Today was our second visit to Pizzeria Mozza – an auspicious occasion, visiting on the day Osteria Mozza was to open. The customary crowd was gathered by the door, waiting for seats at the bar; at 1:00 P.M., the hostess was telling them the wait would be about a half-hour. We waited no more than five minutes for our table to be ready, and we were seated. One of my friends had gone with me the first time, while one diner had never been to Pizzeria Mozza before. She had certainly heard plenty about it from us, though. (The Healthy Eater was unable to attend today. All her salads weren't enough to keep her back from going out, and, as Mozza doesn't currently feature a burrata-and-Vicodin pizza, she was forced to bow out.)
We were promptly handed menus and advised on the wine; we chose the Rose di Settembre rosé, a nice crisp compromise between red and white that was fruity and crisp and great on this warm summer day. At just $26 for a bottle, it was a pretty good bargain, too. Our first antipasto was the spicy shrimp with melon, which I’d seen being brought out to many tables while we waited. (This one, like the fried potatoes also on today’s antipasti list, is not on the online menu.) Seasoned with red pepper, red onions, and citrus juice and garnished with fresh mint, this was nicely spicy, not enough to burn the mouth but with nice kick, and the cantaloupe complimented the shrimp wonderfully. It was a bit like Italian ceviche. The next item to arrive was the bruschette of chicken liver, capers, and guanciale – cured pork jowl. The guanciale looked and tasted like small pieces of delicate bacon. The texture of chicken livers normally bothers me; I’m not a chicken liver fan at all. The grainy quality was not present, but the livers were not turned to paste, either. There was a great sharp kick of lemon, too. This was perhaps the best item we ate the entire meal. (When a peel of the same bruschette was placed on the table of a googly-eyed pair on a midday date, the were too absorbed in each other to notice its arrival. I asked my fellow diners if they would notice if quickly slipped it off their table and onto ours.) The fried squash blossoms followed, and they paled in comparison. There was nothing exactly bad about them: the batter was delicate, and the ricotta filling was rich and creamy. One friend described them as “really fancy jalapeño poppers,” and I’m not sure I don’t disagree with her. The squash blossoms are great for those who really love the richness of ricotta, but I’m not sure I would consider them indispensable to the Mozza experience.
A little stretch of time passed between of first courses and when our pizzas arrived. By that time, our bottle of wine had been emptied, and we were feeling loose and chatty. Our waiter made sure to come by and give us the status of our pizzas right before we’d begin to start wondering about them. Unlike last time, when there were just two servers period, this time, there were more hands to bring orders to the tables today. Of course, two of us had polished off our wine by the time the pizza had arrived, so we ordered glasses of lemonade. At four dollars a glass, I’m inclined to think it’s a bit overpriced, but it is very excellent lemonade, perfectly balanced between tart and sweet, not too watery, not too concentrated. It’s great stuff, and, if one is not inclined to drink wine, the lemonade is a great way to go at Pizzeria Mozza.
The first pizza to arrive was the vaunted Bianco, a blend of fontina, mozzarella, and sottocenere, with fresh sage leaves. Fantastic. I would never imagine such a simple blend of cheese, herb leaves, and bread could be so complex. The crust was in fine form today, simultaneously crisp and chewy. It’s like no pizza crust anywhere else. The sage leaves look fresh, but, in the mouth, they dissolve like herbal sugar. This really is a great combination. Halfway into our slices, the second pizza – the salami, wild spinach, and cacio di Roma pizza – landed on the table. Our most conventional pizza, this was very good. I felt the strong flavor of the wild spinach tended to drown out the salami, but it was the top pick of another diner. The third pizza was one not on the online menu, a combination of speck, burrata, and olive tapenade. As with the lardo pizza, the crust was baked blind and topped with thinly shaved speck and large orbs of burrata dotted with tapenade once out of the oven. The burrata never got close to melting, though the speck did wilt a bit. (For all of us, the ball of burrata flopped off the slice, too.) This was good enough – like a very chic deconstructed ham sandwich – but it was not a superstar pizza in my opinion. But when the three of had three slices left over, the Mozza newbie got first choice, and she chose the speck pizza. (I was just glad to get my first choice, the Bianco.)
One of my friends was antsy to get back to the office – she just moved into a different position, and this is almost certainly her last lunch at Mozza as clockwatchers have no business lunching here – but we couldn’t leave without dessert. I was tempted to get another butterscotch budino for the friend who had never been before (and was in the restroom when the dessert menu arrived), but we got the soffiata (Italian profiteroles) with pistachio gelato. The soffiata were filled with the gelato and topped with another small scoop and a drizzle of syrup, and they were surrounded by some sort of small fruits – Grapes? Tiny cherries? Giant currants? – in their syrup. I won’t pretend it was the best dessert ever, but it was a good way to end a fun meal, and a little fight did erupt over the top scoop of gelato. Unfortunately for the clockwatcher, she was so intent one filling out the comment card – I know! Mozza hands out comment cards just like the average Denny's! – so she was only left with half of one profiterole. Hey, you snooze, you lose at Mozza.
Nancy Silverton was in attendance at lunch today, roaming the tables and checking orders as they went out. The room was buzzing, and that happy atmosphere was still in effect. This visit did seem a bit more relaxed than the last time, but maybe that’s just because it was a laid-back Friday. Also, without a second bottle and the excessive amount of desserts, the price tag after tax and tip was a fairly moderate $43 per person. (And we still bordered on overordering.) No matter how good Osteria Mozza is, I definitely plan on keeping Pizzeria Mozza in the regular rotation.
On a side note, I peeked inside the Osteria's open side door as we waited for the valet. There was a big red meat slice, and all the chairs were up. Nancy had migrated from the Pizzeria to the Osteria and was sitting with some of the crew at the bar. I mentioned to the valet guy about wanting to get a peek at the Osteria menu before my reservation, and he said he'd like to see it, too. Apparently even people who stand outside the Osteria all day long haven't even seen the menu!