Pizzeria Mozza: Familiar, but divine

About six years ago, while on a business trip to Monterey, I sat at the hotel bar late one night chatting with one of our consultants over a glass of wine. On that particular day, I’d given a communications workshop in the morning, attended another meeting in the afternoon, and then dashed out the door to go for a drive down Highway 1 to catch as many late-afternoon and early-evening vistas as I could before dark. Then I hit an amazing Asian fusion restaurant with a co-worker on the way back up the coast before returning to the hotel.

I gave the consultant a run-down of everything I’d done after wrapping up my work duties, and he sat back in the chair and shook his head. “You know what I do on business trips?” he said. “I fly in, I go to the hotel, I eat at the hotel, I do my work at the hotel, and then I fly home. I don’t have time to go look around.”

“You don’t have time?” I asked. “Or you don’t make time?”

He conceded my point, which is this: There are two kinds of business travelers. Those who are content to settle for underwhelming, overpriced hotel food and bland experiences, or those who make the time to do something to enjoy wherever their travels take them. I don’t care if you’ve been sent to Peoria—there has to be some coffeeshop or restaurant or local market or city museum that has something interesting to offer, and I operate by the philosophy that it’s important to, without killing yourself, make the time to not just work while traveling, but play, as well. After all, you’ve been sent to a different destination, so you might as well get to know it better.

This is how I ended up at Pizzeria Mozza for dinner last night. I’m on a quick business trip to Los Angeles, and was in search of good dining options for a solo traveler. A search of Chowhound led to a goldmine thread of ideas and information, which eventually took me to my destination.

Anything but pedestrian
Here’s what I had for dinner: Cauliflower all cheesed up, a breadstick, pizza and butterscotch pudding.

Sounds pedestrian, right?

Here’s the thing. Pizzeria Mozza is the brainchild of Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame, Mario Batali of orange Crocs and crazy-good Italian food fame, and Joe Bastianich of I’m-the-son-of-Lidia fame. (That’s actually hardly fair to Joe, who, with Batali, has basically built a restaurant and wine empire. He might be the most accomplished Mama’s boy ever…) With a pedigree like that, I should have expected an amazing meal, and that’s exactly what I got.

I started with the breadstick, which came with a couple of its brethren, loosely wrapped in wax paper. It was flavorful but simple, and crunchy without being a tooth-breaker. I would have eaten said brethren, but I knew I was in for a full-on meal, and didn’t want to waste any room in my stomach.

Recognizing that it was going to be incredibly heavy, I nonetheless ordered the cauliflower gratinee, which showed up in a little pottery dish, browned to golden on top and smelling so creamy-good that my immediate neighbors along the wine bar stopped their conversation and started talking to me. As I expected, it was a totally unnecessary indulgence, but whatever. It was good enough to write about, and therefore, I’m not sorry I downed it. In fact, I practically burned my tongue because it was so good I could barely wait for the steam to stop curling before I started eating.

The bartender, Nick, must have noticed my sheer lack of patience, because when he delivered the pizza I’d ordered—Coach Farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions and bacon (and, although it wasn’t listed, a healthy dose of roasted garlic)—he warned me to hold tight. “As it cools, the leeks get sweeter and the flavor of the goat cheese really comes out,’ he said.

Those of you who have told me all my life how I eat much too fast? Your approach was dead wrong. If a hot, foodie bartender explains how eating slower will be in my best interest as an enjoyer of goat cheese? Well, then I eat like a snail.

A dessert-related loss of dignity
Nick also endeared himself to me by delivering me a complimentary taste of a Moscato d’Asti offered by the restaurant alongside my dessert, the butterscotch budini. This was something like a butterscotch pot de crème, but with a layer of salted caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream on top, served alongside rosemary pine nut biscotti.

Nick’s recommended approach was to take a bite of the budini, then a sip of the Moscato, then a bite of biscotti. “There are plenty of other combinations, I’m sure, but that one’s worked the best for me,” he said.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. He was absolutely right—the combination was fabulous.

“Make sure you eat all the way to the bottom,” he said. “There’s good caramel down there.”

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “This is so good you’re going to be lucky if I don’t steal the glass so I can lick it in the car on the way home.”

I try to maintain my dignity, people, but when faced with such a luscious dessert, I lose all control. Apparently.

Not the only one enjoying myself
The diners around me were also loudly enjoying such treats as the roasted red peppers with tuna (including a diner who swore she doesn’t even like tuna, but loved that dish), the Rucola, funghi & Piave salad with a lemon dressing, the pizza Bianco, and the mint chocolate chip gelato. The buzzing conversations about film sets and upcoming location shoots stopped every time a new dish was delivered to any of the patrons within earshot so they could ooh and aah over the next eating adventure.

The meal definitely required me to kick in over my per diem allowance for dinner, but I would have paid for the whole thing, gladly. And I would have taken photos, but honestly, I was so entranced by the food, I completely forgot.

So…if you’re in LA, get thee to Pizzeria Mozza. It’s the familiar, elevated to the divine.

12 Responses to “Pizzeria Mozza: Familiar, but divine”

  1. 1 Jimmy Cracked-Corn July 8, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    In Peoria, there is Big Als.

  2. 2 jen maiser July 8, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    I was so happy when I saw your twitter that you decided to try to walk in. The great secret about Mozza is that you can walk in, especially as a single. It’s a really lovely (and yet totally LA) restaurant — I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  3. 3 inadvertentgardener July 8, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Jimmy, um, right. Checking Peoria RIGHT off the list.

    Jen, it was so great! And yeah — when I walked in and saw how packed the bar was, I figured there was no way I’d get seated for at least half an hour or longer. Surprisingly, they had found me a seat in about three minutes!

  4. 4 ourfriendben July 9, 2008 at 4:18 am

    Ah, Genie! Butterscotch budino!!! Thanks for sharing that delightful experience with us. I feel better already!

  5. 5 inadvertentgardener July 9, 2008 at 6:43 am

    Ben, the recipe for the budino is floating around the Internet — the New York Times published it in a Frank Bruni feature about Pizzeria Mozza. I may just have to try to make it at home…

  6. 6 Scout798 July 9, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I whole-heartedly agree! I spent 3 years traveling M-F every week. Very early into that process I realized that if this job was going to be sustainable for any amount f time … I’d have to make the effort. In doing so I discovered there were some cities I LOVE (Boston, Memphis, Hartford) … and some that I wasn’t so crazy about (Rochester NY, Pensacola, Newark)… but at least I experienced them! While I lived in Boston’s china town area the local girls would take me out and show me real Asian cooking in places I could only order through pointing … My personal favorite was a place called Pho Pasteur. They have a fantastic shrimp pho with pineapple.

    I agree … experiencing the local eateries is rule #1 for traveling!

  7. 7 inadvertentgardener July 9, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Scout798, you are to be applauded — even with my philosophy of business travel, I can imagine that three years of five-day-a-week travel would be enough to make anyone just want to hide in their hotel room, but it sounds like you made the most of it! Pho Pasteur sounds divine…I will keep that in the back of my head for next time I’m in Boston!

  8. 8 hotfessional July 9, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I’m ALWAYS up for a walk around a new town and a bit of exploring. unfortunately, 10 years of travel back and forth to Chicago, I think I know the destination better than my own home town!

  9. 9 inadvertentgardener July 10, 2008 at 6:05 am

    Hotfessional, yeah — with all the time you spend in O’Hell and its environs, they ought to issue you an Official Chicago Temporary Resident ID Card. At this point, you deserve it. :-)

  10. 10 trey July 13, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Nothing to do with pizza.


  11. 11 katie July 13, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Damn! Now you make me miss business travel! What a fantastic sounding restaurant! I want the pud!

  12. 12 inadvertentgardener July 16, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Trey, thank you!

    Katie, it was so very, very divine…

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