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.