Pizzeria Mozza completes the trifecta for me of the grand Mozza Empire on the corner of Highland and Melrose in Hollywood. Angela and I were beyond impressed with our experience at Osteria Mozza last fall and the wonder that is its mozzarella bar, but were less infatuated with the underwhelming and pricey pizzas we had delivered from Mozza 2 Go. Last week, when posed with the 'dilemma' of having to come up with a nice place to take a friend for his birthday lunch, I settled on one of Los Angeles' most popular restaurants, Pizzeria Mozza (below) to give the pizzas a shot in person and see what else the culinary holy trinity of Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joe Bastianich might offer.
We were ushered into a small table by the windows where our place-settings came neatly packaged in a manila envelope. Everything you need to survive here - silverware, napkins, etc. - needs be unpacked before the meal begins. It presents a feeling that an adventure is about to begin, and looking over the extensive menu, it's clear that this is absolutely the case. A few thin and crispy breadsticks were delivered to the table to whet our appetites and we were off.
We started our tour through the menu with a bruschette (below) of chicken livers, capers, parsley and guanciale. The latter is a delicately sliced unsmoked Italian bacon made from pig cheek. Its bold flavor punctuated the rich taste of chicken liver and we were glad to be sharing because just a few bites of this bruschette is a really satisfying way to kick off a meal.
Next up was the bone marrow al forno (below). This was the real highlight of the meal - though following one rich, bread-based dish with another was piss-poor planning on my part. Mozza's marrow comes flanked by sauteed garlic and sea salt. The marrow was cooked perfectly and proved the ultimate indulgence. It may have been a little too rich for my marrow-virgin friend, but that only meant I got more than my half (as it was his birthday and not mine, that makes me a bit of an jerk, doesn't it? Oops!) Perhaps the best marrow dish in Los Angeles? What say you, Comme Ca? Church & State?
Then came the special for the day - the halibut (below). And this is where I kick myself for not writing it down or taking a picture of the menu, because I have no idea and traces of it are nowhere to be found on the internet. It was halibut, and it was good and that's all I have to say about that.
Then on to the main course - the pizza for which the restaurant gets its name. People swear by these pies so I was convinced that that our mediocre reception of them was due in part to the delivery factor. Surely, in person Mozza's gourmet pizzas live up to the name (and the price), right? We ordered the pizza with Coach Farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic and bacon (below). Aesthetically, the pizza is a work of art, but I was really bummed to find that nothing had changed when trying it in person. At best, this pizza just isn't for me. At worst, it's bland, over-priced and over-hyped. I really wish I had some good things to say about it. Oh wait! It's pretty.
And for dessert we had to try the much heralded butterscotch budino (below) served with sea salt and rosemary pine nut cookies. There are more than a few people on record as declaring this the best dessert in Los Angeles. While the dessert was nice, I felt like ours was missing the sea salt. Good, but not mind-blowingly good like I'd been crossing my fingers for. A few similar desserts that I've had recently in Southern California stand out more in my mind but maybe Mr. Budino just had an off-day.
So I don't think I'll be back to Mozza anytime soon for the pizza. Certainly not while the guys at Sotto are pulling deliciously charred, wood-fired pies out of their oven. But that doesn't mean I won't be back to the Mozza chain. Everything else on the extensive menu is an impressive treat and the service and bustling dining room make for an exceptional and unique experience. For my money, the Osteria next door is the real way to go.