No, panini don't always have to be pressed and grilled. In its most literal form it is a sandwich made from a small Italian roll, the word itself actually the plural of “panino”, though not, it would seem, in the United States. They exist throughout Los Angeles, often popping up on lunch menus and cafés, and containing everything from salami to curried tofu. For this week's installment of edible combat we look at the version that seems to appear on the most panini menus; mozzarella and prosciutto, our foes plucked from La Bottega Marino and Mozza2Go.
At La Bottega, the panino is something you would not be surprised to find yourself eating while awaiting your connection at the nearby Milan train station. The sandwich contains the aforementioned ingredients, adorned with nothing more than olive oil. The flour dusted roll is baked fresh and the sandwich is a charming ode to restraint, where a meat and cheese slid within bread is enough. The thickness of the roll tends to dominate your first few bites, as the middle, of course, has the most bread(th). But as you work toward the ends of the sandwich, nibbling crispier and crustier sections, you will notice yourself more addicted than you had anticipated. Sometimes the best lessons are really just obvious reminders, like how nicely prosciutto goes with mozzarella.
At Mozza2Go, this, we discover, is not that. Some people like to debate whether or not Mozza's pizzas actually count as pizzas, and it would not surprise me to find them wondering the same thing about their panini. The bread is made from their pizza dough, brown and crackling, soft and airy. It is the contents, though, that make you feel like they've hired a ringer. It's tough to beat Nancy Silverton's mozzarella, oozing out of the sandwich with each bite and balanced out with delightfully salty prosciutto. Arugula and sliced tomatoes also find a home here, and while these bring a lot of flavors, particularly in contrast to La Bottega, you can add yet one more, courtesy of its accompanying side of olive tapenade. So it is a question, I suppose, of simplicity versus creation. But let's be honest. If both sandwiches were pulled out of a picnic basket, you would lunge toward Mozza's, likely injuring a small child en route–as would I.