they do it cause they're coming for something special - and not just the immeasurable pleasure of their darling offspring. A meal someplace like Mozza is the perfect thing to tempt our suburbanite folks away from their golf-course-view-jacuzzied backyard out to the urban Hollywood waste, and we get to tag along for the (free!) ride. Plus, they made reservations and everything, so even if the food sucks, it's free and we don't have to wait!
Obviously, the food doesn't suck, and in fact, we even had a few transcendent moments of flavorful bliss (we tried to put the idea of Mario Batali and his orange clogs out of our head). The best bite of the day was also the simplest - an insalata caprese, fresh, gooey mozzarella cheese topped with olive oil, basil, and tiny grilled cherry tomatoes still attached to their vines. It's an impeccable little mouthful of sunshine and cream and gentle sweetness.
The appetizers generally were by far the star of the day: we followed the caprese with an antipasti of fried squash blossoms, light and well-crisped. There's not much use for plates around here - many courses, such as the plates of speck, salumi, and prosciutto, come out on great wooden slabs, covered with a sheet of paper. The menus themselves are casual paper broadsheets, and I slipped one in my purse as a souvenir. Then the chicken liver bruschette arrived - surprisingly tart (we think lemon juice was involved, to match the capers and parsley) but still smacking in meaty goodness, thanks to the thin slivers of guanciale (pig jowl bacon) laid on top. We remember trying to find guanciale in a Whole Foods several months ago, and the deli counter guy looked at us like we were speaking a foreign language or something. Maybe now he's learned. Maybe now he's learned.
The pizzas are personal-sized - the sizes of which we may have overestimated while ordering. Two pizzas split among four people will go only so far - and you really want to try as many different slices as you can fathom consuming, since the flavors are so varied and exciting. Although we were sorely tempted by the white anchovy and hot-chile version, as well as the gorgonzola-potato and sopressata-spinach varieties, we decided to go with our guts and get sausage. The scent of fennel pollen - a very Batali touch - rises to your nostrils first thing, and the sausage itself is generously seasoned but not heavy in the least. In fact, it's so light - and this pretty much goes for all the pizza - that you just want more - more sausage, more cheese, more sauce, more of everything all over that light, bubbly crust.
The goat cheese, leek, scallion & bacon pizza was delicious when you got a big bite of everything, but those bites were few and far between. More goat cheese! More bacon, for christ's sake, please! Only one beautifully roasted garlic clove per slice? Tragedy! More garlic! The 2005 Sicilian Grillo did match well with the garlic and goat cheese, and we tried a sip of our mother's Montepulciano, which we will definitely have to remember for next time: the white is a great lunchtime choice, but the red seemed smooth and tasty enough to warrant splurging on a dinnertime bottle.
The crowd is, of course, urbane, well-dressed, sophisticated-foodie types, which is either mildly annoying or mildly assuring, we can't figure out which. The hostesses are hot, natch, and the waiters give you your space, although it's all about the servers and busboys when it comes to who's serving your plates. At a place like this with lots of fun appetizers, we like our courses spaced out. Mozza does this nicely and unobtrusively. Our lunch was well-paced - never hurried, and the waiter delivered the check exactly when we wanted to leave for our movie.
The prices are about what you'd expect for this kind of celebrity-chef/Hancock Park-adjacent place: our party of four adults shared two big bottles of fancy Italian fizzy water, two quartinos of good wine, three appetizers and two pizzas, which came in at a round $100. We probably could have split another pizza between the four of us, however: the crust is in fact so light and airy that it ends up tasting almost insubstantial. But it also tastes pretty good - crispy, even charred a bit, which we don't mind. We just kept wishing there was more cheese or sauce or something else to complement the crust - even a more liberal use of olive oil and salt would transform it.
The 'rents took us to a movie to round out our day (Knocked Up - um, hello, CROWNING scene???), and we got home feeling pretty good but not entirely satisfied. If we go back anytime soon (which may be another year or five the way reservations at that place are running, although The Good, Generous and Kindly Parents are already making plans to reserve their spots at Mario's next L.A. venture, Osteria Mozza, supposedly much more upscale), we will definitely order more pizza. In fact, once dinner time rolled around, we called up Big Mama's and Papa's Pizzeria in Hollywood and got a large pepperoni-sausage-mushroom thin crust. It's pretty good - maybe not molto buono, but pretty good.
641 N. Highland Avenue (on the corner of Melrose)
Los Angeles 90036
Photos by cmeathrell via flickr
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