Monday, April 9, 2012

Pizza Piqued at Pizzeria Mozza

Pizzeria Mozza has been on my list of restaurants to try ever since my friend Kandee would wax poetic about its luscious pies to me while I still lived in the desert. When I finally moved to L.A. I tried the pizzeria’s sophisticated older sister Osteria Mozza first, as it was the setting for my first date with the Cute Gardener. So, I was a little prejudiced with good feeling about the place when we finally ventured into the Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach on a recent trip to see the OCMA Diebenkorn show and the Beall Center for Art and Technology on the UC Irvine Campus. 

I loved the bustling joint immediately with its liquor bar and mozzarella bar and a square modern space of no nonsense tables and chairs within. Despite the fact that it was chock full of Orange County stepford families and realtor-type professional looking women rather than the usual array of L.A. hipsters (both kinds of crowds not up my ordinary alley), I settled into my glass of Arnies, Brandini, Piedmont 2010 steeping in the good smells coming from the kitchen.

We have taken to a good pizza-hunting mission lately and have a system where we order a regular basic pie as well as a more complex one to test out in new places. Having already been here before, he suggested that I just choose one that particularly called out to me and he would choose a separate entrée of the non-pie variety for us to try.

I also couldn’t help but throw in an order for salt cod fritters. These soft and moist pieces of fried fish were delectable with a permeable heat in the mouth at first that turned into a sharp, red pepper flake tinged tang on the bite’s tail end. Dipped into a soothing, butter yellow aioli, they were a surprising highlight of the meal.

The pizzette with English peas, ramps, green garlic and guanciale was one of the most flavorful I have had in a while. Zesty, savory, deep and bright at the same time and the unusual combination of toppings was refreshing. It is also my favorite crust of late as it was spongy and firm, salty and buttery, and although very flat, it was able to hold up to the weight of its toppings. Quite a feat in the land of flat bread yeast.

My boyfriend enlightened me to the fact that we Americans have come to have warped perceptions on the basic Panini. It’s not, as we think, a sandwich of flattened, grill marked bread but actually just any sandwich with “small bread” included. So his tuna Panini came in a hot ciabatta bun and although he ordered a braised tuna with capers and anchovy version, we got whatever the chef apparently wanted to make that day: a glorified tuna salad. Perfectly fine with good tomatoes and bits of hard-boiled egg, it was tasty but not what we had intended.

For dessert we ordered the olive oil cake with pine nuts. What actually came was more like a fruitcake, panettone reminiscent with studs of cherries and raisins and other none-too-welcome bites. I didn’t mind. I felt the sweetness went well with the grilled pine nut garnish but would have liked what I originally thought I ordered more.

Although the pizza wins for my current “best” pizza eaten in the last year, I am a bit mystified about the two dishes that came out different for us than what we had ordered. Were the chefs out of certain ingredients and just decided to do whatever the hell they wanted? Is the Mozza brand so renowned now that those in charge feel we are so lucky to be there that we will take anything that we can get? A little presumptuous I think, for an industry where signs go up and down as fast as loyal patrons’ palate changes.  

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