This summer I made a bucket list, including a food destination list. It’s not designed to kill the spontaneity of dining out and the surprises that come from that, or to build expectations about a place. It’s more a checklist to keep me reminded of stuff, and a few priorities that turned out to be quite reasonable once I started chipping away at the list. It’s not the be all end all either – I will keep adding to it over time.
Mozza is on that list and while it wasn’t foremost on my mind, my friend Erik and I were on our way to LA for a day of looking at galleries, dinner, and a show at the Largo and once he mentioned the area we were visiting (La Brea) and that he’d heard of an amazing pizza place, my Google-fu showed that Mozza was in the area. Turns out, it was the same place Erik had heard good things about too. It was a perfect match. We arrived just after the lunch crowd had simmered down.
And what a stroke of luck, during our visit they were running a special for seats at the bar: a glass of house wine, a pizza, and a dessert for $20. I’m sold!
The ambiance of Pizzeria Mozza is elegant but casual. There are two bar options – the wine bar and the pizza bar. I opted for the latter, so I could watch all the good things coming out of the oven. And the stuff looked amazing. People were rolling out and throwing dough, dressing the pizzas, serving up tall salads and desserts. Everything looked delicious. For my $20 special, I opted for a squash blossom, tomato and burrata pizza, the chocolate tartufo dessert, and a glass of house rose. For reference, most pizzas are in the $18 range, and mine was $23, so it was a dead bargain just for the pizza alone. But also dessert! and wine!
Erik and I effectively shared this special, supplementing it with a house salad ($8) and another dessert ($10).
My squash blossom and burrata pizza was fantastic. Beautiful crust with a few charred bubbles, crisp on the bottom even after sitting on my plate a few minutes. Fresh and vibrant tasting, an absolute pleasure to eat. My house rose was also fine, being both crisp and slightly sweet tasting, perfect for my tastes and perfect for it being a hot summer day. My dessert was rich and good. It was bittersweet chocolate tartufo with olive oil gelato & sea salt. It was almost too Americanized sweet, but very good nonetheless. The couple next to me ordered the same dessert and were just finishing it when I was hemming and hawing over the menu. The woman looked up at me, mouth still full, and half mumbled and moaned at me, eyes rolling slightly. Clearly, she enjoyed it.
The guys working the pizza bar had their tasks dialed in. It’s not so much a rehearsal, but the ongoing practice of moving within each others’ spaces that made their work seemed well-choreographed. One man was looking at me, or maybe just beyond me, and with his eyes focused front, he picked up a pizza platter, held it out to his side at just the moment the fellow with the pizza peel pulled a steaming hot pizza from the oven and slide it quickly onto the platter. Everything happened behind him, no eye contact, no talk. And he knew I was watching. I saw what you did there, and I smiled at him. He smiled back and said he knows the timing well.
So, about $40 later, we rolled out of Mozza, feeling full and happy. I was especially pleased with this since it was something Erik enjoyed a lot as well, and even for being on a food bucket list, ended up being a spontaneous and serendipitous visit. I’d love to come back.
The special runs Monday-Thursday, 12 pm – 4 pm.
I’ve had breakfast and lunch only – no dinner yet.
If you are staying at the Indigo Hotel, aren’t you the lucky one to have this food brought to you in bed. It would be such an incredible luxury.
But I simply walked in the door, sat the bar on two occasions and a small 2 top later on, and thoroughly enjoyed my meals nonetheless. Maybe it was because it was the first beautiful days of quintessential Santa Barbara weather (“Sunny. 72. Next update in 5 days.”) that broke everyone’s pseudo Seasonal Affective Disorder from the freezing temps of 2013, or maybe because it’s damn good food.
If it can be made in-house, it is. If not, it’s sourced from local purveyors and those names are available online, or ask.
My first visit, I had the two eggs any style, with bacon or sausage, potatoes and toast. I opted for poached eggs, it came in a pretty bowl with a sea urchin pattern. The house bacon is sweet and smokey, not salty. Potatoes were delicate little roasted things. $10.
My friend had the tomato braised Niman brisket with poached egg and potatoes, a tender mass of good things. $16.
Second visit was lunch with a very hungry friend, we got loads of good things.
* Mushroom pizza – made with local mushrooms and truffle oil. This is good to share with a friend. The truffle was not overpowering. I’d like to try their other pizzas, I just love the fresh char and smoke on crusty bread.
* Panna cotta – very enjoyable of the desserts we got. At first my friend seemed critical of the dish, it wasn’t apparently jiggling in a way he would have expected. But in time he admitted it was good. I liked the touch of seeing lots of vanilla seeds throughout the dish. I’d get this again.
Third visit was another breakfast, less than 24 hours after I’d had lunch. We tried the crab and eggs benedict, the breakfast sausages, and another cinnamon roll. All were delicious, and the sausage made in-house, but now that I’ve had both bacon and the sausage, I’ll stick with the housemade bacon. It is so good.
Everyone working there was extremely nice and knowledgeable. Sitting at the bar is a pleasure, where you can look up in awe at the variety of liquor available. I’m eyeing up the Negroni. But that’s for another visit.
Anchor (adjacent to the Indigo Hotel, with a street entrance and hotel entrance)
I was sitting at a popular blue-collar bar a couple weeks ago, and the friendly woman next to me started chatting about food. She mentioned that the restaurant spot next to the Creekside (RIP JR’s BBQ I still miss you!!) was soon going to reopen, and the place would be called Meat n’ Potatoes, with a comfort food theme.
Well, she was right, so thank you for that, Friendly Bar Woman, and not only did it open, but the fellow who does the pizza there is none other than Rudi, the fellow who used to make the Deanos pizza. Y’ALL remember Deanos, right? That campaign to save the pizza shop on the Mesa from closing? Regardless of where you stood on the issue, and regardless of the quagmire it’s still in (apparently the owner skipped out on the lease and left a couple other holding the bill and a lawsuit, ouch), there’s a segment of town that loved the pizza there. And it’s here! I should note that Rudi has been making pizza at the Creekside for some time, serving it out the back window of the bar’s patio. But nobody seemed to be talking that up. Now that the restaurant portion is open with a larger menu, there’s more reason to pop by for a bite.
So now we have Meat n’ Potatoes, where the concept is simple, blue collar comfort food in a simple environment. It’s part of a suite of Red Star Restaurants who also have Alcazar on the Mesa and Milk & Honey downtown, the now-closed Chilango’s downtown, and the soon-to-be Pub in the Funkzone.
They have a “full” bar, in the sense that you can order cocktails and such, but do not expect to have a delicately muddled mojito. Think simple! Gin and tonic, vodka cranberry. But yeah, they’ve got a proper liquor license, and while I was there people wandered in and happily sat the bar to have a basic cocktail. I was also there when the Creekside was having some kind of cowboy night, so people came in all dressed up as well. And you know who else walked in? Friendly Bar Lady, who’d first turned me onto the place.
Foodwise, think sliders, pizza, steak, potatoes in assorted forms, basic salads. I got an order of sweet potato fries, because I missed the ones from Chilango’s. They came out piping hot with a side of chipotle mayo, just as I remember them. They cost about $5.
Then I had to try the pizza and see how much they were like Rudi’s when he was making them on the Mesa. I got the pizza with bacon, caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms. Sure enough, the crust was the signature style where it’s rolled many times to have a crisp flaky texture, and the pizza was baked on parchment so the cheese that fell off the sides of the dough got browned and crispy. Uh, yum? The onions on this pizza, btw, were super caramelized, making the whole pizza rather sweet tasting. I sat at the bar chatting with my dining companion long enough that our pizza got cold and the crust lost its cripsness. That’s okay! They offered to throw the pizza back into the oven and warm it up again. Perfect!
Bonus: it turned out there was a Facebook promo going on, and the pizza that night was just $10! Normally this combination is $16. So, if you like deals like this, consider joining their facebook page where the offers will be pushed.
The final item on the simplicity concept: CASH ONLY. None of this nampy pampy plastic stuff. For someone like me, who has trouble faffing around with smelly green pieces of paper, it’s potentially a nuisance. But there’s an ATM in the restaurant and the fees are more reasonable than most others, at $1.95 for a transaction. ‘Sco.
But no matter the concept, Meat n’ Potatoes faces the same issue as all the places before it: parking is ass. If the Creekside is hopping busy, you’ll be hardpressed to find a place to park. So get there early, and carpool!
Meat n’ Potatoes
Yay! More food trucks in Santa Barbara!
I know our food and food truck scene is totally podunk compared to Portland and Los Angeles, but that’s okay, it’s not a big town plus I know we have a zillion restrictions and guidelines that make these kind of small start-ups difficult.
O Street appears to have been in business for about two weeks now, and I got some feedback from a friend here and there that managed to get to the truck before I did. They gave a thumbs up. And I visited the truck recently on one of its Goleta days.
It was a gorgeous day in Santa Barbara (is it redundant to say that?), the truck’s brightly colored and difficult to miss. We also beat the rush.
The menu’s clearly posted outside, offering a simple range of bahn mi, Vietnamese flavored tacos, soup and salad, and drinks. The bahn mi is the most expensive item on the menu, but is still just $5.
I had a beef bahn mi first. It had a decent amount of flavorful meat, and a delightful portion of crunchy goodies like cucumber, carrot and cilantro, then was drizzled with a tangy sauce. I really liked that the baguette was slightly toasted and warm, giving it a light crispness when I first bit in. The filling in the sandwich was not as packed full like the photos on their website, but whose promo pictures are truly representative of the actual item in hand. Yeah, like nobody’s. They were fine, and need I point this out again? Just $5.
The bahn mi comes wrapped in paper and I suggest you use that paper. The juicy meat, the watery cucumber and the sauce all contribute to a drippy mess.
But that’s not as drippy as the tacos! Those don’t have any soft bread to soak up the good stuff. They are $2 for chicken taco and $2.50 for beef taco, I had one of each. They are essentially the same as the sandwich, but served on two small corn tortillas. The tortillas as spaced out slightly to hold the filling and fall apart quite quickly, so I recommend grabbing a fork from the truck to tuck in. Plus, more napkins.
There’s also little single serve pastry pizza available. I believe this is a carry-over specialty of the truck’s owner before she went into the food truck business. The crust is a flaky pastry, which can go from crisp and buttery to soft and oily quickly if you let the pizza sit around too long. There’s a red sauce and white version available, I had the white one with goat cheese and onions. $4. It’s good, but definitely more delicate. If you want the bigger bang for the buck or be full faster, the bahn mi is the way to go.
So I had one sandwich, two tacos and one pizza. It cost $13.50 and fed two. That’s a good deal.
Another thing that impressed me about O Street was its marketing. I automatically turn off of aggressive marketing that occurs before a business opens because it hypes up the business without any substance yet to back it up. And we all know that the theory of how a company first opens for business can be far different to its execution. O Street got close to borderline over-marketing with media articles before opening, but never quite crossed it. They were on twitter early talking up their launch, but it was more on a level of engagement rather than trumpeting without listening.
O Street also knows its audience. This is cheap eats, easy to grab and go, very tasty for someone with the munchies. It will be very good for a hungry crowd outside a club, but sensible enough for the daytime office types. Just grab lots of napkins so the tangy sauce doesn’t drip over your pressed shirt.
What goes best with a highly coveted bottle of 2007 sparkling shiraz FIZZ from Municipal Winemakers? I don’t actually know, but we got nice pizzas to pair it with and were happy with the results.
I’d been holding onto this bottle for a while, looking for the right occasion to open it. Christmas came and went, my birthday came and went. But who needs an event? I hauled the bottle up to SF with me and gave it to my friends. Becca suggested Gialina’s pizza, from the Glen Park neighborhood.
As with most of SF, parking is unpredictable. And we had this bottle to drink. So we ordered ahead for pickup and brought them home.
Zucco pizza: butternut squash, ricotta, ricotta salata, sage & brown butter. This was Becca’s pizza and a fine choice. If you like pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sage sauce, you will like this pizza. All the flavors of that ravioli, but also a delicious crust and piles of ricotta cheese.
I got the nettles pizza: wild nettles with pancetta, mushrooms, red onions & provolone. I think nettles was on my mind since Damon ordered a pasta and nettle dish the evening before. This was robust and toothsome, and the nettles ranged from soft and gooey, to dry and crunchy, depending on where it sat on the pizza sauce.
Finally, Damon got the four cheese pizza, using ricotta, provolone, gorgonzola, pecorino & herbs.
We ate, drank, and were merry, until we got the wine snoozles.
Gialina – Glen Park neighborhood
San Francisco is an all-around awesome city. I’m so grateful to have good friends here I can visit on a whim. I still ponder moving here myself.
On a short, 3 day trip during the workweek, I stayed with Becca and Damon in Bernal Heights. We walked, we talked, we played with cats and watched videos. And of course we ate. Today, upon arriving in San Francisco, Damon and I walked to a neighborhood favorite of theirs, the Liberty Cafe.
I’d been here once before, briefly, to pick up pastries and quiche. It’s an adorable spot with all the ambiance and accoutrements of a little cafe. It bakes bread and pastries, making everything smell incredible, it has bright indoor seating, or an outdoor courtyard, tucked away from the street noise. The food is a few dollars more, and it’s worth it.
Damon’s vegetarian, and I don’t have the biggest stomach real estate, so we shared our food, all vegetarian.
First, we shared a burrata and beet salad. While it was good, it was my least favorite item we ordered. I was hoping for more greens and beets, but the bulk of the meal was a bowl of gooey burrata. Which is good, no doubt, but there were barely any beets in the meal, and overall it was more about cheese and bread than salad. Plus, it was nearly $10.
Our final item, and the one I loved the most was a perfect mushroom and leek pizza, about $16. Everything about it was perfect. The crust was crisp and chewy, and just the right thickness for my mood. The leeks was soft and buttery, and the mushrooms were not too cooked and now too raw. Just right! I wish I could have eaten more of this.
Afterwards, we took a walk up Bernal Hill to admire the San Francisco skyline and take in some of the unexpected gorgeous sunny weather.
Liberty Cafe – Bernal Heights neighborhood
This week I had the opportunity to do part of my day job – the work that makes the money so I can spend it on food – outside of the office, for this national campaign for “Telework Week.” It did allow me to have lunch in parts of town I normally couldn’t get to in a lunch hour.
Nicky D’s opened recently, it a second shop by…you guessed it, Nicky D. His first is somewhere in the LA area, in Silverlake. He makes New York style pizza. Keep in mind, I’m no expert on NY style. In fact, I rather dislike the food wars that erupt over what’s this style of pizza over that, or that one style is somehow superior over another. Your favorite pizza is what you know, and it’s subjective. And I have no doubt, there is plenty of shitty pizza in NY seeing how there’s so many pizza places. So there you go.
Nicky D’s took over the space formerly holding a Pizza Hut. Ok, so that bit about pizza tastes being subjective? I take that back. I think we can all agree that corporate sludge pizza is bad. So good riddence to cardboard rubbish. The restaurant space was small to begin with, since the former business was primarily for takeout. There’s just 4-5 tables. And most of the space behind the counter is taken up by the large pizza oven. This is a wood-fired oven, imported all the way from Italy, costing…I don’t quite recall but I want to say around $100,000. Yowzers.
I went around 1 pm, if there’s been a lunch crowd it had mostly dissapaited by now. Still, there was 4-5 people in the queue and the man at the counter couldn’t help. Turns out Nicky himself had just stepped out for a few minutes. When he returned, orders were processed as usual.
To start, I tried the meatballs, $4. The order is two meatballs with marinara sauce. I think Nicky burned his hand on the pot containing the sauce. Sorry about that. It comes with getting acquainted with a new space. The meatballs were fine, medium warm, but with a warm sauce.
I also got the Nicky D’lux pizza, medium sized and it was much more generous than I was expecting. It’s sort of the classic “everything” pizza, although obviously not everything. Mushrooms, pepperoni, green peppers, sausage, onions, olives and such. It was pretty loaded, to the point that the center was quite soft – although not undercooked doughy. It’s just impossible to have that much juicy stuff piled on without some of it soaking through. The outer crust was perfect for me. Browned, lightly charred in places, good structure and chewiness. No idea if that is the so-called New York style, but regardless, I found it to be fine. Next time, I’ll try something different, maybe more simple in its toppings so that the center doesn’t get weighed down.
One thing that stood out while dining there were people’s accents. Nicky appeared to have a NY accent, but suddenly so did most of the other patrons. What’s going on here, is it like that phenomenom where one person with a southern drawl will makes others around them drift into having that accent as well? No, I’m serious. You try saying “lima beans” in your usual way after hearing a southerner say it for a week. Or maybe this shop was drawing out all the NY expats in search of “a real pizza.” In any case, there was a lot of NY alpha in the door, you could cut it with a knife, or perhaps with a snugly fitting pair of jorts.
Also, Nicky made no qualms about being proud of his pizza. “You never had anything like this in this town, huh?” was the question as I was getting ready to go. What can I say? They’re all different. That’s supposed to be a good thing. I only went to one pizza place in NY (Brooklyn) and one in Hoboken during my last NY visit and both were very good at accomplishing what they set out to do. I don’t know what else to say. I’ll be back when I’m ready for pizza again.
I think Kris and I had been talking about having dinner with her family for three years, and tonight we finally did it.
Her whole family is passionately engaged with food. Researching it, making it, writing about it, definitely eating it. Their kitchen is massive, with the largest center island/chopping board I’ve ever seen in a home. And the whole family contributes to the dinner process.
Shaun did the main dinner, making two of his favorites. First, pizza bread rolls. He made two kinds, one was vegetarian with lots of broccoli, the other was a sweet/spicy bbq chicken.
While waiting for dinner to bake, I browsed the kitchen, where a number of persimmons were hanging up to dry. This process is called hoshigaki, where persimmons are peeled, and gently massaged, resulting in a thick, chewy dried fruit covered in natural sugar crystals.
But back to dinner! I forgot to get a photo of the soup. This is also a specialty of Shaun’s, named Dada Soup. It’s made of ultra fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, pureed and run through a chinoise, resulting in a rich, nutritious and creamy soup, even though it’s completely vegan. His young daughter loves it, and this is critical, as she gets many servings of healthy fruits and vegetables from it. Tonight’s soup had a lot of beets and carrots in it, resulting in a deep velvety orange-red soup that might look like it had tomatoes and cream in it, but actually had none. It was really really good.
The pizza rolls…well, how can you go wrong with fresh bread out of the oven. We ate way more than we should have.
Nancy was in charge of dessert, and she made a delicious bread pudding. While dinner was being prepared, there was vanilla ice cream freshly churning, and we got our pudding a la mode.
Last but not least, a carefully pulled cafe latte from Shaun, using Blue Mountain Kona beans and a special pump espresso machine. There was even latte art.
I was so full, he understood that I wouldn’t be able to finish the cafe latte, but I was happy to have a go at it.
This family knows their shit! My gift to them was two year’s worth of Saveur magazine, which I hope they’ll enjoy reading as much as I did and maybe inspire them. They’re already the types to travel abroad to learn different culinary techniques.
I’m going to say this once: Little Caesar’s pizza ceases to be Little Caesar’s pizza once it’s on the playa. There, it becomes magical hot life-giving sustenance that evokes joy and celebration, camaraderie and love. Especially when it reheated by being fried in a pan of bacon fat, with a double flip onto the cheesy side.
Really, this may have been one of the best gifts I’ve brought to the playa. With that, I’m off the radar for the week. Welcome home!
A quick business lunch downtown requires a quick meal. Gino’s to the rescue.
Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza. Good stuff.