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Mozza Mêlée/Terroni to the Rescue

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Mozza Mêlée/Terroni to the Rescue

Woolsey | Mar 20, 2008 09:32 AM

So another yet meal at Pizzeria Mozza. I was having dinner with two friends last Saturday before heading out for drinks with more friends in Koreatown for to celebrate my birthday. For a 6:15 reservation, the were very late, but we headed over to Osteria Mozza and had some drinks. (Their Ben Fatto cocktail is excellent, by the way. After no waiters came to take an order, I started grabbing anyone who passed, and they were invariably in a suit. Nevertheless, they were completely obliging. Service was very good if a bit harried.)

Finally our table was ready. As I had dreaded, we were placed on the back banquette - a party of three on tables really only suited for two. We squeezed in (literally), and I settled in for the meal. The smallest friend took the chair as she said she used the restroom more than the two guys, so we were relegated to the banquette. We began looking at the menu when I noticed something was going on. (My first sign was that my friend opposite was so distracted he menu began to get singed by the candle in the center of the table. I pulled it up right before it caught fire.)

Waitstaff is soon pulled over. Nasty glances are exchanged between my friend and the adjoining table. Management comes over and talks to both tables. I am completely and utterly confused. All I can tell is, my friend looks like she is doing everything in her power not to massacre the table beside us with her iced tea spoon, and the people right beside me are having to do the same, masking their utter contempt for us with small talk about the Brussels sprouts. "Do you want to go?," I ask. "No, it's fine," is the reply. "No, let's go. It's cool. Come on." And we go. The waitstaff look shellshocked. I hand one waitress five dollars for the iced tea that sits unconsumed on our table. I cheerily march my troupe from the rear of Pizzeria Mozza out the door as a pretty blond waitress says, "I'm so sorry." (At this point, I still have no idea why. My best guess is that my friend across from me knows the woman to my left from some previous encounter.)

My friends exit, but the hostess - one I've never met before, perhaps because I've never eaten at the Pizzeria on a Saturday night before - tries to console me, especially after learning it was a birthday dinner. She offers to give us food to go, or a table in an hour (impossible, due to later commitments), and then a hug. (I accepted the hug. She was sweet.)

Apparently the cause of the kerfuffle was the woman directly to my left made some nasty comment to her dining companion to the effect of, "I can't believe this. They have us packed in here like sardines. This dude's ass" -- that would be my ass -- "is on my purse." The air of ungraciousness and entitlement with which it was expressed just completely incensed my friend. I didn't hear it - hey, it's loud in there - so it didn't bother me. I could see some really nasty faces on both diners next to us, though, when I finally started to look around. Had I heard the remark, I'd have just brushed it off or maybe thrown her a dirty look. Had my friend told me in the restaurant and let me known it really bothered her, I'd probably just turned, said something like, "You don't like me ass on your purse? Would you rather have my crotch on it?," and be done. But whatever. It sucked that three people were shoved onto a two-person table, but welcome to trendy dining in L.A.. I can handle a disgruntled princess whose tiara has gotten bent shoved beside me during a meal, but apparently my friend could not.

The manager, Alex, came out as we waited at the valet. He handed me a card with his direct line and e-mail written on it, asking me to call when I was going to come back so he could take care of us of something akin to that. How he would take care of me was unsaid, and I didn't want to ask so as to seem like I was asking for a freebie. He said that he wished the other customers we the ones walking out and not us and that the business of people who come more than just on Saturday nights was important to them. That was nice of him. He doesn't have to worry about my returning to Pizzeria Mozza. My friends, on the other hand, well...

I plan to write the manager an e-mail today, actually, not to get anything but to thank him for how he handled the matter. I think my friend was a bit sensitive, but some people are like that, and I appreciate his and his staff's being so courteous to us and want to tell him so.

Anyway, we needed to find an alternative venue. On a Saturday night. In Mid-City. With no reservation. And be done by 9:00-ish to get to Koreatown. In Christmastime, after lunch at Pizzeria Mozza, my parents decided they had had their fill of Mozza. The food was great, but they hated the noise, the crowd, and the uncomfortable chairs, and so I had to cancel the reservation for Osteria Mozza I'd made the following night. On Sunday night during the holidays, I had to find a place for dinner. I got a Comme Ça reservation - they don't want French food. I got a Katsuya reservation - Mom hates Japanese. Lucques was completely booked. And so on, and so forth. If they'd like it, it was booked. If it was available, they didn't want to go there. Finally, I said, "We'll go to this new restaurant that doesn't even take reservations, Terroni." And so again, Terroni came to my rescue.

We had a booth in about five minutes of our arrival at Terroni on a Saturday night. My friends we instantly charmed by the place. The fact that "Down By Law" was playing on the high wall really amused the two film buffs, too. Service was attentive but light. ("I think she's really Italian!," one remarked.) I picked the lasagna and the a grilled cheese with speck from the specials menu; we also had salad with (canned) tuna, arugula, and such. Of the two pizzas, one was the C't Mang, with gorgonzola, pears, honey, walnuts, and speck - I do really enjoy that one, as it's my second time having it - and a tomato, proscuitto, arugula, and mozzarella one whose name escapes me. (Most of the names of the food at Terroni escapes me.) The lasagna was good but laughably tiny for $18 - about three inches square. (In volume, it's maybe half of Pizzeria Mozza's version, though it has the same appealingly fluffy quality.) As I make my way through Terroni's desserts, I am more and more convinced that they are, to a fault, consistently forgettable. The Nutella semifreddo was like a stone, and the tartuffo was just bland ice cream. Not gelato, just ice cream. I do like the cocktails and selections of amari, though. To me, Terroni is a nice, slightly overpriced Italian diner that straddles the terrain between Miceli's and Mozza. The shortcuts in the cooking - canned tuna and too frozen desserts, I'm looking at you - are obvious, but it's not microwaved or out of a jar, at least.

Everyone with whom I've gone to Terroni has loved it, though. In fact, my parents enjoyed Terroni more than Pizzeria Mozza - not for the food, necessarily, but for the relaxed atmosphere (and for the little gizmo that grates the parmesan cheese). My friend who had to leave Mozza Saturday also said, "Would you be offended if I said I liked [Terroni] way more than [Pizzeria Mozza]?" I said, "Of course not." I realized the Terroni fits her more laid-back, hipster sensibilities better. (In fact, she even ran into one of her friends waiting for a table as we came into the restaurant. It's definitely her kind of place.)

It was good to see that the Mozza staff handled things well. I was clueless as to what was happening until after the fact, and my friend, well, she is who she is, and they did their best to accommodate her. It is sad that some people have to behave the way they do (in both parties), but the staff was very professional and gracious, which is why I keep going back. And while Terroni is not what I personally daydream about when I think of great Italian food, it has often come in as a lifesaver when I have needed a restaurant that is open late or does not need reservations and is cool with decent food, and no dining companion I have taken there has not had a great time (and wanted to return). For that fact, I am very glad to have Terroni around.

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