By: Linda Kissam
What do foodie greats Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich all have in common? They have fused their impressive talents to bring Pizzeria Mozza to the San Diego waterfront. Why should you care? Because hands down, this is the best pizza place in SoCal and I have their killer — best ever, seriously good, phenomenal – dough recipe to share with you. I don’t say that lightly, either. Believe you me, I’ve tried many others, some quite good, but there is something so special about this place and its pizza creations that it deserves a moment of praise and recognition.
Pizzeria Mozza has three other locations: LA, Singapore and Newport Beach. All are fabulous in their own unique way. The Pizzeria Mozza conglomerate opened its fourth station — and first in San Diego — in November 2013 at The Headquarters at Seaport District. Each of the restaurants has its own groove. You’ll recognize the atmosphere and most of the menu, but luckily according to manager and level 3 Sommelier LaMont Schroeder, “Each restaurant is given some creativity leeway. We can personalize some dishes and cocktails.” My first taste of this policy was a knock out Orchard Blossom cocktail. As my group was served this drink, LaMont told us it spoke of springtime and beautiful dreams. He was right and it set just the right mood for the five-course luncheon for 10 people to come.
I’ll say right at the top, if I can get great service, food served at the right temperature, interesting wine choices, and minimal lag time between courses when serving 10 wine and food experts… you hold my heart and wallet in your hand. Any complaints I heard about the 130-seat restaurant being a bit noisy or the parking being a challenge on the weekends seemed insignificant to the oohs and ahhs of my fellow diners.
We drooled over the first three courses, which began with the signature bruschetta (white bean and/or chicken liver), the spirited antipasti plate, and the creative insalata made with bacon, egg and pecorino Romano. Can I just say that things got even better when our taste buds were romanced with the kale, ricotta salata, cacao di roma, mozzarella and coppa pizza? Yup, you could hear the waves of raves emanating from our table over the famous crusts coming out of the enormous wood-burning ovens. I swear I regret not wearing my old cheerleading costume so I could have lead a coordinated cheer for the extraordinary yum that was our luncheon on that day. Next time, maybe.
San Diego makes their dough in house from a well-kept secret dough recipe only the pastry chef knows and adapts to the San Diego location. When you’re there, ask the manager to explain the process to you. It’s quite a dynamic and dramatic procedure. If I heard correctly the dough is kept in its own room under lock and key for hours and hours until it is ready to become a delicious pizza. The dough is made using a sponge starter, which is a yeast pre-ferment. This allows the pizza dough to have a stronger flavor, almost like a sourdough, and it takes more of a bread baker’s approach to making the pizza. It’s an interesting vibe all around for sure.
You can expect a relaxed but slick restaurant atmosphere when you go. It’s more of an experience than just a place to eat. When you order a glass of wine, you actually get 1/3 of a bottle… or as the staff explains it, “A glass and a half with an extra pour.” Ask the Sommelier for a recommendation from their carefully selected wine list. We did and everyone was pleased with his recommendations. There were ten of us. He recommended six different wines based on our taste profiles. None of us were disappointed.
Pizzeria Mozza is Green Certified and uses Green Certified vendors as much as possible. You won’t find bottles of water to drink from, but you will find an impressive expensive water filtration system to soothe your thirst. You may dine inside or outside. Limited room for large groups right now, but that should change soon. Expect to spend about $50 per person for a lovely day or night out. Come early to find parking – it can be a challenge. Some parking validation is available – ask the hostess.
And although the pizzaiolos seem to have found their groove in this location, resident Chef John makes sure it is much more than a pizza parlor. The San Diego’s locale has a beefed up entree selection that has included such yumsters as porcini-rubbed rib eye; octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon; a platter of affettati misti and fresh fish choices. And trust me, the butterscotch Budino, Maldon sea salt rosemary pine nut biscotti and the house made gelato is going to bring you to your knees.
This restaurant is located amongst a bunch of shops that ring a center courtyard. You’ll need to plan for some extra stroll time to explore the various art and dress shops as well as the two large-scale restaurants Seasons 52 and The Cheesecake Factory, and my favorite storefronts and local favorites Venissimo Cheese and Dallman Fine Chocolates. All in all this month’s Taste the Place really set the benchmark in dining exploration.
Now, just for you from “The Mozza Cookbook” (Alfred A. Knopf) by Nancy Silverton is the “almost” recipe for the special Pizzeria Mozza pizza dough. I say almost, as it isn’t the exact recipe as used at the San Diego restaurant, as that recipe is tweaked daily for atmospheric conditions. Yes, I am serious.
This pizza dough has so much character that you are going to want to just eat the crust plain. How many pizza crusts can you say that about? Yes, it’s a pizza crust love fest and it really is that good. If I had my cheerleader outfit on I am sure I could conjure up the perfect cheer.
Nancy’s Pizza Dough
From “The Mozza Cookbook” by Nancy Silverton
(Makes enough dough for 6 pizzas; each pizza serves one)
22 ounces warm tap water (2 cups, 6 ounces)
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) compressed yeast or 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
26 ounces unbleached bread flour, plus more as needed
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) dark rye flour or medium rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoons wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons barley malt or mild-flavored honey, such as clover or wildflower
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) kosher salt
Olive oil, grapeseed oil, or another neutral flavored oil, such as canola oil, for greasing the bowl
To make the sponge, put 15 ounces of water and the yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer and let it sit for a few minutes to dissolve the yeast. Add 13 ounces of the bread flour, the rye flour, and the wheat germ. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients. Wrap the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and tightly wrap the perimeter of the bowl with kitchen twine or another piece of plastic wrap to further seal the bowl. Set the dough aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 79 degrees) for 1-1/2 hours.
Uncover the bowl and add remaining 7 ounces of water, the remaining 13 ounces of bread flour, and the barley malt. Fit the mixer with the dough hook, place bowl on the mixer stand, and mix the dough on low speed for 2 minutes. Add salt and mix on medium speed for 6 to 8 minutes, until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Note that the dough will not pull so much that it completely cleans the bowl, but if the dough is too sticky and is not pulling away from the sides at all, throw a small handful of flour into the bowl to make it less sticky. While the dough is mixing, lightly grease with olive oil a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size. Turn the dough out of the mixer into the oiled bowl. Wrap the bowl as before. Set dough aside at room temperature for 45 minutes. Dust your work surface. Acting as if the round has four sides, fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Turn the dough over and return it, folded side down, to the bowl. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and set it aside for 45 minutes.
Dust your work surface again lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Divide the dough into six equal segments, each weighing approximately 7 ounces. Gently tuck the edges of each round of dough under itself. Cover the dough rounds with a clean dishtowel and let them rise for 5 minutes.
Lightly flour your hands and use both hands to gather each round of dough into a taut ball. Dust a baking sheet generously with flour and place dough rounds on the baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with the dishtowel and set them again at room temperature for 1 hour to proof the dough. (Or leave the dough on the counter to proof instead.)
To assemble and bake your pizzas: Prepare your topping ingredients.
Remove oven racks from the oven and place a pizza stone on the floor of the oven.
Preheat oven and the stone to 500 degrees, or as hot as your oven will go, for at least 1 hour. In a pinch, use the underside of a thick baking sheet (don’t use a nonstick one).
Create a pizza station that includes bowls full of olive oil, kosher salt and other necessary ingredients. Have a bowl of flour ready for dusting your countertop. Have a bowl of semolina ready for dusting your pizza peel.
When your dough is ready, generously flour your work surface and place one round of dough in the center of the floured surface. Dust the dough lightly with flour. (If you haven’t already, right about now you will want to pour yourself a glass of wine.)
Using your fingertips as if you were tapping on piano keys, gently tap on the center of the dough to flatten it slightly, leaving a 1-inch rim untouched.
Pick up the dough, ball both of your fists, and with your fists facing your body, place the top edge of the dough on your fists so the round stretches downward against the backs of your hands, away from them.
Move the circle of dough around your fists like the hands of a clock so the dough continues to stretch downward into a circle.
When the dough has stretched to about 10 inches diameter, lay it down on the flour-dusted surface.
Brush the rim of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle kosher salt over the surface of the dough.
Dress the pizza how you have chosen, making sure to leave a 1-inch rim with no sauce or toppings around the edge.
Dust a pizza peel with semolina and slide the pizza peel under the pizza with one decisive push. You are less likely to tear or misshape the dough with one good push of the peel than several tentative pushes. Reshape the pizza on the peel if it has lost its shape. Shake the peel gently to determine whether the dough will release easily in the oven. If it is sticking to the peel, carefully lift one side of the dough and throw some more semolina under it. Do this from a few different angles until there is semolina under the entire crust.
Open the oven door and slide the dough onto the preheated stone. Again moving decisively, pull the peel toward you to leave the pizza on the stone.
Bake the pizza until it is golden brown and the rim is crisp and blistered, 8 to 12 minutes. Cooking times vary depending on the power of your oven.
While the pizza is in the oven, clear a space on a clean, dry cutting board or place an aluminum pizza round on the counter to put the baked pizza on.
When the pizza is done, slide the peel under the crust, remove it from the oven, and place it on the cutting board or round.
Use a rolling pizza cutter to cut the pizza.
Add your favorite ingredients for the perfect ending.