Under normal circumstances, a Friday drive from the Inland Empire to Los Angeles would be an ill-advised journey. Even more so when the intended destination is an incredibly popular restaurant for which you have no reservations. But sometimes, a leap of faith (or at least a couple of wasted hours in Southern California traffic) is required for a good meal. Such was the case for me and my wife as we decided to drive 50 miles from our home to Pizzeria Mozza.
Pizzeria Mozza is the much-talked-about venture between Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali. Just four months ago, it was fairly easy for me to secure a reservation there as my wife and I visited Mozza for the first time last December. But that was before all the hype began. As such, for the last few weeks I’ve tried in vain to land another dinner reservation.
So, since both my wife and I had the day off last Friday, we decided to take our chances and drive to Mozza for lunch and hope to be seated without reservations. Although we arrived 10 minutes before the restaurant opened at noon, there was already a line of eaters more eager than I underneath the bright orange awning outside of the pizzeria.
Then, precisely at noon, the doors opened and the line of hipsters, grandmothers, young couples, and at least one idiot food blogger (ahem), swarmed into the restaurant. It seemed that none of these early birds had reservations and the hostess allowed seating on a first-come-first-serve basis. Joy and hunger immediately nudged from my mind any memories of an earlier 50-mile trek.
The best seats in the house were immediately taken at the pizza bar toward the back of the restaurant. My wife and I opted for a regular two-top near the front window because we sat at the pizza bar on our first visit. While any seat you can get is a good seat at Mozza, I must say though, nothing compares to sitting at the pizza bar and watching Silverton (if she happens to be there) working her nimble fingers on each pie that comes out of the wood-fired oven.
My wife and I started with a plate of prosciutto di Parma and Bufala mozzarella. This seemingly simple dish featured paper-thin slices of marbled pink ham and a tennis ball-sized knot of cold and milky cheese.
The prosciutto was so tender and the cheese so luxurious. The pig whose loins provided the prosciutto must have died a saint. And the buffalo from which the mozzarella came died a hero.
What? We don’t have to kill buffaloes to make cheese? Seriously? You're kidding right? Shit. I KNOW NOTHING OF ANIMAL HUSBANDRY! Oh, forgive me food blogging Gods, for I know not what I speak of!
Despite my lackluster knowledge of raising livestock and cheesemaking, I know that Mozza’s prosciutto and mozzarella was a combination that was just, so, GOOD.
Although daily specials are featured at Pizzeria Mozza, the pizzas are the true highlight of the menu. The thin, slightly charred, pizza crusts are comprised of a bubbly and crisp exterior giving way to a tender inner core of bready goodness. That’s to be expected. Nancy Silverton is only, like, the bestest bread maker in all the land.
My wife ordered the Burrata, squash blossom, and tomato pizza and
inhaled daintily nibbled at it as soon as it was set down in front of her. I had to move fast to get a picture of it (and by "move fast" I mean "think of an excuse as to why my food photography sucks").
A terrible picture. I know.
It looked a mess – with green and gold squash blossoms scattered about the crust, dollops of oozing burrata cheese, and a finishing splash of olive oil – but it was a planned and organized assault on the senses, simple ingredients combining to make an understated, yet spectacular, dish.
As subtle as my wife’s pizza was, the pizza I chose was on the opposite end of the Mozza pizza spectrum. The white anchovy, tomato, and hot chiles pizza was a doughy palette of big and bold flavors. Compared to other pies at Mozza, this pizza was especially saucy, featuring white anchovy fillets rolled neatly into ringlets and strategically placed on each slice. The pizza is then finished with a sprinkling of chili oil and red pepper flakes. Spicy, that!
The anchovies were especially remarkable as they were nothing like the salty and oily variety found in tin cans. Rather, these anchovies were bright and citrusy, having been marinated in Meyer lemon juice. I unfurled these juicy fillets and spread them out across the crust in order to get as much anchovy in every bite of my spicy pizza.
Up until this point, we hadn’t ordered any wine simply because we weren’t in the mood. But after devouring my first slice of zesty pizza, I was definitely hankering for something other than water. Our waitress suggested that I try the Lambrusco. I had no idea what the hell Lambrusco was, but I nodded my head and hoped for the best.
A few moments later, our waitress brought me a glass of the Lambrusco. Lambrusco is a red wine. Lambrusco is slightly sweet. Lambrusco is served cold. Lambrusco is fizzy. I heart Lambrusco.
I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without Lambrusco. I am smitten. And it was the perfect accompaniment to my meal as it cut through the tangy tomatoes and the lemon-tinged anchovies adorning my pie. It was perhaps the greatest pairing since Beyonce and Shakira. And that’s big in my book. Excuse me while I update my list of the greatest dynamic duos of all time:
- Beyonce and Shakira
- Lambrusco and White Anchovy, tomato, and hot chiles pizza
- Magic and Kareem
- Mariah Carey and the O.D.B.
Now you know.
After our plates were cleaned of every last molecule of pizza, we ended our lunch with the Butterscotch Budino served with rosemary and pine nut cookies. Neither of us were too thrilled with the cookies, they were more a garnish than anything else. The budino, though, was delectable – a sweet custard topped with caramel sauce, a cloud of whipped cream and crème fraiche, and a pinch of sea salt.
There’s a reason why this isn’t just labeled “butterscotch pudding”: it’s a gajillion F-ing times better than pudding! It was rich, and decadent, and the unexpected sprinkling of salt somehow, someway, made sense of everything - even a 50-mile drive through Southern California.