The drive from LV to LA started out as a good one – traffic (and myself) moving at a 80+ MPH clip. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the rain plus construction put an stop to progress with a nearly 2 hour ten-mile-per-hour crawl approximately 45 miles east of Los Angeles. Never one to deal well with ruined plans of missed reservations I was miffed, but we called Pizzeria Mozza and told them we’d be late. The girl on the phone was nice and said they could hold the table up to 15 minutes…..unfortunately we’d arrive an hour after that and despite it being a Wednesday at 1:00pm the lineup was out the door and our table was gone…rumor has it the restaurant has been this booked for nearly 3 and a half years now.
Having already paid the $8 Valet charge and with expectations were high given the names involved with the restaurant (Batali, Silverton, and Bastianich) we gave our name at the desk and were told it would be “about an hour” before we could be seated at a table, but if we’d like to sit at the bar all we had to do was grab a seat when others stood up. Cramped, fast paced, busy, and loud we decided to take our chances and left our names only to have two groups of two stand up from the bar moments later. While we’d be seated separately and unable to share as much as we’d hoped, standing and being bumped into for an hour after driving for nearly seven was far less ideal.
Sitting with my sister while my mother and Aunt sat less than ten feet away I’ll note that we couldn’t hear a word of their conversation. For those who claim Otto and Babbo are loud, they’ve not been to Mozza. With The Who, The Stones, and The White Stripes blasting overhead and groups of people clearly loosened up by wine the decibel level was probably on par with that of a Lakers Game. Greeted by our server, a Californian looking young man named Eric B, our waters were filled and we were offered beverages which were declined – we were also given a paper bag of crispy grissini (breadsticks ) similar to those at Otto. I will note that while Eric was quite helpful and conversant with my sister and I during our meal he largely ignored my mother and aunt, failing to give them bread and talking with them far less than us.
Not wanting to over-order as I had large dinner plans for the evening, my sister and I settled on one appetizer and two pizzas. With orders placed we sat and chatted for approximately fifteen minutes before the appetizer arrived - Butternut squash bruschetta with applewood smoked bacon and sautéed bitter greens. Having really enjoyed previous bruschetta at Batali spots (Otto, Babbo, Osteria Mozza) I must say that the portions were significantly sized down while the price was scaled up – but the flavor was outstanding. With crisp and buttery country bread at the base and topped with a puree of squash laced with bitter greens plus a slice of bacon the flavors all worked nicely together with the subdued sweetness of the squash providing an ample foil to the salty bacon and potent greens.
For our pizzas I must admit the variety of options was almost overwhelming – at least 3x the number of choices as Otto. Attempting to sample two different ends of the spectrum our orders would focus on different cheeses and toppings despite our rather similar tastes in esoteric pizza toppings. For my sister, Coach Farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic and bacon would arrive still bubbling. Perhaps the least homogenous pizza I have ever tasted, the toppings to the crust were quite literally strewn on which, when combined with the uneven yet flawlessly crisp and buttery crust led to a different taste experience with each bite. Occasionally bracingly salty, sometimes over the top with onion or garlic, sometimes crisp, sometimes soft and creamy – certainly not your average pie, but one that justifies the considerable hype.
For my selection I opted for the Egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio & bagna cuada. Again arriving in heterogeneous beauty with a crust that was seconds short of burned (for the better as it was crisp and yeasty) while I didn’t find this pizza to be quite as revelatory as my sister’s, it was another damned fine example. With fatty jowl bacon tasting briny and supple and the sauce reminiscent of a garlic cream the addition of the creamy and succulent egg was extravagant but excellent. Using the mildly bitter greenery to add some levity to the otherwise heavy flavors my only complaint about the dish would be the fact that the crust at the very center, where the egg was, seemed undercooked and a bit limp. Perhaps adding the egg at a different state of cooking would prevent this, or perhaps it was simply an effect of where my pizza was located in the oven.
Having heard nothing but brilliance of Pizzeria Mozza’s dessert program (and having seen the recipe for my object of desire) we proceeded to dessert which would arrive quite rapidly, perhaps only ten minutes after ordering. For my sister the decision was the coconut gelato pie with cookie crumb crust and gianduja chocolate sauce. Tasty and dense the ice cream pie was actually surprisingly light bite-for-bite and while I can’t say I fancy coconut under most circumstances, the way the mild gelato interacted with the slightly bitter dark chocolate sauce was quite nice.
For my selection the choice was obvious - the infamous budino which is perhaps the most famous dessert in Los Angeles today. Titled Butterscotch budino, Maldon sea salt with rosemary pine nut cookies the pudding was everything it has been rumored to be, with one caveat – it isn’t the best budino I’ve ever had. A complex interplay of sweet and savory with an overpowering and creamy pudding at it’s base, the addition of a top layer of rum sauce and the use of rosemary and sea salt acted to mellow the intensity of the butterscotch. Dunking the cookies for added texture and crunch the dessert was another excellent balance, albeit less complex than the other menu options. A great taste, but certainly not the “dessert of the year” budino that I tasted at Marc Vetri’s Philadelphia Osteria…I will admit, however, that I love having the recipes for both.
While I cannot comment on my aunt’s Margherita or mom’s Funghi misti pizza they both seemed rather pleased with their choices and both raved the budino that they shared. At $38 a person (with tax/tip and no drinks) for lunch Pizzeria Mozza most certainly cannot be considered a “deal” but the product they are producing is quite excellent. Having not experienced much of the Los Angeles pizza scene I really can’t say if it is “the best” in town, but having had other famous pizza’s elsewhere I have to say it certainly isn’t “the best” I’ve had – perhaps not even in the top ten, and with the advent of Mozza2Go I really can’t see the sense in booking a pizza date a month in advance or waiting over an hour as a walk-in.
Leaving Mozza we made the trek through the rain to get checked in to our hotel, unpack our bags, and get settled in. With traffic slowed by the weather the decision was made to head for Santa Monica – the location of dinner for the evening – early and with luck I actually arrived at the Pacific Ocean nearly two hours before dinner. Shopping and exploring as best as I could in the stormy weather I noted a location on the GPS I’d intended to visit on my last trip to LA – Huckleberry Café. Remembering the epic lines from my previous visit and realizing the store would be closing in approximately 45 minutes I made my way inside to see what, if anything, was fresh.
Greeted first by a friendly young man and then by a sleepy looking woman I noticed that although the store was soon to close for the evening, the ovens were still running and the baked goods were still plentiful. Explaining to me that they were open later than the stated hours for the holidays I inquired as to what was fresh and was told everything had been baked since noon…at that point I simply asked what was best and I was given a list of nearly a dozen things.
Knowing I had a big dinner ahead and that samples would be going home with me for the ladies to sample I decided to go with the three things that sounded best and after paying the modest tab each was wrapped or placed in plastic and bagged to go. Opened for tasting and then re-wrapped and placed in the car I will note that each of the items remained delicious until the next morning, though one (expectedly) did liquefy modestly while sitting in the car.
Beginning first with perhaps Huckleberry’s most famous item – the maple bacon biscuit – my first flavor of Huckleberry was an excellent one. With the taste was every bit as good as expected the fresh, buttery biscuit was almost scone-like in texture and absolutely stuffed with Niman Ranch bacon and swirls of 100% maple syrup. Good the day of but even better the morning after with a pat of butter in the microwave I’d say that although simple, the biscuit is every bit worth the praise it has received.
The second taste would be better than the first, largely because of my love of the namesake cookie. Titled “Snickerdoodle Muffin,” the name itself should give you an idea of what the overall taste sensation was, but to describe the texture is best described as something between a cream cheese coffee cake and a traditional cinnamon sugar doughnut. Light and airy with a “fried” crispness on the exterior yet fluffy and full of texture within, loaded with cinnamon and butter…..delicious.
The final item was the salted caramel – pricey at $2.50 but quite large the flavors were spot on. Melting only a little while sitting in the car the thick and supremely sweet caramel was matched nicely by the buttery shortbread crust and the addition of a shake of coarse salt added savoriness, texture, and a lingering palate sensation that was every bit as impressive as Mozza’s budino. Sampling only a bite of this before giving the rest to my aunt she actually thought the caramel better than the budino, or the caramels from Robuchon two nights earlier.
Having only gotten a quick sample of what Huckleberry has to offer on this visit the small café has jumped to the top of my places to check out breakfast on my next visit to Los Angeles – even if the breakfast menu changes between now and then and they eliminate the croquet and the duck hash I can be assured that there are at least a half dozen more bakery items I need to check out.