UPDATE: September 2, 4:15 pm. So after we broke the news of Mozza's opening late in the evening, we rushed over as soon as we could and fought our way to the hostess station to put in our name. Apparently lots of Newport locals were keeping watch on the storefront and their Twitter alerts and beat us to the restaurant.
“The wait could be up to two hours,” the hostess said. The crowd was that thick. We were seated inside 45 minutes because the first few waves of people dispersed. You can read what Day 1 looked like to the restaurant staff in my interview with General Manager Sam Schamberg on LA Weekly's blog.
The best news about the Newport Beach location of Pizzeria Mozza? The menu, food and desserts are virtually identical to the Mozza in Los Angeles, so you no longer have to make the ardous schlep to eat it. Why wouldn't the food be the same? According to Schamberg, Chef di Cocina Emily Corliss and most of the kitchen staff are veterans of the L.A. restaurant who transferred to Orange County.
About that pizza – with three artisan pizzerias within a few miles of Mozza, how does it compare to Ecco, Pizzeria Ortica, and Il Dolce (all in Costa Mesa) and Pizza e Vino in Rancho Santa Margarita? Let's just say that the distinctions are slim to anyone who's not paying attention, and yet enormous to anyone who's passionate about pizza.
The differences are mostly in the crust. All these restaurants use a relatively soft, wet dough that stretch out very thin. Some will fire the oven as high as 700 degress, others run them at a more mellow but still-hot 525F. The difference between 700 and 525 is how long you can bake the crust before it burns into charcoal.
Ortica's approach is the hot and fast school of artisan pizza. Their pizzas bake in less than 2 minutes in a super-hot oven. The crust is mostly pale with spots of char, and is still soft and floppy when you pick up a slice. The crushed tomatoes used as sauce are still watery because the sauce hasn't had enough time to coook off. This style of pizza is authentically Neapolitan, where pizza is eaten with a fork and knife.
Mozza takes the opposite approach. Baked for a lot longer at 500-something degrees, the crust takes on a darker brown color and richer toasty flavor. The bottom of the crust has a thicker layer of crispness such that when you hold a slice, it juts out stiffly like a pennant in a stiff wind. The rim of the crust is distinctly puffy.
The toppings? They're wonderful. We had three last night: the classic Margherita, the squash blossom, and the Ipswich clam pizza. As with the other pizzerias in this category, Mozza uses a light layer of highly flavorful ingedients and cheese so that the moisture can evaporate and the crust doesn't get soggy. It's not going to be hard for you to find a signature pizza you'll adore.
When did Orange County become an artisan pizza mecca? As I told you in my Top 5 Restaurants for 2010, it's now a five-way race for the best pizza in the County. Your top choice will differ from mine. Go hit all five and make up your mind on where Mozza stands.
Original post: Sept. 1, 5 p.m. This just in from Mozza co-owner Joe Bastianich:
I swear, this place has been “coming soon” longer than Ron Jeremy.
We're a little annoyed because your Stick-A-Fork-In-It bloggers have been chasing after this story for weeks to try to pin down the opening date and not getting the professional courtesy of a return call.
Still, are we excited? Schwwwing!
Pizzeria Mozza. 800 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach CA. 949-945-1126. pizzeriamozza.com