800 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Now that the holiday hustle has died down, this is the time when people are still clinging to their new year's resolutions, trying to replenish their bank accounts, and probably just wanting to stay home to rest after running all over trying to get things done for the holidays. Traditionally this is also a slow time for restaurants, so they have to come up with reasons to make people venture out, and Newport Beach Restaurant Week is one of the things that will definitely get us out of the house.
There are over 400 restaurants and bars in the cities of Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar. Now in its 11th year, Newport Beach Restaurant Week has over 60 of these restaurants participating in this two-week event, which runs from January 16th to January 29th. Put on by the Newport Beach Restaurant Association and Dine Newport Beach, restaurants offer special, two or three-course prix fixe menus priced between $10 to $25 for lunch and $20 to $50 for dinner. This is a great opportunity to try a restaurant that you have been wanting to try, but haven't yet. You can skim through the menus by clicking here: http://www.dinenb.com/restaurant-week/, but of course, first you should finish reading this review.
When restaurant weeks roll around, I usually just go to my restaurant wishlist, see what restaurants on it are participating, and make a plan to go. That's how we ended up at Pizzeria Mozza. I feel ashamed that we had not been to this pretty popular pizza restaurant located at the end of the Mainer's Mile on PCH yet. It has definitely got some star power behind it. You might have heard of Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton, founder of La Brea Bakery, and Joe Bastianich, James Beard Award winner, and partner to Mario Batali in far too many restaurants to list here.
These three opened Mozza on the corner of Highland and Melrose, in the high traffic Fairfax area of LA, and then a year later took over the restaurant next door, to create a more traditional Italian restaurant, Osteria Mozza. Mozza is definitely more focused on pizzas, and they have seemed to catch on. They opened an outpost in Singapore and opened this Newport eatery in 2011. In those six years, they have been talked about as having some of the best pizza in OC, been praised by numerous food critics, and gotten some glowing reviews on Yelp. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to give this place a try.
Parking here is valet and at a cost of $7, which we heard a few people scoff about. You can chance it and park in the McDonald's parking lot next door, but there is a sign telling you not to. We arrived about fifteen minutes early for our 7:30 dinner reservation, but they still sat us right away. I really enjoyed this space, as the high ceiling and bright orange and yellow painted walls detracted us from the tables that are way too close to each other, and the way too dark dining room. The bar is pushed to one side of the restaurant, while on the other side of the restaurant is another bar, where diners can eat while watching pizzas going in and out of the very active pizza oven, which is the centerpiece of this restaurant. We quickly made our selections from the $30 restaurant week menu. Let's see if Pizzeria Mozza lives up to all of its hype and if this was a good choice for Newport Beach Restaurant Week.
Salads were offered as the first of the three courses, and as we often do during restaurant weeks, Katie and I coordinated that we each try a different option. She started with the Mozza Caprese. This was a very good version of this classic Italian salad. It had some of the most creamy burrata we have had, which was topped with a very well done pesto. The tomato was not as prominent on this as it usually is, which is fine with me because I'm not a big tomato fan. A really nice start for Katie's meal. With only two options offered, that left me with the Insalata Mista as my salad choice. This mixed green salad was dressed with a lemon vinaigrette, which was fine but kind of was boring. This salad would have been better with some blue cheese or something else added. I finished it, but not my favorite salad of all time.
The second course of the restaurant week menu had much more variety offered, with thirteen pizzas to choose from. Katie selected this Bianca pizza, which featured fontina cheese, mozzarella, sage, and sottocenere cheese, which is a cheese that is rubbed with truffle oil during aging. Katie thought this pizza was going to be too rich, but it was more mellow than she thought. It had a pleasing taste, but she was looking for that big burst of flavor to come through. The crust here was done to a wonderful golden brown, and we both wished for some marinara to dunk the crust in.
I usually always get the pizza that has the most meat on it, but at Mozza on this evening, I threw myself a curveball when I ordered this Egg, Bacon, Potato, Onion Pizza. I nicknamed this the breakfast pizza because it has all the ingredients on this which would make a great breakfast casserole. At first, I was a little disappointed with this, because I chose to start with the side of the pizza which did not include the hen egg on it. When I got into the second half of this pizza I really enjoyed it. The runny yolk really brought this to life, even though it was still a challenge to get everything included here in one bite. When I did manage to get everything in one perfect bite, this pizza was magical. The potatoes were fork tender, the bacon had a good smokiness going on, and the crust was good, and I'm the type of guy to leave my crust most of the time. My only other complaint would be that they could have included a few more onions here, but other than that, this was a great pizza.
The last of our three-course dinner was dessert, and again there were only two options, so Katie and I got one of each. I was pretty surprised with the portion size of the Chef's Choice of Gelato. We got two huge scoops of vanilla and caramel with an Italian cookie separating them. Both were delicious. The vanilla was my favorite, as it was creamy, and had a rich vanilla flavor. The caramel one was good as well, but it had a tinge of what I perceived to be coffee to it, which kind of threw me off. The Butterscotch Budino was nice and creamy and was not as sweet as we imagined it would be, which was a plus in our book. The little rosemary pine nut cookies that came with this stole the show, though. After having my little cookie I imagined that if I worked here, I would eat a ton of these unique tasting cookies. So good.
Coming to Pizzeria Mozza was a good choice for restaurant week. Not only did I get a chance to cross this place off of my list, but when I added up the costs of the meal, we saved between ten to fifteen dollars per person, which is a good amount, especially with how much we eat out. As I've stated before on this blog, I'm more a fan of American-style pizzas, with lots of cheese and toppings, but I've started to come around to liking authentic Italian style pizzas recently. These were some pretty good versions of what many would consider fancy pizzas. You can tell that they are using some high-quality ingredients here, and making these pizzas the right way. I've heard some good things about their lasagna as well, but from what our waiter told us, this is only available as a special on weekends. Speaking of our server, he was very nice and friendly but was definitely not what we would call overly attentive, as this three-course dinner stretched out past the two-hour mark, with a long wait in between courses and waiting for the check to arrive. Still, we will be back to explore more of their pizza menu and to hopefully get a chance to try their lasagna. We're pretty stoked that Newport Beach Restaurant Week has rolled around again, now we just have to decide where to eat next.
Out of five orange Crocs, (because those are the trademark footwear that Chef Mario Batali wears all the time), five being best to zero being worst, Pizzeria Mozza gets 3.5 orange Crocs.
For more information about Pizzeria Mozza, head to their website here: http://newportbeach.pizzeriamozza.com/the-restaurant/