Tuesday, November 14, 2006

U-Turn for Mozza

While speeding back from Beverly Hills this afternoon, I decided to take my usual out-of-the-way detour past Highland and Melrose to spy upon the progress of Mario Batali's new restaurant location. Brown paper and smudgey windows still reside at the Osteria-to-be on the main corner, but much to my surprise the Pizzeria next door, Mozza, looks wide open and bustling with life!

I crank a serious U-turn and pull myself up to the pizza bar as quickly as possible.

I hit the tail-end of the lunch rush, so my timing was perfect. A review of the menu: squash blossom, burrata and tomato pizza -- Done!

As an added bonus, co-owner Nancy Silverton, the famed LA chef and mozzarella guru is manning the pizza bar. Nancy is known as THE purveyor of the freshest cheeses in town -- her cameos at Jar's "Mozzarella Night" and "Grilled Cheese" Thursdays at Campanile have both become LA dining institutions. Now Nancy has partnered with Mario Batali in what promises to be the primo pizza spot in LA.

Perched on my barstool, I watch Nancy and her two pizza chefs go to town. As each pie emerges from the raging wood-burning oven, Nancy inspects the pizza, shouts out pointers to her staff and then finishes it off with a turn of olive oil and a dusting of salt, pepper and fresh herbs. The 10-inch pies are super thin in the center with gorgeously large aerated puffs around the perimeter. Sometimes when the puffs come out a bit charred, Nancy takes kitchen shears to each pie and trims off the overly blackened spots. This pizza is glorious in these "imperfections."

Some of the main ingredients are also added by Nancy at this finishing stage. Dollops of burrata are scooped atop the pie after cooking (the waiter told me the burrata gets too chewy if put in the oven to melt). Nancy also carefully folds paper-thin prosciutto di parma slices and sprinkles fresh rucola atop a just-out-of-the-oven pie with molten mozzarella.

I watch the pizza team create my order my scratch. From what I could see, the chefs' technique consists first of a dusting of semolina flour on the individual wooden pizza peel board. The doughy disc is gently plied with the fingertips, and then placed on top of both fists and stretched in circles by the knuckles until it reaches desired size & thinness. It is returned to the wooden peel and given a paintbrushing of olive oil.

One small ladel of sauce is poured onto the center of the pie, then using the bottom of the ladel the chef traces a spiraling nautilus pattern out to the perimeter to distribute the sauce. He adds my squash blossoms and pops it into the oven. Just over ten minutes later my crispy, bubbling pie is ready for Nancy. She tops it off with the burrata, herbs and seasonings -- magnificent!

I'm big on squash blossoms these days, so I couldn't be any happier with these creative toppings. And the crust: light and thin with an underlying crisp and just enough toothiness in the chew. And the burrata ... ooooh ... need I say more?

The other 13 varieties of pizzas feature finely selected fresh local ingredients and nods to classic italian combinations. And the hallmark of course, the cheeses include mozzarella, burrata, fontina, taleggio, parmigiano, pecorino, cacio di Roma, gorgonzola, and caciocavallo. But that's as much as I'll tell you about the menu -- I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise of such fantastic offerings in LA.