When A. told me that he was using the money from his prestigious Founder's award at work to go with his team to a Mangiare In Famiglia at Mozza, I thought he was super-cool. When he explained that spouses, including me, would not be attending, I turned a vile color of green.
I was ugly inside.
I'm not sure I have ever felt so consumed by envy. I tried to keep most of the feeling bottled up inside, because I was on the verge of a toddler-style tantrum about the whole thing. Very very unattractive.
I dropped hints for weeks and hoped that somehow, someone would drop out at the last moment. I went so far as to book our babysitter for the evening, in the off chance that things went my way.
I think I would have been jealous, even if I hadn't been to Mozza's five-course Mangiare In Famiglia featuring Heritage USA pork. But I had, and that knowledge and experience fed my longing.
I shaved my legs and plucked my eyebrows on the Friday afternoon, knowing full well that I wasn't going, but still clinging to a tiny shred of hope. At about 4:30 p.m. I picked up my C.S.A. vegetables with Fe., leaving my purse in the car.
When we hopped back in, I grabbed my phone and noticed that I had missed two calls, and had messages from both A. and our good friend and A.'s co-worker, Joseph.
I am not exaggerating when I say my heart started racing. I was giddy before I was even told that one sorry soul had dropped out at the last minute.
I was in!
At 7:30 p.m. we were walking into the Scuola di Pizza at Mozza looking at the welcoming spread before us. Chad Colby and Nancy Silverton know how to whet your appetite for a feast. There was a generosity to the prelude of the evening that was exceptionally inviting and indicative of what lay ahead.
Spread out on the lengthy table that seats about 22, were platters layered with pink curls of prosciutto. House-made grissini were lying in stacks within everyone's reach. Not far away was a little pot of perfumey truffle butter. There were also plates of long red peppers cloaked in green -- a salsa verde of sorts (my memory is already messing with me here).
Mere moments passed and glasses of Prosecco were being passed and then came the offer of the exquisite foccacia. I've never experience foccacia like this anywhere else -- perfection! Right out of the wood-burning oven, it was crispy and chewy and oily in precisely the way you would want.
Tragedy struck when there was no more to go around.
At the same time, I really had learned my lesson last time. The trick with these meals is pacing yourself. And though the temptation is great to gorge on every last piece of prosciutto that does not make it a good idea. We hadn't even started the first of the five courses from the Veneto region.
While the welcome food-wise was superb, I must say that the warmth of the welcome from the staff this time around didn't seem as enthusiastic or engaged. Nancy Silverton did not greet us at all and Chad Colby spoke with us briefly much later in the meal.
Perhaps the excitement of a new endeavor was still in place during our first family dining experience at Mozza. This time the service seemed sloppier and the heartfelt welcome was absent. It seemed more like a professional operation and less like an intimate party that we had luckily been invited to. Nothing grave -- just a small observation on my part and A.'s.
I hadn't read about the Veneto dinner in advance, so the menu was a complete surprise. To my delight and everyone else's at the table the first course was Fritti Misti - gamberi, triglia rossa e calamari. For those of you not fluent in Italian, that was large prawns (head on!), rouget or red mullet and well, calamari.
Fritti Misti is a pretty easy sell. Most folks get excited about good fried food. This was outstanding fried food. All of it was cooked perfectly. The rouget was gorgeous -- almost as soft and creamy as a panna cotta. The batter that coated all the sea creatures was crisp and light. I'd guess beer or seltzer.
The accompanying garlicky aioli was extra runny and heavy on the citrus, absolutely exactly how I prefer it for this application. I was very nearly ladling it onto my plate.
The next course was Risotti -- porcini, mollusch, monello di mare. If you are a big fan of risotto, the porcini, clam, and sea urchin risotti would likely drive you wild.
I'm not entirely certain, if it was me or the risotti, but I was not over the moon for this course. I may just not be that turned on by risotto. Listening to the conversation at the table, people had very differing takes on all three. Some felt the clams were strong. Some felt the porcini was perfect, others said too strong and salty. Everyone's taste buds seemed to be having a different experience.
I felt the flavors were quite good. The sea urchin was very subtle, sweet and ever so slightly metallic. I liked the lemony clams. The porcini was assertive, but satisfying for it. I heard some comments about saltiness. That might have been thanks to the busy little risotto taster who was tossing in salt by the handful.
Reflecting on that course, the rice seemed slightly too al dente to me. I'm not Italian, and I'm no risotto expert, so maybe I'm off the mark. Honestly, I could have easily done without the risotti.
In many ways, I loved the Polenta al Anitra Ragu, but it was't perfect either. A rich, salty duck ragu with olives and chanterelles can be hugely satisfying. Unfortunately, this ragu was too one dimensional. I was dying for a gremolata of some sort, or just more chopped parsley (the parsley that was present helped a lot) and a healthy dose of lemon zest. The ragu was begging for a hit of acid or something else bright to bring it to life.
There were comments about the dish not satisfying texturally -- too much soft on soft. I disagree. On a brisk evening, ragu over polenta is comforting like nothing else. I can't imagine this being served on rice, although wide slippery ribbons of pasta, perhaps.
The Fegato di Vitello alla Veniziana was challenging for many. People just don't eat veal liver as much as they used to. Although the offal craze that is currently under way may be starting to change that.
There were comments at the table about liver being remarkable due to it's possessing the texture of pre-chewed food. I don't know about that.
I haven't had calf's liver or veal liver in a long time. I liked the mildly bitter flavor and appreciated the earthiness of the mushroom accompaniment. I'll confess that I did fatigue of the entire dish rather quickly. Again, I can't say for certain if this had to do with preparation, my personal taste, or both.
Our fourth course was the Bolliti Misti -- a mixed boil that included tongue, chicken, brisket, and the sausage called cotechino. This was a pretty great dish. The meats were served with a bright, herbaceous salsa verde and a nostril clearing pear mostarda.
And as if that were not enough, sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes were presented alongside. I shout hurray whenever I get a plate of greens, so that alone pleased me. And the mashed potatoes. Oh, the mashed potatoes! I've never tasted any so creamy and smooth before. Dyn-o-mite!
The tongue! It was so soft and luxurious -- a pleasure to have in my mouth. The brisket was beautifully fatty and falling apart. The chicken didn't make much of an impression, but the cotechino's salty, greasiness made me wish there was a little bit more to sample.
It must be tough for the kitchen to strike the right balance between too much and too little food. At the pork dinner, there was an absurd abundance of food. This time around at our tasting of the Veneto region, I noticed that some folks were searching around for more of certain courses - the foccacia, the fritti misti, the bolliti misti. Sadly the people on my left barely got to sample all of the bolliti misti offerings.
And then, dessert.
Why didn't I listen more carefully to the pastry chef describing the process for making her riso gelato?! What I would do for just one more bowlful!
The dessert was off-the-charts fabulous. The Torta di Polenta or polenta cake was moist and chewy. Covered with crunchy hazelnuts and dusted with confectioner's sugar this not-too-sweet cake went swimmingly with the gorgeous rice gelato. There were pieces of rice in the gelato that had somehow plumped up, but retained a texture like nothing I've experienced before in my interactions with the grain. The texture was almost chocolately, but without the melting.
I'm not even a dessert person, as you may have noticed, but this was tops -- truly brilliant.
Later that night, I am happy to say, I did not feel like dying. Yet another difference from our pork tasting experience at Mozza's Scuola di Pizza. While this meal didn't quite live up to our first Mangiare In Famiglia, I am deeply grateful to A. for managing to squeeze me into the experience. Minor complaints aside, this was a remarkable evening.
I am already lustfully eyeing this month's offering, Beef in the Style of Tuscany.
Mozza2Go/Scuola Di Pizza
6610 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036