12.18.2009

Pizzeria Mozza



Mr. DG and I chanced walking into Pizzeria Mozza without reservations for lunch the other day and promptly were led to two empty stools at the counter facing the pizza oven. Just my luck! My favorite place to sit in restaurants that have them, is the counter facing the food prep. It's like watching a live cooking show for me!

The restaurant was packed with people. We arrived towards the end of the lunch rush, so after half an hour or so, the counter emptied out, giving us a little more breathing room. If you are claustrophobic or don't enjoy crowds, I would suggest trying another restaurant.




The menu offers a large number of pizza options. I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. The noise and the crowded seating and the servers whizzing by -- it was a little hard to concentrate. Ultimately, we decided to share Nancy's chopped salad to start and the "meat lover's pizza" (bacon, salami, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato and mozzarella) for our entree.




As we waited for our food, Mr. DG took some photos of the pizza making in front of us with his Nikon D700. This, unfortunately, is not a camera that you can use without attracting some attention, unlike a point-and-shoot. After snapping several shots, we were told by the host that the restaurant does not permit photography. So we apologized and put the D700 away. Luckily, it's a lot easier to take stealth shots with my camera phone (albeit not as nice photos as the Nikon)! :)

The pizza guy (above middle) is preparing one of their most popular pizzas, the fennel sausage, panna (Italian heavy cream), red onion and scallion pizza. The pizza on the bottom was ordered by the gentleman sitting next to me. I'm not positive, but I believe it is the speck (similar to smoked bacon but made from hog legs), Bufala mozzarella, olive tapenade and oregano pizza.

There were two men making pizzas: when an order came in, the first man took the plump disk of dough and gently, lovingly stretched it out by hand to the proper size and thinness. He then handed the dough over to his partner for toppings on a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Each pizza appears to have a coat of olive oil brushed on the edges. Then the sauce base is spooned onto the dough. Toppings come last, and, while the pizzas aren't exactly brimming with toppings, the quality of the ingredients more than made up for the small quantity. Mozza makes their own fennel sausage and guanciale (cured meat made from hog's cheek, similar to bacon), and the sausage was really delicious! Not tough or rubbery, but meaty and full of aromatic fennel flavor. With all the meats on the pizza, it was hard to detect clearly the flavor of the guanciale or other meats, unfortunately. Rest assured, it was definitely a meat lover's pizza, or, as our waitperson called it, "a heart attack."



I snuck these photos of our food using my camera phone, so the quality isn't as great, but at least you can see what we ate.

The crust looked as if it was going to be thick and doughy from the puffiness of the edges. However, when you bite into the pizza, the crust is actually quite thin and a bit chewy, like good bread, which isn't surprising considering Nancy Silverton is one of the owners and is a master bread baker. My personal preference is for a thin, crispy crust. The crust wasn't exactly crispy, but the pizza was still delicious and enjoyable. There was a bit of oil that slid off the pizza -- a meat lover's hazard, I guess, from all the fat in the toppings.

Hmm, I just realized I described the pizza and forgot to talk about the salad! I guess that was a subconscious snub. We ordered Nancy's chopped salad, and the server said it was big enough to share. I agree it was big enough to share, but not in the portions I prefer (I like a lot of salad, but in this case, I'm glad there wasn't more). The chopped salad had an abundance of radicchio mixed with what appeared to be iceberg lettuce, garbanzo beans, salami, cheese, and incredibly sweet and flavorful cherry tomatoes. The dressing was acidic, but not to the point of painfulness. However, the salad was too bitter for me with the overwhelming amount of radicchio. It's just a personal thing -- I'm not a huge fan of radicchio in that quantity.

For dessert, which was the highlight of the meal for both of us, we ordered the caramel copetta with marshmallow sauce and salted Spanish peanuts. Oh. My. This was so, so good. Two scoops of caramel gelato on top of a crispy wafer cookie, topped with marshmallow sauce, caramel sauce and salty peanuts. Getting all of these layers in one bite created a fantastic profusion of salty and sweet (but not too sweet), with crunchy texture from the peanuts, crispness from the wafer and creaminess from the gelato. It was really excellent, and it was my favorite part of the lunch.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal, and the quality of the pizza toppings is what makes Mozza's pies memorable. For me, though, what draws me back to Mozza is the caramel copetta. I'm not a big dessert eater, but that is one dessert I'd gladly eat every day. I'd avoid the chopped salad and try another appetizer next time, like the fried squash blossoms with ricotta or the cauliflower gratinate. Don't valet your car -- it's crazy expensive at $12!! We parked on Highland, about half a block down. And be aware that there is Osteria Mozza (which is where I originally thought I was eating) next to Pizzeria Mozza. Osteria Mozza is a more expensive formal restaurant. Mozza also has pizza to go (Pizza2Go) and a cooking school (Scuola di Pizza).

Restaurant website: http://www.mozza-la.com

Thanks to Mr. DG for taking the D700 photos. 

12.11.2009

Indio International Tamale Festival



Photography by Nader Coobtee of Red Lantern Photography

Last Sunday, Mr. Dishy Goodness (Mr. DG) and I decided to check out the Indio International Tamale Festival. We'd never gone to the festival in the four years we've lived here, even though it is held just a few miles from where we live (like the Coachella Music Festival, another major event we've never attended despite being only a mile or two away!).

We parked at the Larson Justice Center and took a shuttle to the festival. The festival was held in Downtown Indio between Highway 111 and Indio Boulevard. The first tamale stand we saw was Grandma Lupe's Tamales. There was a line of about 20 people waiting for tamales. Mr. DG had seen a news report the night before saying that Grandma Lupe's attracted the most customers, with a line stretching far down the block the day before. Since it seemed to be the most popular, we decided to give it a try.

I will say straight out that I am not a tamale expert, nor do I know what makes a good tamale, good. I only know that I prefer a tamale that is moist with ample filling (preferably pork). When we got in line for Grandma Lupe's, one of the family members informed us that there were no more pork tamales. :*( The only other savory tamale left was rajas (chile and cheese). The rest were sweet tamales, such as strawberry and cream cheese; orange marmalade; and pineapple. For some reason, the sweet tamales did not appeal to me nor to Mr. DG. So we tried the rajas.
































Top: the line at Grandma Lupe's stand; middle left: Grandma Lupe rests; middle right: row of tamale steamers; bottom: bad news with a smile - no more pork!

For $3 each, the tamale wasn't exactly huge. But I liked the fact that Grandma Lupe makes tamales every year for this festival because it's a way of uniting her family. There is no Grandma Lupe restaurant or tamale factory. She is 78 years old and she oversees the production of the tamales and the making of the sauces.

The tamale was pretty moist and there was just enough cheese in the filling without being overwhelming However, there was a strange granularity to the cheese -- sort of like bits of uncooked rice -- that detracted from the experience. I don't know if this was a normal part of the cheese filling or if something truly was uncooked inside. (If anyone has an idea what this could have been, please leave a comment!) I wish we could have tried the pork tamales for a better assessment, as I was not bowled over by the rajas tamale.

We walked around the rest of the festival and enjoyed live music, colorful street performers and tamale hawkers in costume. You can see some of the characters in the photos below. As we weren't full from the rajas tamales, we decided to have fresh guacamole with chips from Holy Guaca-moly! When I saw the price for a paper dish of guac and chips, I wanted to say Holy Something Else, because it was $7! We sampled the dip first, and it was very fresh and natural tasting. Was it worth $7? I don't think so, but we enjoyed it anyway.

Indio International Tamale Festival website 


12.04.2009

A Starry Kitchen is Born


Top left: Assembling a veggie burrito w/kimchi stir-fried with king oyster mushrooms; top center:  spooning bulgogi ground beef into corn tortillas; top right: a bulgogi beef banh mi; center left: Columbian salsa; center middle: spicy mustard mayo garnishes a bulgogi beef burrito; center right: homemade tomatillo salsa; bottom right: "half and half"- one veggie and one bulgogi beef taco with a side of Asian slaw; bottom middle: The Kitchen Ninja assembles banh mi; bottom right: kimchi and king oyster mushrooms w/cilantro, pickled veg and rice, served with a ginger sesame sake sauce in a burrito. Photography by Nader Coobtee of Red Lantern Photography

It took the story of one couple to inspire me to finally begin a food blog. I had been wanting to start one for several years, but I have a procrastination problem. After hearing the story of how Starry Kitchen was born, I felt inspired to stop stalling and start blogging.

Starry Kitchen is the brainchild of Nguyen and Thi Tran. Thi is the "Kitchen Ninja," the culinary goddess responsible for the savory delights that are variations on Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian - well, let's just say Pan-Asian - cuisines. The twist is that you can have the meat or veggie option served in a taco, a burrito or a sandwich (like banh mi). Thi used to work in advertising, but she found herself unemployed earlier this year. Friends who had tasted her food encouraged her to give cooking a try. With nothing to lose, she jumped in head first into the world of food and foodies with her husband Nguyen. Nguyen is in charge of the "front of house," with an easygoing and welcoming personality. My brother found Starry Kitchen on Yelp! (check out their 5-star reviews), and luckily, my husband and I have been able to eat there twice (considering we live 2 hours away, I think this is an accomplishment!).

To test the waters in this new venture, Nguyen and Thi opened their North Hollywood apartment two days a week to foodies craving something new. Yes, I know. Eating at someone's apartment? Someone you don't even know? It sounded odd to us, too. But my brother said it was like eating at a friend's home - friendly, comforting and fun. So we went, and we had wonderful Vietnamese ground garlic pork tacos (the only thing left for us latecomers on our first visit). Warm corn tortillas filled with garlicky ground pork, paired with crisp shredded cabbage, cilantro, pickled carrot and daikon. The cool vegetables contrasted with the warm pork, and, for extra crunch, Thi included a fried egg roll wrapper "cigar." A delicious sauce made with ground chicken, fish sauce and a host of other ingredients finished off the tacos perfectly. Their adorable dog, GQ, waited patiently (and futilely) for tiny bits of food to drop. I didn't want to waste one bit of my tacos! Sorry, GQ.

That was our first visit. Here are some photos from that first visit.

The photos at the very top of the post are from our second visit. This time, we were the first ones to arrive! We were so early, they hadn't even had a chance to finish their set-up. No worries. We were happy to wait for the deliciousness that was to come. The options this time were bulgogi marinated ground beef and kimchi stir-fried with king oyster mushrooms (my newest favorite food). I couldn't decide, so I had the "half-and-half" -- one beef and one veggie taco -- served with a side of lightly-dressed Asian slaw. The beef was moist and extremely flavorful from the bulgogi marinade and the mushrooms had a meaty, abalone-like texture with a spicy kick from the kimchi. Being the voracious eater that I am, I wasn't full after the two tacos. So I ordered a bulgogi beef banh mi. The bread had the perfect combination of crisp crust and slightly chewy but tender crumb. I loved the fresh herbs and vegetables that filled the bread and contrasted with the sweet and savory beef. Frankly, I probably could have eaten another sandwich, but I didn't want to make a pig of myself (more than I already had).

Here are some photos of the Kitchen Ninja, Thi, in action.

The Starry Kitchen adventure continues with an actual restaurant space in downtown Los Angeles at the California Plaza.  They are taking over 8Fish and have had several trial runs already. We haven't had a chance to participate in the test runs, but I hope we can soon. The menu is a little different (no tacos, for example), but Thi's creative flavor profiles and inspired combinations are sure to remain. Become a Starry Kitchen fan on Facebook or follow their blog. December 11 is the day of the first Starry Kitchen Supper Club featuring Chinese hot pot with dungeness crab, scallops, live shrimp,Wagyu beef and more! Only twenty diners allowed, and seats are filling up!

If what I've described hasn't moved you in any way, I don't think you're alive. Go try Starry Kitchen! Your stomach will thank you.

BTW, if you are wondering how they chose the name, "Starry Kitchen," it's the name of Thi's favorite cooking show from Chinese TV.

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