Pizzeria Mozza was for a long time my favorite restaurant in LA, before Son of a Gun came along.  Since it has no shortage of hype and no small following, I won’t waste time building it up, other than to say I’ve been to both Osteria Mozza (the sitdown Italian restaurant / mozzeralla bar) and the family-style dinners at the Scuola di Pizza) next door.  All hail the Mozza Empire!

During lunch, the restaurant gets a fair amount of light, and has a spaciously rustic vibe that is refreshing to step into, especially in contrast to the more intimately candle- and forno-lit din in the evenings.  Regardless of the service, it’s a boisterous, busy space, and the bar is the best (and only) way to go for one person.  A few years ago, there used to an older, mustachio’d bartender who reminded me a little of Wylie Dufresne, but this time it  was a younger guy, with an enthusiasm that reminded me of Beggin’ Strips commercials.  It wasn’t a bad thing, just a thing.  West Hollywood’s finest.

I started with a root beer, and pig ears milanese with peppers and frisee, and a bed of what tasted like tartar sauce.  Braised and breaded and fried, the pig ears were a departure from the crunchier, cartilage-heavy versions I’d had at Animal and my favorite Sichuan restaurants.  The pig ears were a departure from my usual antipasti orders (meatballs marinara with garlic bread, fried squash blossoms, and for a long time while it was still on the menu, cauliflower gratin al forno).

Pig Ears Milanese

In the spirit of bidding adieu, I ordered my two favorite pizzas: (1) the Coach Farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic, and bacon and (2) the funghi misti, fontina, taleggio, and thyme pizzas.  The bartender applauded me for “being aggressive.”

When it comes to pizzas, I know some people leave the crusts uneaten.  I am not one of those people.  And Mozza’s pizzas have these sublime crusts, airy and crisp, and the best among the handful of more serious pizzerias I’ve visited.  As an aside, my pantheon of pizza crusts includes Mozza’s and Pizza Hut’s greasiest deep dish (preferably from a high school cafeteria), if that gives you an idea of my discriminating taste.

Coach Farms goat cheese, leek, scallion, and bacon  pizza
Funghi misti, fontina, taleggio, and thyme pizza

I’m not really one to avoid bacon (on anything), and the leeks and scallions give me the proper delusion of healthiness without making the pizza soggy.  The mushroom pizza surprisingly grew on me – I’ve never been a huge fan of non-Asian mushrooms, but the crisping effect of the oven and the aromatic mix of cheeses accentuate a powerful does of umami.  Pizzeria Mozza also has a section of bar seating further away from the entrance and the drinks (where I was stationed) that faces the tiled dome of the forno, a great vantage point from which to watch the line cooks toss pizza dough and assemble toppings, dashing salt and dosing arugula and spreading prosciutto and drizzling olive oil.

At Mozza, there’s only one dessert to know: the butterscotch budino.

Butterscotch budino with salted caramel, creme fraiche, and rosemary cookies.  Hey, girl, you dirty.

Another reason the Pizzeria is a special place for me is that here, somebody took flakes of sea salt and sprinkled them atop a runny layer of soft caramel – when I first ate here years ago, those dichotomies of flavor and texture were a revelation for me: how concentrated saltiness could give caramel a new complexity, a departure from the chewy candies and creme caramels I had known before, and how much I savored the salt’s more delicate crunchiness compared to that of, say, peanuts.

It’s also one of the only places where, for as often I’ve been (read: a lot), I never got to know the staff that well.  Mozza was quite literally one of the first places I went after I got my first real paycheck, when I first really started eating at better restaurants and eating conscientiously, before I made the effort to get to know the staff or talk to chefs at places I ate frequently.  That missing element of at-home coziness is definitely my one regret with the Pizzeria.  But I’m not one to dwell too long on those sort of sentiments, so bravo, Batali and Silverton, for showing me the glorious, tasty ropes.

Pizzeria Mozza
641 North Highland Avenue, LA, CA 90036

Antipasti: (1) Meatballs al forno (ask for extra garlic bread for more than three people), (2) fried squash blossoms with ricotta
Pizzas: (3) Coach Farms goat cheese and bacon, (4) funghi misti (5) fennel sausage (ask for an egg cracked on top)
Dessert: (6) Butterscotch budino, (7) olive oil gelato

Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon