Wednesday, December 06, 2006
rip this joint! dinner at mozza.
mama says yes, papa says no,
make up you mind 'cause I gotta go....
rip this joint, gonna save your soul,
round and round and round we go.
roll this joint, gonna get down low,
start my starter, gonna stop the show.
oh, the inevitable mozza post. after a couple of false starts, more than a few canceled and re-appointed reservations, i finally made into the mario batali/nancy silverton pizza joint, mozza. i went to dinner with a friend, whose previous experiences in that space on highland avenue included a collapsed lung, so you know this night was destined to make some sort of impression.
i do have to say, it was probably not a good idea for me to check out a new restaurant right after thanksgiving feasting, and on a bitterly cold night where lethargy was the highest form of energy i could muster. however, i had been really curious about this place, and after canceling out on three reservations in a row, it was a very kind thing of them to actually let me in (and not ban me for life). during regular dinner hours, even. i got there, actually found a space on the street to park (otherwise, it's $6 for valet parking--which is somewhat cheap, i think, considering how the valets risk their lives crossing highland all night), and opened a giant barn-like door to a high-ceilinged largish room that was darker than it was out on the street, and about 5 times louder. heaving with people, "exile on main street" on the stere-ereo. loud. we were seated promptly, at a banquette table at the back, and then handed what looked to be a stylized folded street map. oh, wait, that was the menu. it sorted reminded me of a font catalog, someone spent a lot of time on it. too bad they didn't hire that person to paint the dark orange and ochre walls, which seemed hastily done. guessing from the colour underneath the framed mirrors, the space was a little more soothing at some point--maybe nancy silverton influenced?--but now i'm told it looks similar to batali's pizzeria in nyc, otto, all orange-hued and honey wooded. i'm told orange is a colour that stimulates one's appetite. mario batali is very orange. i, er, am pretty sure that batali does not whet my appetite. the menu items do not seem very much like otto, but very much more like nancy silverton's doing (as other blogs and reviews have mentioned), even though the press kit says the food is not only "silvertonian" but "batalian" as well. (ergggggh. i just got the batalian/italian pun. bleah.)
our server asked us if we wanted anything to drink, i think, i couldn't tell as mick jagger was telling me how got his rocks off in a very loud yet muffled way. my companion ordered quartino (a 250ml carafe, maybe a third of a bottle?) of a dry-ish house wine, never found out which one as i couldn't hear him, even though our knees were touching (and even though i was at elbows with people at the tables next to me, i couldn't make out their conversations either).
we ordered the fried squash blossoms, because everybody orders the fried squash blossoms. they were filled with a fresh ricotta, and lightly battered in what i venture to guess is a rice flour/soda water batter, then salted with maldon sea salt. light and delightful. i don't know if this was a dish about flavour as everything seemed quite delicate; i think it was more about the creamy texture of the cheese and the delicate shards of batter that were only the tiniest bit greasy. no sauce to speak of, but also unnecessary. i think it was at this point that i realized there wasn't any salt nor pepper at the tables (my friend merry hates this, that the house presumes the chef's seasoning should suit everyone--what do you think?). also, that while the blossoms weren't cold, they mightn't have seemed a little greasy if they were warmer.
these were followed by a crostini with cannellini (white) beans, caramelized onions, and capezzana olive oil. beans on bread. carby, but packing more flavour than i expected. however, i found myself doing that thing where you start mentally calculating how much this dish actually cost to make, and thinking if you made it at home it might be just as good as the restaurant version.
then the pizza. you know about the crust: woodfired, crisp and bubbly on the edges, still crisp on the outside towards the center, but with a thin, chewy middle. you like it or you don't. i like it. it's not as hard as some of the bread crusts i've encountered in silvertonian breads (i am using that foolish phrase from now on), but there's enough heft to not sag under the weight of the (albeit modest) toppings. pizza not sliced all the way through, so for a minute i had a vision of a pizza tussle where half of it goes flying as i try to sink through the possibly impermeable crust. luckily it was easy going. the gorgonzola dolce, fingerling potato, radicchio and rosemary pizza was exquisite; the sweet creaminess of the gorgonzola matched the sweet creaminess of the roasted potato, the wilted radicchio cut through the fattiness, the fungal tang of the cheese and the pine-iness of the rosemary lent a very earthy, woodsy quality to the 'za. very very nice. if just a touch cold. the white anchovy, tomato and hot chilies (? the menu says olives. there were no olives) pizza wasn't as successful--the white anchovies were marinated in vinegar, which didn't quite blend well with the tomatoes. the spiciness of the chili was dull and one note. spice and acid, not much else. also a touch cold.
by now, i was fully carbed out, but still got dessert. the butterscoth budino (pudding), which many people have already raved about, and a fig crostini with a meyer lemon pannacotta.
the butterscotch pudding was something like a not-to-sweet caramel dairy thing, texturally a cross between a creamy pudding and a mousse. it was topped with a layer of caramel, a sprinkling of maldon sea salt, and whipped cream. i can't say i cared for the pudding part of it--the texture was great, like something i'd want in a hair product--but the flavour was mild (neither buttery nor burnt sugary) and not particularly interesting. the caramel topping and maldon was much better, like a liquid version of a very good candy. very rich, but the blander pudding balanced this out. it was served with pine nut and rosemary butter cookies on the side, which were tasty on their own, but didn't enhance the pudding itself in any way.
the fig crostata was a small free-form pastry with a buttery shortcrust and stewed (?) figs. fig jam. something. like an adult fig newton. the figs were quite good, but very one note--i didn't notice if there was any other flavours in there, of which it could have benefitted, maybe a little citrus or anise? the crust was okay, but again! cold. i would have been happier with a warmer pastry, to contrast against the very good meyer lemon pannacotta on top, which was like a sunny, citrusy greek yoghurt--tart, jiggly, sweet, refreshing.
oh, and coffee, which was really, completely, stone cold.
impression so far: effing loud. is "exile on main street" really restaurant music? orange paint does not whet my appetite. also, overall, while the food was competently prepared, i would have been much happier if the meal was hotter in temperature overall. i'll definitely return, but maybe during the afternoon, or any off hour. see if there's a difference in temperature and acoustics.
641 n. highland (x-street melrose)
los angeles 90036.