Since the day it opened in Los Angeles, Pizzeria Mozza has been a hot ticket with long lines out the door.
When word got out that another location was opening in Newport Beach, foodies jumped for joy.
The brilliant collaboration between two famous chefs, Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, has resulted in fare that changes the definition of a pizzeria. It also happens to be served in a very attractive environment for dining.
The high-ceilinged room features a vast brick, wood-burning oven at one end with an eat-in bar. Across the room, another bar faces a dramatic wall of wine bottles. In addition to the main room there's a smaller, cozier room as well as a pleasant little outdoor dining patio.
Mozza's immediate popularity means that you should book well in advance, although there is walk-in seating available at both the pizza bar and the wine bar, serving the full menu.
The main focus is clearly pizza, but there are a dozen interesting antipasti, a selection of "carne" (charcuterie), bruschetta, panini, salads and a daily entrée. The same menu is served all day.
While we chomped on the first-rate, exceptionally crunchy breadsticks (we were happy that we didn't wear dentures), we mused on the selection of wines by the quartino as no wine is available by the glass. A quartino is about 1½ glasses, or a third of a bottle.
Our very informative waiter, Kevin, made our experience even more pleasurable with recommendations and interesting tidbits. He said the secret of the exceptionally light crispy batter on the fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella was rice flour and sparkling water.
We found their flavor a little too subtle but when we requested salt and red pepper flakes, it perked them right up. Of course, it helped that the salt was fleur de sel and the crushed red pepper was exceptionally fresh.
The marinated baby peppers with tuna turned out to be sweet orange peppers stuffed with a lemony tuna salad. We were intrigued by which brand of tuna they could possibly have used that would be cubed, white, moist and delicious.
Kevin filled us in. The fish is fresh albacore poached in olive oil and the salad dressing is a non-garlicky aioli with capers and a touch of anchovy. It was superb! The albacore also stars in one of their panini.
Mussels can be unpredictable. Any given batch of good mussels can have some losers. Surprisingly, the ones we had were 50/50. The good ones were plump, sweet and tender and the others chewy and briny.
Great slices of toasted bread were provided for soaking up the juices. The Calabrese sauce would have been perfect if the juices from all the mussels had been equally wonderful.
Once you have taken your first bite of Mozza's pizza, you will immediately understand what all the fuss is about. With puffy, lightly charred edges and a thin but substantial bottom, the crust's flavor easily stands on its own.
Batali's unique approach to pizza making includes adding honey and wine to the dough, pan-cooking it on a griddle on both sides, then adding toppings and finishing it in the pizza oven until it blisters. His method makes for an extra flavorful, crispy crust. It's hands down the best crust we've ever tasted.
We ordered the funghi misti, studded with an abundance of earthy portabellos, shiitakes and jumbo white mushrooms, all languishing on a molten mixture of taleggio and fontina, scented with thyme. Just delicious!
Butterscotch budino is a satiny, smooth, rich pudding slathered with a layer of sweet caramel, sprinkled with accents of flaky sea salt and, gilding the lily, whipped cream.
We welcome Mozza, a scrumptious addition to the local dining scene!
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.