Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pizzeria Mozza: How to woo an out of towner (and a seasoned LA veteran)

"I hesitate to tell you this..." She wrote during our habitual morning gchat session on April 13th. "But I want to so that I can start planning."

My stomach lurched. Was something wrong? My mind began palpitating with worst case scenarios that could have befallen Ashley, my best friend from college.

Did she have the swine flu? Was she about to go into quarantine? Did she need to give up all her earthly possessions including her Anthropologie wardrobe?

"You are making me nervous..." I typed back.

A seemingly insurmountable period of time (2.1 seconds) lapsed before she responded.

"There's a chance I'm going to consider UCLA for grad school and might need to plan a trip to LA... in a week and a half."

"AHHH!" I typed, as I already began visualizing our runs together on the Santa Monica bike path, weekend brunch dates at the Griddle Cafe and 26 Beach, and happy hour sessions on the Westwide.

"I might not go there." She reminded me, but it was too late. My fantasy had reached the French toast after church stage -- our favorite ritual in college.

With less than two weeks before her visit, and only two days to convince her that UCLA and LA are way cooler than Boston University and Boston, I set about planning the best dining itinerary possible to showcase the smoggy city. Dinner on Friday night was a given. I would take her to my favorite LA restaurant, Nancy Silverton's famed Pizzeria Mozza -- with or without reservations.

We arrived at 7:15 pm amidst a flurry of activity at the door. While I've never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a seat at the bar, I knew what this meant -- we were in for a long haul. Forty-five minutes of server-ducking and lively conversation with a charming couple who did their best to convince Ashley that LA is awesome, we were seated in a cozy corner of the regular bar.

"It's been a while." Said Sean, Mozza's long-haired, beloved bartender, as he sidled up to take our order for wine.

I screwed my face up in suspicion. He'd served me nearly seven months ago -- he couldn't possibly remember me! This was LA for goodness sakes! Ordinary people without an IMDB resume don't receive undue attention at the hottest restaurants in town.

Do they?

I smiled and agreed that it had been a while, and asked Sean if he could recommend a wine similar to the Barbera d'Asti - my usual selection. He offered me a taste of another wine from the quartino list, but I ultimately opted for my tried and true Barbera.

He nodded at my selection. "I know how much you like it." He said with a wink, as he poured out the lustrous full-bodied Italian wine for us.

My face turned a fierce shade of red.

Did he really?

After I'd recovered from his flattery, and Ashley and I had a few moments to peruse the menu, Sean came back to take down our order of the crispy goat cheese with Umbrian lentils to start, and the Coach farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions & bacon; and ramps, pancetta, English peas and panna pies to follow.

He bristled at my mention of the goat cheese pie, his lips swiveling about his face in displeasure. "I know you like the goat cheese one, but those two pizzas are really similar. Don't you want to try another one? The burricotta with peperonata, olive taggiasche and oregano is really good..."

I turned to Ashley with a pained face. She knows how much I hate olives.

"I think it's okay if they're similar," she said, leaping to my rescue. "Since we know we like those flavors, why not stick with what we like?"

He shrugged his shoulders in defeat, and I felt oddly sad that we'd disappointed him -- the man who remembered both me and my food and drink preferences. Maybe we should have tried something different, I thought. I'd always wanted to taste the mushroom one...

The arrival of the crispy goat cheese and Umbrian lentils immediately wiped away the burn of embarrassment in my cheeks. While I have sworn allegiance to Nancy's Chopped Salad and the fried squash blossoms with ricotta in the past, I was floored by how good these lentils were. The combination of the sweet stewed lentils, crispy goat cheese and peppery Arugula garnish was nothing short of exquisite. As I scraped the stray kernals from the serving spoon, I knew this would be an appetizer that would embarrass me in front of Sean again.

Ramps, pancetta, English peas and panna pie

Coach farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions & bacon pie

Our pizzas were up next, and as I watched Ashley take her first bite of the ramps, pancetta, English peas and panna pie, I felt overwhelmed with happiness that I could share the Pizzeria Mozza experience with her. Even though I've dined there half a dozen times now, it continues to woo me as much as it did on my first visit, and it was a pleasure to see her be wooed by my favorite eatery as well.

After devouring both pizzas, Sean convinced us that an order of the banana gelato pie with chocolate sauce and candied hazelnuts would be the appropriate end to our meal. Since we didn't want to embarrass ourselves by neglecting to follow his prescient advice yet again, we begrudgingly acquiesed.

The grown up ice cream sundae was everything two sweet-toothed gals could hope for. Pizzeria Mozza (and Sean) had done it again.

Well, maybe.

The verdict's out until Ashley decides whether to go to grad school at UCLA.


Esi said...

Of course LA is the place to be! I am DYING to try ramps. My small FM doesn't have them and I can't make it to the other one. Everything you had looks great. Dare I say, the bartender was flirtatious?

The Duo Dishes said...

Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza are just so good. The guanciale, egg and radicchio is amazing. Doesn't hurt to have someone remember how you like things whenever you head to an eatery!

Jenn said...

Those pizzas looks so good. I love the thick crusts on them. yum yum!! That dessert is also to die for. (sweet tooth activating)

Mike T. said...

I went to college in Boston and I would not hesitate to say LA is way cooler. You can quote me on that.

Heather said...

aww. i hope your friend moves there! friends to have brunch dates with are the best :)

Diana said...

Esi - Haha, I don't think flirtatious! He was just being a really great server. :) I loooved the ramps -- I'm dying to try something with them now too! Dare I say that they may be the new leek?

Chrystal & Amir - I think I may have to try that pizza the next time I'm there! Now that I've come around to eating runny yolks and all! ;)

Jenn - The crust is amazing - definitely not something to leave on the plate.

Mike - Haha - I'm going to show her that comment!

Heather - Me too! I think you should consider a move also... just saying! ;)

Gastronomer said...

Diana - You have such a pleasant storytelling voice. Mozza rulez.

Kirby! said...

Pizzeria Mozza is probably the best place you could take a guest when you're trying to convince them to move to L.A...... good call!!