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This is one hot property

Times Staff Writer

PIZZERIA MOZZA -- Part 1 of the restaurant Nancy Silverton and New York mega-restaurateur Mario Batali are opening in the old Emilio’s space -- finally opened last week at the corner of Highland and Melrose avenues. And foodies are already standing in line beneath the bright orange awning out front for a taste of Silverton’s pies.

The La Brea Bakery (and Campanile) founder doesn’t do anything by half measures. She’s done her research, traveling all over Italy and this country to seek out the best pizza makers and learn their secrets. She’s been testing for months, trying the dough with this flour and that, with this yeast and that, and learning to master the peculiarities of the wood-burning oven.

Her signature dough is a wonderfully supple one, chewy and yeasty, with a fat, blistered rim and speckles of char underneath. In all, there are a dozen pizzas, each the size of a dinner plate. The aesthetic is pure and sometimes almost too minimalist, going back to the original definition of pizza as a flatbread with a garnish.

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One of the best pizzas is topped with fennel sausage, red onion and a dusting of fennel pollen. The wild mushroom version includes a little Fontina, Taleggio and a sprinkling of thyme, while littleneck clams star in a pizza adorned with Parmigiano and pecorino and a little oregano. But my heart goes to the one garnished with transparent slices of lardo -- cured pork fat -- extra-virgin olive oil and rosemary.

To round things out, the menu includes salumi -- finocchiona salami, prosciutto, lardo, etc. You can order bruschetta topped with the traditional Tuscan mix of chicken livers, guanciale and capers, or baccala -- salt cod -- with chickpeas. I loved the antipasto of shell beans al forno, mixed beans cooked in the wood-burning oven with a little fresh tomato under a blanket of breadcrumbs.

The pizza-phobic or the very hungry should head straight for the section titled piatti del giorno -- dishes of the day. Monday’s, for example, is chicken alla cacciatora, Thursday’s is fish wrapped in radicchio and served with radish salsa verde, while Sunday’s is lasagne al forno.

To wash it all down, manager David Scott Rosoff has put together a fine list of 50 Italian wines for less than $50 each. A dozen of those are available by the quartino (that’s 250 milliliters, or a third of a normal wine bottle). And for dessert there’s affogato, scoops of vanilla ice cream with hot espresso poured over. And a lovely fig crostata: Think giant Fig Newton crowned with a delicate flower-shaped custard.

Reservations for Pizzeria Mozza are already hard to come by. My best advice is to come during the off hours. Fortunately, the seats at the bar are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. And those just happen to be primo seats for watching Silverton and chef Matt Molina in action.

When, you may want to ask, is Part 2 -- Osteria Mozza -- opening? Rosoff can’t say for sure, but certainly not this year. Right now, he’s envisioning spring, which will give us time to get our fill of pizza before we move over to the osteria side for -- what else, but pasta?

I can see it now: houses along Highland advertised as “Mozza adjacent.” Don’t you just wish.

virbila@latimes.com

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Pizzeria Mozza

Where: 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A.

When: Noon to midnight daily. Full bar. Valet parking.

Price: Antipasti, $6-$18; salads, $12-$15; salumi selections, $10-$24; pizza, $9-$14; piatti del giorno, $16-$20; dessert, $7-$8.

Info: (323) 297-0101, www.mozza-la.com


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