Most feverishly anticipated restaurants get one big shot at an opening splash. It's the rare case where a food business can get two chances to make a major impression, let alone three.
Mozza, however, is an exception. First, salivating palates anxiously waited for and then mobbed the Pizzeria when it opened in November of 2006. Then the expansive Osteria finally arrived the following July. And come May 2009, Nancy Silverton, along with chef Matt Molina and her New York-based partners, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, finishes the Mozza trio with a to-go space next door, thus completing the Mozza conquest of the southwest corner of Melrose and Highland.
When the Melrose Mac store moved to the adjacent storefront to the west, Silverton and company jumped on the now-or-never chance to take over the space next to the Osteria's Melrose leg. Given the ongoing level of requests for take-out that the current Mozzas aren't able to meet, it's a business whose market demand is completely without question. And remember, it's not as if Silverton is a stranger to entrepreneurial expansion. She's had some time to think about next steps. So Mozza #3 (although it's sort of like #3 and #4 -- keep reading) will utilize the new space to efficiently fill the pizza orders that will pile in, and give the people other stuff they want but just don't know it yet.
Silverton kindly gave Squid Ink an exclusive tour of the to-go and multi-use rooms, whose opening is about a month away. (The request for no photos explains the lack of interior images here.) To put it simply -- it's gonna be rad, people.
The retail frontage has been divided into two separate spaces, with a flexible food room located in the east, and a compact pizza take-out counter located in the west section, which, as Silverton describes, has "a face. I wanted the excuse for a tiny 'jewel box,' for no more than four people to fit," rather than have customers pick up pies from what looks like "the back of a kitchen."
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We suspect more than four bodies will pile into it at a time, but those that do will appreciate the design details. The custom millwork throughout is as far as you get from off the rack Home Depot materials, with all the decorative Italianate fluted corbels, shelving, mouldings and arches that frame the display cases being done by hand and stained a deep espresso brown. Designer Lisa Eaton's interior finishes have a rational Renaissance appeal that could have been taken from an architectural handbook Bramante and his cohorts used 500-plus years ago, but reinterpreted for the tastes and needs of Angelenos in 2009. Team Mozza has that modern rusticity thing down pat.
And what exactly will customers be able to conveniently bring home from behind those lovely exterior storefronts? Silverton plans to start the take-out menu with ten-to-twelve pizzas, plus sandwiches, a daily lasagna, antipasti, a few salads, and the greatest hits of Mozza dolci, including the butterscotch budino and olive oil cakes. A limited catering menu will be available, too. This food will come from the spanking new kitchen at the back of the restaurant and its two massive ovens. Precious shelf space likely will be filled with wine and a careful selection of canned and jarred items.
Yet it's the eastern part and biggest section of the shop that will really get people talking. Tentatively called the "Scuola di Pizza," this flexible, multi-purpose food room will be the ultimate space in which to play out your Mediterranean culinary fantasies (as long as they're within the bounds of socially accepted behavior, of course). A long counter at the rear frames a small pizza oven and other ridiculously gorgeous shiny cooking equipment that Silverton describes as a non-intimidating "home-style kitchen." That's if your home kitchen happens to include top-of-the-line just about everything with tons of room for your guests. Once things get going, Silverton hopes to accommodate wine tastings, classes, and private parties on a rotating schedule. Cured meats will hang on display in a small meat locker, which can be appreciated purely on aesthetic grounds, used to educate, or to show eager Scuola participants what's to come. Silverton told us about the big walk-in fridge that's located upstairs, yet we've heard rumors of Haunted Mansion-style hidden spaces containing stashes of other curious foodstuffs. Intriguing.
It's this mixture of the known quantity and the unexpected that will keep Highland and Melrose humming and the meter maids busy no matter what. Stay tuned.