The line at Mozza is about to get longer. On July 22, the wood-burning pizza oven at 8-month-old Riva in Santa Monica is going on hiatus. Those who hit the Promenade spot mainly for the pizzas may balk, but the man behind the margheritas couldn't be happier. “We're ecstatic – it's exactly what I wanted to do before we opened, but my old partner fought me on it,” says Riva chef and co-owner Jason Travi.
“For us, it's a new era,” says general manager Susie Miller. Her enthusiasm at the anticipation of killing the pizza is so genuine, it's hard feel much sympathy for the pizza-to-go, including the patate semplice, a potato-studded fontina cheese pie sprinkled with rosemary. “We're all thinking of it as starting completely over,” she adds, noting that one or two pizzas will be offered on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights only. “At least for now, to see how it goes.”
Instead of the pizzas, which Miller says were taking up so much space in the small oven it was difficult to run the restaurant efficiently, stuzzichini (small plates) including spicy octopus and oregano crostini and a mushroom-almond version topped with house-made ricotta will be taking up residence in the 750-degree brick dome. Fried baby artichokes with lemon aioli and a veal cheek tart are also in the works.
The heavily Italian wine list will be given a more global slant by Courtney Olson, who took over as sommelier upon Thierry's departure. A couple of design tweaks are also in the works. Miller says she is taking down anything that feels too like the old regime – a slick brown glass sphere hanging over the reservation desk – and replacing them with more casual fare. “I'm thinking maybe a wine bottle drying rack, hung upside down.”
Travi's wife Miho, pastry chef at both Fraiche and Riva, is using the changeover as a chance to spend time with the couples' new baby. John Park, formerly of Water Grill will be the new pastry chef. “Miho is so in babyland right now. She's loving it,” says Travi. He's about to find out whether Riva's pizza groupies love his pork belly with fennel and salsa verde just as much.
Riva: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-7482.