Open the door of Pizzeria Mozza, and you'll hear the roar of the crowd happily eating, talking, flirting, with the bass from an old David Bowie album or the Beatles' new Love album thumping in the background. No getting around it, the place is very noisy, and only semi-quiets down well after 10, which incidentally offers the best chance of securing a table on the spur of the moment.
That's because Batali and general manager David Rosoff, who held the same post at Campanile, Opaline and Michael's, are serious about wine. Rosoff has come up with a list of fifty wines under $50 from practically every region that makes wine in Italy. Most of them are pretty obscure, but you can order many by the quartino, i.e., quarter of a liter, or third of a regular bottle. Try the minerally Greco di Tufo from Benito Ferrara in Campania or the cool, focused Riesling from Laimburg in the Alto Adige. In reds, you might introduce yourself to Refosco from Friuli or the Nerojbleo from Gulfi in Sicily.
THE menu instructs "save some room for DESSERT." That's a tough order here, yet somehow you've got to do it. Pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez worked with Silverton at Campanile, and together they've devised the perfect desserts for this kind of food. Get something, if only the textbook-crunchy almond biscotti to accompany your espresso. Just introduced on the menu is a Meyer lemon gelato pie that's absolutely irresistible. It has a buttery dark graham cracker crust topped with a fragrant, but not too sweet Meyer lemon gelato and a drift of softly whipped cream.
Tops, too, is the butterscotch budino, or pudding, fine as silk, subtly sweet, a butterscotch dream in a cup. And the caramel coppetta, which is really an ice cream sundae of lush caramel gelato with a little caramel sauce drizzled over, toasted peanuts and a soft sticky marshmallow sauce, is pretty dreamy too.
Where's Molto Mario in all this? Except for a token appearance or two, he seems content to let Silverton be the face of Pizzeria Mozza. His organization's involvement, though, is felt in the dining room, in the crisp, confident moves of the staff. The Batali-Joe Bastianich team really knows how to run restaurants. And they've hired a staff that relishes the energy and the action. Other than off-peak hours, this place is jammed. It's loud. It's brash. It's fun.
All that, and great pizza, too? That's amore.
Location: 641 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0101; www.mozza-la.com.
Ambience: Lively, simpatica pizzeria from the partnership of Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton featuring Silverton's irresistible pizzas baked in a clay wood-burning oven. If you can't snag a reservation, try for a spot at the pizza bar or the wine bar, but sometimes it can be a long wait: Nobody wants to give up their seat at this new restaurant at the corner of Melrose and Highland Avenues.
Service: Some of the best around -- engaged, informed, friendly.
Price: Antipasti, $8; salads, $8 to $15; salumi, $12 to $24 for a mixed platter; pizza, $9 to $17; bruschette, $3 to $9; panini, $14 to $15; piatti del giorno, $17 to about $24 (market price); desserts, $5 to $8.
Best dishes: Fried squash blossoms, marinated peppers, winter caprese, Nancy's chopped salad, chicken liver bruschetta, fennel sausage pizza, littleneck clam pizza, wild nettle pizza, egg and radicchio pizza, mixed mushroom pizza, Meyer lemon gelato pie, sorbetti and gelati, toasted almond biscotti.
Wine list: Fifty Italian wines under $50, plus wines by the glass or quartino (one-fourth liter); corkage fee, $20.
Best table: A seat at the pizza counter, where you can watch the action.
Details: Open noon to midnight daily. Beer and wine. Valet parking, $6.
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.