This Newport Beach pizzeria takes pizza back to a simpler time.
|Learn from a Pro
The team behind Pizzeria Mozza – Mario Batali,
Nancy Silverton and Joseph Bastianich – have
been honing their culinary skills for years,
leaving a legacy of tips, tricks, advice, and just
plain good recipes in a number of cookbooks
they’ve released over the years. Check out
Pizzeria Mozza’s website for a list of their works.
949.945.1126 :: pizzeriamozza.com
There’s something going on in the world of food that I, for one, am very happy about. I’m talking about the appreciation of previously taken-for-granted foods that have been not only abused, but downright disrespected in past years. Mac and cheese, hamburgers, coffee, tea, beer, and even potato chips, have suffered everything from mass production to misrepresentation, landing them on the list of foods that are to blame for everything from obesity to diabetes to cancer. Of course, there’s some truth to these deleterious effects; when these foods are pumped full of harmful fats and artificial preservatives, flavors and colors, they become the health hazard that befits their reputation. But when they are made with high-quality ingredients and produced in a sustainable way without the use of chemicals or additives, they can be a sensible – and even healthy – part of any diet.
Of course, there’s always the problematic concept of moderation. Just because a hamburger is made with free-range, grass-fed beef, organic tomatoes, homegrown lettuce, and locally made cheese doesn’t mean you can eat four of them (though it is tempting). This is precisely the predicament we faced at Pizzeria Mozza, where it takes the self-discipline of a Shaolin monk to refrain from ordering one of everything on the menu. Because we are not Shaolin monks, and because this was a special occasion – the OC opening of the L.A.-based pizzeria founded by Italian food guru Mario Batali, bread and cheese maestro Nancy Silverton and wine expert Joseph Bastianich – we made a conscious decision to ignore moderation for the evening and celebrate Pizzeria Mozza’s artistry of one of the world’s favorite – and most maligned – dishes: pizza.
Once considered the food of the poor that was sold on street corners in ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean territories, pizza has evolved over the centuries to become a household staple, but not always in a good way. The thin flatbread that was once topped with things like herbs, onion and garlic has since become known as a thick, bready dough piled with mass-produced tomato sauce and sub-par “cheese” that does little for taste, let alone one’s waistline. This is precisely why today’s gentrification of pizza is a welcome and long overdue departure from the Americanization of a previously perfectly fine (if not plain perfect) food, and while criticized by some for its higher prices and alienation of large swaths of the population due to unfamiliar ingredients and foodie-only appeal, it is undoubtedly closer to pizza’s original form – and unlikely to be on any hit lists as the cause for all of our diet-related ailments.
To pay homage to this appreciation for the Return of the Pizza (and Other Delicious Foods), we started with two Italian classics: fried squash blossoms with ricotta and prosciutto di Parma with burrata. The former consisted of young and delicate squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and fried to a golden brown. It may seem simple, but the flavor is anything but boring. The light batter was nicely seasoned, and the ricotta, normally a bland and uninspiring soft cheese, had a detectable herbal note. Likewise, the prosciutto di Parma with burrata, although not inventive, was prepared well, and the cheese was fresh and quality-driven.
Pizza is (obviously) the restaurant’s focal point, and here is where creativity meets authenticity and nails every point in between. From the über classic (margherita pizza with mozzarella, tomato and basil) to the über trendy (“breakfast” pizza with egg, bacon, Yukon gold potato, and Bermuda onion), there’s a lot to choose from, a fact about which we are not complaining. After deliberation befitting a lengthy jury trial, we decided on the pizza bianca with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere (cheese preserved under ash), and sage, in addition to the aforementioned breakfast pizza. The pizza bianca arrived as expected, with golden bubbling crust, a respectable layer of cheese and oven-crisped sage. The mixture of cheeses was a perfect blend for adding just the right amount of texture and tangy flavor, and the sage, its intensely wild aroma toned down significantly due to high oven heat, was the touch that brought the pizza together. But the real star of the show was the crust, which, far from being just a flat slab on which to put toppings, had a personality all its own. It was chewy and crispy with a buttery flavor that owes its perfection to Silverton, the name behind the famous La Brea Bakery, and the baker extraordinaire who spent years testing recipes before opening the original Pizzeria Mozza in L.A. The breakfast pizza owed a little more credit to what was on top of the crust, namely a nicely cooked fried egg.
Lest one think that Pizzeria Mozza is a one-trick pony capable of churning out only pie-shaped bliss, dessert will rid that notion. A butterscotch budino sprinkled with sea salt and served with rosemary-pine nut biscotti was quite simply spectacular, and the gelati and sorbetti, all house-made, ran the flavor gamut from melon to coconut to olive oil, and wore their flavors like very proud badges of honor.
There is pizza, and then there is the pizzeria, a place that takes pride in its product’s lineage and potential. If Pizzeria Mozza is any indication, pizza’s future is in good hands.