From the Slice inbox: "Waiting for your review of Mozza and Antica. Please get to it soon. Thanks. —Pizzafreak" OK. Here you go, Pizzafreak. My blathering about "Pizza Madness 2009" continues ... —The Mgmt.
Until I touched down at LAX on Thursday, October 29, most of my knowledge of Los Angeles came from CHiPs, The Rockford Files, the Terminator franchise, and The Closer. I had a feeling I'd be in for a shock.
It came pretty early. On the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and North Crescent (straight-up 90210 territory), I saw both a Bentley Continental ragtop and a Lamborghini Murcielago filling up at a gas station. I was waiting for a bus. Instant loser.
Well, at the bus I boarded was up-to-date, clean, and cheap ($1.25 was the lowest fare I'd seen this whole trip). And it dropped me at the corner of Santa Monica and North Highland 20 minutes later. From there, it was only a short walk to Pizzeria Mozza.
This was lunch, though it came at 3 p.m., which was about the best reservation for three I could get a single day in advance. I was meeting Slice West Coast contributor L.A. Pizza Maven and AHT L.A. burger dude Damon Gambuto. Some quick impressions of Mozza and Antica Pizzeria, after the jump.
I knew Mozza was popular, but the place was still packed at 3 p.m. Though, as LAPM pointed out, you can usually walk in solo around lunchtime and get a seat at the bar. The empty seats there bore out this bit of wisdom.
We ordered three pies: a Margherita ($13); the Burricotta with Peperonata, Olive Taggiasche, and Oregano ($15); and the Fennel Sausage, Panna, Red Onion, and Scallion ($15; pictured above).
I had read plenty about Mozza—both rapturous praise and crazy dismissals—and figured I was prepared for it. Especially given the fact that I had now eaten at some of the best and reputedly best pizzerias in the West. Plus, after trying so many supposedly great pizzerias that people have gushed about, you start to weigh the raves differently and view them with more skepticism. I figured the quality of the pies at Mozza would be somewhere in the middle, pushing toward very good.
They were GREAT. The burricotta pie (burrata and ricotta cheeses mixed) was incredibly creamy. The sausage pie was fantastic, the meat was unlike any I'd had on this trip or before it—the typical fennel seed flavor was absent, in its place a slightly sagey, almost funky flavor. The Margherita was good but probably the least of my favorites of what I had. Still, it and the other two pies benefited enormously from the insane crust.
As others have said, it's more like sauce and toppings strewn across really good bread. I mean, even with the crappy photo above, you can see how INSANE that end crust (aka, the cornicione) is. It's crazy puffy, with various size bubbles and stretching in the hole structure, or crumb. With all the tangy, yeasty flavor you'd expect from a good bread.
My only complaint would be that the balance of the pies are weighted heavily in favor of the crust element. When there is a sauce on the pie, it's difficult to discern.
Antica Pizzeria in Marina del Rey is a bit deceiving. I mean, it's on the second floor of a shopping mall (who finds good pizza in a shopping mall‽), but once inside, it's like a little piece of Italy (or what I'd imagine Italy to be, since I've yet to travel there).
So, yeah, who does find good pizza in a shopping mall? You, for one, if you find yourself there.
Very good pizza, but not amazingly mind-blowing. Before Pizzeria Mozza opened, seems like a lot of L.A.–based food blogs pegged Antica as the only pizza game in town. It's a VPN-certified pizzeria. In fact, Peppe Miele is the president of the American chapter of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Aspiring VPN pizzerias must submit an application to Miele for certification, and Antica offers training sessions for Neapolitan-leaning pizza-makers.
I visited Antica with L.A. Pizza Maven, who I'm grateful to for driving me around after my abortive attempt at using public transit in the City of Angels. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)
I'm also grateful to LAPM for this tip at Antica: Order your pies well-done there. The pizzas we got—a half Margherita–half sausage ($13.50) and a Pizza Siciliana (eggplant, smoked mozzarella, basil, and chopped tomato; $13.50).
The Margherita crust here was as good as you'd want. Chewy, crisp enough to stand up to the sauce and cheese — likely from the extra time in the oven — and yeasty. And if I hadn't come from Pizzeria Mozza earlier in the day, I'd likely be more impressed with it than I was.
The eggplant with smoked mozzarella was interesting and would probably have been more pleasing had I not been full on Mozza and the Antica Margherita. It's a rich pie and is probably best for sharing.
And of, course, there's the upskirt. Not too bad lookin', is it?
Remember how I mentioned all those TV shows earlier? Well, the one thing they didn't prepare me for is HOW VAST L.A. IS. Sure, I knew that everyone drove there and that they spent vast amounts of time in their cars, but I just sort of assumed that that was because of gridlock. But, hell, even without traffic and driving at pretty fast clip down Santa Monica and I-405, it still took for-freaking-ever to get from Beverly Hills to Marina del Rey.
So I began to appreciate L.A. Pizza Maven's love of Antica. He lives nearby and frequents often. Plus, he said, for many years, it was the best thing going in L.A. pizzawise and sated his cravings on many a night and helped him fend off homesickness.
It's hard not to like a place when you've seen it through the eyes of a friend. So, even though the pies weren't in the same league as Mozza's, I did enjoy Antica.