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Where to Eat ... PIZZA Now 

Casa Bianca, Zelo, Mozza, Bollini and more

Wednesday, May 20 2009
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ANGELI CAFFE Angeli crystallized the affinity of Angelenos for casual Italian cooking — the spaghetti alla checca, garlicky roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Sienese teenager might eat for dinner at the trattoria down the block on the nights his mother didn’t feel like turning on the stove. The clove that dare not speak its name makes a bold and uncensored appearance in Kleiman’s version of spaghetti aglio e olio, a powerful, pungent pasta tossed with caramelized garlic, hot chile flakes and a little parsley, nothing else, and the sticky garlic essence is so powerful that you probably have to use industrial abrasives to get it off your teeth. In other words, it’s the real thing, compatible with a glass of professional-grade Chianti and rendering the tempering umami of Parmesan cheese almost useless. Kleiman’s repertory of artisanal olive oils, summertime bread salads and goat-cheese pizzas may no longer be novel, but sometimes there is no place you would rather be than behind a table at Angeli, contemplating a glass of Sangiovese and starting in on a plateful of ravioli with melted butter and sage. 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 936-9086. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Thurs. & Sun., 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Parking: Valet. Beer/Wine. Italian, Pizza. $$ 

BOLLINI'S PIZZERIA At the bottom tip of Monterey Park, in a neighborhood better known for its tacos than for anything Chinese, Bollini’s is an unlikely bastion of real Neapolitan pizza, a narrow storefront serving as a rudimentary support mechanism for the magnificent Italian oven that turns cords of cherrywood into intense, pizza-blistering heat. Chef Christiano Bollini, who grew up in the neighborhood and put in time at one of the best pizzerias in Naples, turns out brawny, load-bearing crusts, blackened and crisp at the rim; raised and a bit doughy at the center. There are classic Margherita pies, unconventional pizza with pesto and shrimp, pizza with three kinds of sausage, with spinach and ricotta, and (shudder) with pineapple and bacon. The pastas are not going to cause Gino Angelini any sleepless nights. But the heart of any pizzeria is the crust that its pizzaiolo manages to coax out of its fires, and in that, Bollini’s is pretty much there. How dedicated is Bollini to the cause? He has the Italian flag tattooed on his arm. 2315 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (323) 722-7600. Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Parking: Lot Available, Street. Alcohol: Bring Your Own. Italian, Pizza. $

BOTTEGA LOUIE At one corner the whitewashed and gleaming double-height room that is Bottega Louie, there is a market selling high-end cheeses and a tiny selection of the produce you might have forgotten to pick up at the farmers market. A long bakery counter sells breads and croissants and pastries to the breakfast crowd; a bar, with seating exceeding that of most gastropubs, sells snacks and sandwiches to go with the beer and cocktails. And at the rear of the space is a full restaurant, a dining room with the feel of a brasserie but a mostly American-Italian menu structured a bit like the one at Pizzeria Mozza: lots of small dishes, like stuffed artichokes, fried calamari, clams oreganata, and a dish of mushy peas with prosciutto that could have come out of the kitchen of any trattoria in Rome; crisp-edged Neapolitan-style pizzas from the big wood-burning oven in the corner, and old-fashioned things like eggplant parmesan, sliced steak and black cod roasted in parchment. The chef is Sam Marvin, a Patina alum whose Melrose restaurant Modada was one of the most interesting openings of the mid-1990s in Los Angeles, and who guided the last few years of Le Dôme. 700 S Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90017, L.A., (866) 418-9162. Mon.-Fri., 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Parking: Garage, Lot Available, Street, Valet, Validation Available. Full bar. Italian. $$ 

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CASA BIANCA The first time I stepped into Casa Bianca, neon sign glowing “Pizza Pie” in nursery pink and blue, I knew it was the pizza parlor I had always hoped to find in California: perfumed with a whomp of garlic, alive with the roar of customers who had been clustering around the checkered tablecloths for decades. The pizzas were burnt, bubbling majestic things, crunchy and thin in the style of Chicago bar pizza, dusted with gritty cornmeal on the bottom and sliced in a way that defied standard geometry. I got mine with sausage and strips of fried eggplant. In the 20-odd years since then, I have seen little need to change my order. Casa Bianca, the fiefdom of the Martorana family since 1955, serves the best neighborhood-pizzeria pizza in L.A. The sausage is homemade, but the mushrooms on the pizza are canned, old-school style, if that sort of thing bothers you. And there’s freshly filled cannoli for dessert. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Tues.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-mid.; Fri.-Sat., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Parking: Street. Beer/Wine. Italian, Pizza. $

PIZZERIA MOZZA It is almost impossible to have a civil discussion about pizza in this city of immigrants, because there may be no foodstuff so intimately linked to one’s sense of identity. But in the wood oven at Pizzeria Mozza, Nancy Silverton has more or less reinvented the very idea of pizza, airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor wispy the way you find pizza in the best places in Tuscany. The crust is sweet and bitter, salty and chewy, circled by crunchy charred bubbles. Every pizza at Mozza is a unique marriage of flour, salt and hot-burning almond wood, stretched into irregular discs, as individually lovable as children. The crust is so good, in fact, that it may be at its best dressed with nothing more than a drizzle of good olive oil and a few grains of sea salt — though it’s not sad to eat topped with burrata and vivid squash blossoms, taleggio and house-made sausage, lardo and rosemary. or pureed anchovies and fried egg. (The mandatory caveat applies here: Silverton is a family friend.) This isn’t the pizza you used to eat back in Jersey, and that, perhaps, is the point. 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101. Daily noon-mid. Parking: Valet. Beer/Wine. Italian, Modern European, Pizza. JG $$$

RIVA Thierry Perez and Jason Travi’s Riva, in a formerly cursed location just off the Santa Monica Promenade, translates Fraîche’s grape-friendly, farmers market-powered cooking into Italian — roasted quail and braised lamb neck, housemade testa and an aquarium’s worth of crudo, the sashimi-like Italianate raw fish preparations whose popularity is actually spreading from the United States back into Italy. Even in a city saturated with new pizza concepts, Travi’s pies have found a niche — crusts thin and pliable as shirt cardboard, bottoms annealed shiny and black by the heat of the brick oven, and sparingly topped with things like tomato and buffalo mozzarella, fluffy little meatballs, or a concoction of potatoes and Fontina cheese that sounds as if it would be something like a crackly Mozza creation but turns out to resemble a custardy French gratin. The drinks list is well-conceived — I loved a cocktail made with cucumber and the Italian bitters called Aperol. And Riva is open every night until midnight, which is no small thing in this early-closing corner of town. 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-7482. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-mid. Parking: Valet. Full bar. Italian, Pizza. $$

SPARK WOODFIRE GRILL If live-fire cooking is like sex, the kitchen at Spark Woodfire Cooking is its peepshow, a glassed-in wonderland of shooting flames, ashy coals and hissing slabs of meat, carbonized pizza crusts and fire-roasted chickens, char-speckled vegetables and big, sloppy plates of lasagna that are smoking and blackened from their voyages through the ovens. Does the food approach the ethereal quality of Alto Palato, the old West Hollywood restaurant that was the progenitor of this tiny chain? Not yet. But as with a peepshow, quality may not quite be the point. 9575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (310) 277-0133. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Parking: Lot Available, Street. Beer/Wine. American. $$$

ZELO GOURMET PIZZERIA Arcadia is kind of a conservative place, but Zelo distinctly is not. The music, played loud, ranges from surf tunes to vintage punk rock, Blue Oyster Cult to Built To Spill, and might as well have been plucked from the iPod of the coolest guy you know. But it’s all about the pizza here, and Zelo’s pizza is a different sort of pie, crust enriched with a little cornmeal, packed and crimped into a high-rimmed steel deep-dish pizza pan blackened from years in the ovens, and baked to a kind of high crunchiness. This rough and tasty cornmeal-crusted pizza was invented at Vicolo, Patty Unterman’s late quick-service pizza joint in San Francisco. Zelo chef Mike Freeman, who cooked for eight years at Vicolo, has taken this style and made it his own. A vegetarian pizza, available in both vegan and cheese-bearing versions, is piled with baked eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms. Even the plain-vanilla sausage pie is plumped out with marinated peppers, tomato chunks and sauteed onions. This may be the great, undiscovered Los Angeles pizza restaurant. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia, (626) 358-8298. Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.- Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 3-9 p.m. Parking: Street. Beer/Wine. Italian, Pizza. $

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