Believe the Hype

The first patrons of Pizzeria Mozza paced the sidewalk outside the restaurant like they had been waiting in line for three days to get the first shot at a PlayStation 3. Because never in decades of restaurant-going in Los Angeles have I ever experienced the kind of anticipation that arose around Mozza. The restaurant, a collaboration between superstar chefs Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali in the old Emilio’s space on Melrose, opened last Tuesday. Blogs, even major magazines, seemingly reported on every movement of mushrooms and plaster into the place. Visiting food dignitaries tried everything to squirm their way onto the list at preview nights. An A-list celebrity or two ate preopening meals off of sawhorses. Anything less than the reinvention of pizza as we know it would have been seen as a major disappointment, the ultimate victory of hype.

But even in Mozza’s first days, it seems as if Silverton has indeed managed to reinvent the entire paradigm of what a pizza might be, 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 them in the best places in Tuscany. To tell the truth, what Mozza’s crust reminded me of most was not pizza at all, but the magnificent flatbreads that emerge from the wood-burning ovens of the Antico Forno on the Campo dei Fiori in central Rome, olive-oil-brushed masterpieces of crust that require nothing more than a few grains of coarse salt to shine. Are the toppings of burrata and squash blossoms, mushrooms and taleggio, or cured lard and rosemary exemplary? Of course. Are the crisply roasted Weiser fingerlings the best potatoes in Los Angeles? Probably so. Are the shell beans baked to a buttery softness under a layer of oiled breadcrumbs everything that beans could possibly be? I would suspect so. And the molecularly dense butterscotch pudding (which will be lifted off the menu once the gelato kitchen is in shape) is pretty good too. At press time, demand was so intense that the Pope himself probably couldn’t swing a reservation at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday, much less get through on the phone, but the pizzeria is open every day from noon until midnight, and I’ve managed to snag a table at off hours. You can ignore my blissed-out ravings if you like. My wife co-wrote a baking book with Silverton, and Nancy has been a close friend for many years. But you would be missing out on the best pizza ever to be baked in Los Angeles. 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101.

—Jonathan Gold


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