Having been a fan of Mario Batali for at least a couple of years, I was excited at the prospect of getting to visit his new pizzeria in L.A. while in Southern California for the holidays. My girlfriend and I decided to try the new restaurant the day after Christmas. We arrived at the Pizzeria Mozza around 11am, due to the fact that we couldn’t find any info online about its hours or even if it had opened to the public yet. The building is divided in half, with one side being the Pizzeria Mozza, painted completely in Mario’s signature orange, and the yet-to-be-opened Osteria Mozza, the upcoming fine dining restaurant, painted black. After a phone call, I learned the restaurant opened at 12, and while there were no available reservations (reservations for lunch on a Tuesday?) there were two large bars that featured full food service. It was recommended we come back a little before opening, since lines tend to form for the two bars. We returned around 11:45, and were only the second party in line. By the noon opening, there were easily thirty people in line behind us.
The doors opened, and we found two very comfortable stools at the bar. The dining area is fancy without being ostentatious, the kind of place where you’re meant to enjoy yourself without worrying about being stuffed, and features more of Mario’s burnt orange color palette, from the aprons the wait staff wears to the orange Gerber daisies on each table and behind the bar. The orange is noticeable without being garish, and works well as a signature color for the restaurant. The dining area was about 800 square feet, featuring bars along two walls, and about twenty small tables.
We were presented with complimentary breadsticks, tall and crispy with a hint of parmesan, which were quite good. Deciding not to order alcohol so early in the day, unlike many of our fellow guests, we opted for a Coke and a Diet Coke. I only mention them because we were served a small glass bottle of the soda each, which I noticed seemed to be from another country. I asked our bartender/waiter about them, and he said they only serve Coca-Cola from Holland, shipped here especially for Mario’s restaurants. I was aware that soda in other countries is vastly different than soda here, where they opt for sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, and use less carbonation. The result is a soda that I would buy by the case if I could. My girlfriend agreed.
Speaking of our bartender/waiter, he was among the best servers I’ve ever had. He answered all of my silly questions about the restaurant without showing the slightest bit of annoyance, all while mixing and serving drinks to the twelve or so other patrons at his bar. He stayed very busy, but seemed to enjoy himself and was very gracious to all of us, as were the rest of the staff.
The place setting doubles as a menu, nearly all in Italian with very little explanation. I recommend learning some basic Italian food terminology if you don’t like having to ask the waiter lots of questions. We started with the Buffalo Mozzarella and Prosciutto de Parma appetizer, which ended up being a lot of food. The mozzarella was very light and airy, almost like ricotta cheese. It was very good, but proved to be too much food for an appetizer. I would recommend it for a party of three or more to split, unless you really like fresh mozzarella. The prosciutto was excellent, but there wasn’t much of it, considering it was an $18 appetizer.
I ordered the pizza margherita and my girlfriend ordered a mushroom and fontina pizza. They were “personal” size and cut into quarters. The dough was very airy and soft and the crust bubbled up so high around the edges that the tops of the bubbles were burned. This was the only negative to me, due to the bitterness of the burned dough detracting from the overall sweetness of the pizza. The ingredients were obviously top-notch, and were liberally added. The sauce featured some very sweet tomatoes, and the cheese on my pizza was more of the fresh mozzarella featured in our appetizer. There was almost too much basil on it for my tastes, but basil-lovers will appreciate it. My girlfriend’s mushroom pizza had very large chunks of mushrooms held inside the melted fontina. The pizzas tasted great; very clean-tasting with virtually no grease or oil.
The menu also features panini sandwiches and other rustic staples of Italian cuisine. The prices were reasonable, I thought, with each of our pizzas priced around $12. The appetizer was $18, and I would probably skip it next time as the other appetizers seemed just as good from the descriptions and were more reasonably priced.
We enjoyed our visit. There was a line outside the entire time we ate, with people coming in to fill the seats as diners vacated. I would definitely go back, next time opting for one of the salads or panini, as I personally didn’t find the pizza alone very satisfying. Getting there a little before opening is recommended, as is taking advantage of their valet service. We parked ourselves in the hopes of saving the five dollar valet fee, only to get a parking ticket that raised the cost of our lunch from $60 to $110 and rendered us the latest victims of LA’s cryptic parking system. So, the ambiance and staff get an enthusiastic thumbs up from me, while the food itself gets a reluctant thumbs up.
Labels: Mario Batali