Monday, January 22, 2007

Foodventure #24: Mozza (Hollywood) - a few weeks after opening . . .

What? Another Mozza review? Haven't we heard enough from here, here, here, here, here AND here? And I'm not even including the countless Chowhound threads or people who are actually paid to review this place!

Of course you haven't heard enough, wouldn't y'all want to know if the folks slacked off since the initial grand opening wave? (they haven't); besides, who can say no to food porn such as this?
And so, I'm proceeding with my 42nd review of Pizzeria Mozza. Pictured above is their aracini - basically fried risotto balls with a fresh marinara sauce & a grating of cheese (I believe Romano) - an overall fun and flavorful appetizer, the sauce's earthy herbs and ripe tang mixed well with the light crunch of the exterior and the creamy rice within. Too bad there weren't any actual bread to scoop up the remainder sauce (they serve thin, crunchy bread sticks, delicious in their own right.)

Then came our freshly baked pizzas:

Bacon, leek & goat cheese (above) and fennel sausage, red onion & panna (below) on an absolutely delightful crust: crunchy with occasional blisters of burnt with a tender, chewy interior. Overall I think the toppings were a bit skimpy compared to the bread (confirming some Chowhounders' opinions) but the combinations were sensational, particularly for the former -- with the tart goat cheese melding wonderfully onto the crispy bacon and the fragrant leeks. The fennel-studded sausage was particularly memorable as well.

And of course, we finished off with some desserts:

A fig crostata with lemon crema - it tasted fine, albeit a bit unimpressive, particularly the crostata itself, which reminded me of a glammed-up version of Fig Newton, a nicer crust, significantly less sugary, but same substance. The crema, whose texture is more like a soft panna cotta, was more interesting but nothing to write home about.

And of course, following everyone else's lead - we also got the:

Butterscotch budino with rosemary-pine nut cookies - the pudding would have been ordinary if not for that dab of fleur de sel mixed right underneath (or perhaps) into that layer of caramel - the wonderful fragrant saltiness definitely takes the edge off this otherwise sweet & rich dessert. The cookies (paired with usually savory rosemary) were equally intriguing with every bite. Alas, even as yummy as this dish was -- after everything else I ate, I couldn't finish it.

So, all in all I'm happy to report that even after a month or so of non-stop business, Mozza is still churning out generally delicious dishes that's well worth the wait (you have to call at least a week ahead to get a reservation at a decent hour, or you can always press your luck with a bar seating and hope you don't get whammied.)

The Bill:
Aracini: $8
Goat Cheese-Bacon Pizza: $13
Fennel Sausage-Red Onion Pizza: $14
Fig Crostata: $7
Butterscotch Budino: $7
Coffee: $3

Total before tax/tips: $52

The Rating:
Ambience: 4/5 (very interesting use of the space, a sophisticate yet casual and airy atmosphere with warm tones & high ceilings, plus an ample view of the kitchen - centered, of course, around the brick fire oven where all the pizzas are baked in.)
Value: 3/5 (a little high for the goods you're getting, but I this isn't your everyday football-game/all-night pizzeria, and given the quality of ingredients, service & atmosphere, the premium doesn't seem that bad.)
Service: 9/10 (despite the weeklong wait list, whether you sit at the bar or actually got a table, the staff service is generally superb, if only just a bit hustled and overwhelmed by a full house business.)
Food: 18/20 (generally very good and higher than what I expected - even after reading a gazillion other reviews - with very few and very minor points of disappointment.)
Bonus/Demerit: N/A
TOTAL: 34/40 (nice joint! a decent place to go for special occasions or to bring a friend/relative for a upscale, unique yet casual pizza experience.)

Other notes:
- Valet Parking @ $6, but I had not trouble finding street parking on Highland.
- Did I mention making reservations at least a week in advance? (and to OpenTable fanatics, like me, sorry, but Mozza's not in the network for now--they tried it the first couple of weeks but it proved way too overwhelming.)

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland (cross street Melrose)
Los Angeles, CA
Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I voted for Pat Buchanan flavor . . . Oops!

Ok, Kettle Foods' People's Choice 2007 poll is closed for their next new flavor of kettle chips and the recounts are taking place, but you can still order the Passport to Flavor pack with all five candidates plus more- pictured below:On top of the five bags of chips (flavors and my opinion of them below), you also get a Putumayo World Music Sampler CD with some groovy tunes (and consequently convinced me to buy a few world music compilations in the following weeks,) a kettle foods chip clip & a booklet of postcards that discusses each kind's flavor profile and inspiration with space for you and your friends to scribble tasting notes (it's designed to be a potato chip tasting party, but I was pig and polished off almost everything by myself.)

The contestants for this year are:

1) Island Jerk - I found the herb blend interesting, but seriously lacking in the heat compartment. No self-respecting Jamaican would be caught serving a jerk anything so mild . . . 4th place for me.
2) Dragon 5 Spice - also mild compared to the real deal, but the 5 spice flavor paired with crispy thick-cut kettle chips conjure up memories of salt & pepper fried chicken (you know, the ones served at boba places) - I rank this 2nd.
3) Twisted Chili Lime - it takes a deserving middle third place because of its mediocrity-- I've had plenty of chili lime corn & tortilla chips before. These tasted good, but nothing special.
4) Royal Indian Curry - Ah! My definite favorite ~ I was already salivating when I opened the bag and discovered the turmeric-yellow chips within, and it delivered with its rich curry taste balanced with coconut. #1 (and hoping that it's the winner for this year.)
and finally 5) Aztec Chocolate - I give them props for attempting to make a sweet-savory combo by infusing the chips with cinnamon & dark chocolate, but it seriously didn't work for me. Not sweet - not savory - kinda bland with a smidgen of cinnamon flavors. Despite what others might think, it's last place in book.

At the very least, all the flavors this year were tolerable - unlike last year with bar-inspired concoctions such as Dirty Martini, Spicy Mary and Buffalo Bleu Cheese. I swear last year's taste developer was caught expensing too many dinners at Hooter's - and so had to come up with these nastiness.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Foodventure #23: J & J Restaurant (San Gabriel)

Long before Din Tai Fung invaded Los Angeles and brought the thick-skinned, soup-filled xiaolongbao to the masses (not to mention some unbelievably long wait-times for a casual Chinese restaurant), there were restaurants like J & J, which has been serving this dumpling as well as other homestyle Shanghainese fare for well over a decade.

Located in Prospect Plaza, one of the few old plazas on Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel, from the outside J & J is a pretty unremarkable restaurant - and without prior word of mouth one would probably never be aware of the yummy treasures tucked within.

Just like the exterior, the dining area is nothing more than functional. There's about a dozen tables (mostly two- and four-seaters), all of the well-weathered and scratched. Likewise for the off-white floor, which has suffered years of foot traffic damage but otherwise pretty clean. Other indicators that is is a no-fuss, no-nonsense place: 1) The beverage fridge (which is on the dining floor) is being used as storage for vats of mystery sauces, boxes of noodles and plates of premade side dishes, 2) the tea, served not only in the most generic metal pot but also with a styrofoam cup! (see below) and 3) the quintessential "not-A" rating from the LA Public Health department (in J & J's case, a B - further research unveiled that it's a 82.)
After a quick look at the menu, whose lamination is practically falling off, I decided upon my meal - a three-course feast of Shanghainese comfort foods to keep my stomach and soul happy. Starting off this smorgasbord is Stir-Fried Nian Gao, Shanghainese Style:
For those not familiar, nian gao is a glutinous rice cake - eaten most frequently around celebration times such as Chinese New Years. Sometimes it will be prepared as a sweet dish, similar to Japanese mochi, other times it'll be used for something savory, such as the course above, where thick-sliced nian gaos are stir fried like chow mein with some greens, onion slices and meat slivers in oil & soy sauce. The taste is pretty much like any other stir fry, but nian gao's smooth, chewy texture makes this course extra fun to eat.

Next up is a snack I hold near and dear to my heart - scallion pancakes!
I swear this is what Hot Pockets' marketing department was eating when they figured out their advertising slogan, "crispy crunchy tender flakey crust" because that's exactly what this is -- and without the artifical tasting and sometimes gross stuffing. Pan-fried to golden perfection, every bite of this multi-layered pie releases the sweet aromatic smells of scallions. Mmmm...

And for the finale, crabmeat & pork xiaolongbaos.
Eight beauties that I had no trouble finishing off one by one, and I daresay is comparable (if not better) than Din Tai Fung's version. Yes, there's only 8 compared to DTF's 10, but these are substantially larger (practically spilling over the spoon) a bit less pricey too. As a courtesy to you readers, I even stopped long enough from pigging out on these moist, plump, juicy goodies to show you its wondrous interior.
Hiding beneath its thick but translucent dumpling skin is a succulent blend of pork & crabmeat mixed with carrots, ginger and other veggies in a pool of meaty broth. Just a little soy sauce and a little vinegar and it's a one-way trip to yum!

And having dined solo this time, I had plenty of leftovers to take home --

-- enough for another two meals! True, the pancakes were no longer crispy-crunch-flakey upon reheating, but they're still tender, and having them soak up all the stir-fry grease made them delicious in their own right.

Spread out the bill and each meal is about $5 -- I'd take this over burger and fries anytime.

The Bill:
Niangao stir-fry: $5.25
Scallion Pancake: $2.25
Crab & pork Xiaolongbao: $5.95
Tea: Gratis
Pretax/tip total: $13.45

The Rating:
Ambience: 2.5/5 (functional and fairly clean, furniture has seen better days; but otherwise, not much more to say about it)
Value: 4.5/5 (everything was well worth its price - esp. when it stretched into two extra meals.)
Service: 7/10 (no-fuss & no-nonsense; very speedy)
Food: 17.5/20 (only a tad too oily & fatty, but everything was consistently positive: flavorful, nice textures, good ratios in the mix of ingredients)
TOTAL: 31.5/40 (great place to swing by for casual comfort eats, either alone or with a small group of pals)

Other notes:
- Self-parking in the lot
- While they're known for Shanghainese cuisine, their menu have a variety of mainstream Chinese fare as well.
- The plaza also has a Lollicup & a Beard Papa, for those with a sweet tooth after the meal.

J & J Restaurant
301 W. Valley Blvd. #109 (in Prospect Plaza)
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Food bloggers on the LA Times!

Food writer Amy Scattergood's article "Celebs, gossip! . . ." focused on LA's food blogging world, emphasis on blogs such as Eater LA that's more about the scene, the openings & the people than it is about the cooking, the menus and, well, the food.

Nonetheless, the article also includes a listing of some of the hottest food blogs around, many of which I read regularly. Alas, yours truly didn't make the cut:,0,6873405,full.story?coll=la-home-food



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