Combine Mario Batali’s Italian cuisine with California baker Nancy Silverton’s bread, and you have all the ingredients for the ultimate pizza. West Hollywood’s Mozza has been hailed far and wide as one of the best pizza places in America, and I am almost sorry to say that the reports are correct – sorry, because it’s 3,000 miles away from New York.
Really, Mario, why does LA get Mozza and we get Otto? The ingredients at Otto Pizzeria are top notch, but the lack of a wood- or coal-burning oven at the restaurant means it will never reach ultimate pizza status. Despite New York’s reputation as one of the major pizza capitals of the U.S., the zoning restrictions against installing wood- and coal-burning ovens make it easier to start up a stellar pizza restaurant in L.A.
Mozza may be more Silverton’s place than Mario’s. The pizza toppings go from classic Italian to very American, as evidenced by the Hawaiian pie made with pineapple and speck. Other pizzas have several more toppings than relatively minimalist Italian pies. And the popular Nancy’s chopped salad ($18), which several tables around us split as an appetizer, is pure California.
The atmosphere is also a lot less Mario than Batali’s places in New York. Take away the loud rock music (Babbo) and the injunctions written in Italian on the walls (Eataly) and you have a pleasant – albeit blander – California casual space, with art deco pendant lighting, floor to ceiling windows, warm wood accents and a bar framed by the wood burning oven. The color scheme is almost exactly the same as California Pizza Kitchen’s, but the crowd is appropriately chichi – we espied Debbie Mazar across the room and another familiar-looking actress among the corporate types there for lunch.
But forget the celeb spotting: the main reason to go to Mozza is for the food. An appetizer shaved purple brussels sprouts with avocado and freshly roasted walnuts ($12) was a painful reminder that not just brussels sprouts but avocados and walnuts are seasonal and local in LA in the winter. Meanwhile, all New York has now is root vegetables.
Fried squash blossoms filled with top quality ricotta ($12) were predictably delicious, encrusted in a tempura-like batter. It is way too early in the year to find this spring delicacy on the East Coast.
There are a number of good quartinos of wine to go with this feast, like the approachable house-branded La Mozza Sangiovese ($16) or the Murola Montepulciano ($13).
Then came the piece de resistance: the margherita pizza ($14). A wonderfully sunny tomato sauce is perfumed with garlic, basil and nothing else. Bufala mozzarella oozes over the top, sprinkled with fresh basil leaves. But the pedestal for all this – a crust that’s paper thin in the middle, ballooning out at the edges, brown, crunchy outside and chewy within – is the real star of the show. It doesn’t taste like a classic Naples crust per se, which is more floury and less yeasty, but like the American artisanal bakery interpretation of the same.
Thick slices of meaty mushrooms adorn the funghi pizza, pictured at top, above a layer of taleggio cheese. This pizza too is highly satisfying, but if you’re a fan of tomato sauce, you are definitely making a sacrifice by getting a white pie. Mozza is also famous for their caramel budino, but unfortunately, we were too stuffed by this point for dessert. Get it if you still have room.
Perhaps someday New York will have its own Mozza, which may even take reservations online like this one. Until then, it’s a must-visit in L.A. for even the pickiest pizza snob.
641 North Highland Avenue at Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA