Best Movie/Pizza Evening

I thought I loved eating more than anyone… and then I met Phil Rosenthal. A couple of years ago while working at Phoenix Books, I produced/directed the audiobook of Phil’s autobiography “You’re Lucky You’re Funny” and couldn’t believe my luck when Phil insisted on taking us out to lunch every day he came in to record. Then, when his book came out, Phil beat Pizzeria Mozza to its own launch party by hosting his book signing party there – and once again eating was part of the job.

Phil loves food so much that he’s invested in a bunch of restaurants in L.A., namely Jar, The Hungry Cat and most recently Pizzeria- and Osteria Mozza – all in addition to creating his show, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which recently ended after a 10-year run. Normally I only like cracker-thin crust, New York-style pizza but Nancy Silverton’s dough at Mozza is an exception. For me, it’s always about the texture, preferably all mixed together in one big multi-textured mush. I love the comfort of chewy cookie dough that gets stuck in every crevice of your teeth, as well as super crunchy, gum-splintering crackers (again, preferably together) – and the four-minute woodfire-blazed pizza at Mozza has both. It’s thin-ish with an extra crisp, almost-burnt puffy crust that’s slightly chewy in the middle, and, best of all, the pizzas are small so you can try all the toppings without feeling like a complete glut. Well, at least you can if you’re at Phil’s Sunday night movie/pizza evening where a new pie comes popping out every few minutes. He’s been hosting the pizza night for longer than I’ve been alive, together with his superwife, Monica. She played Ray Romano’s brother’s wife in the “Everybody Loves Raymond” (she still had to audition for the part) and, despite being an actress, she’s the most smiley and welcoming hostess I’ve ever met, making them – together with their two children – the most disgustingly perfect family I know.

When Phil invested in the Silverton/Batali/Bastianich enterprise, he clearly had an ulterior motive… to make his movie night indisputably perfect. “When I heard that Mario Batali, the greatest Italian chef in the world, and Nancy Silverton [from La Brea Bakery and Campanile] were going in together on a restaurant in L.A., I got on my knees and grabbed her leg and did not let go until she let me invest,” Rosenthal jokes. “I did it so I could get in.” Yeah right. He did it so that he could get a replica of Mozza’s pizza oven installed in his kitchen and their cook Gustavo Canseco to make pizzas for him and all his friends. He doesn’t even need to go to the restaurant anymore.

Replica of Mozza's Pizza Oven

Replica of Mozza's Pizza Oven

Now for the toppings…. I’m vegetarian so I usually cheat and pick off all the meat because I’m greedy and don’t want to miss out on any of the garnishes, but there’s still plenty of choice. My favorite topping is broccoli and garlic with caciocavallo (a Sicilian cheese), which is also made without cheese for vegans; for the sweet and spicy lovers, there’s a mozzarella and tomato pie, coated with a canopy of wafer-thin pineapple slices, sprinkled with jalapeños (my second favorite); for the adventurous there’s rapini (a cross between broccoli and a bitter herb) with cherry tomatoes and anchovies (which I don’t really like but I’ll eat anyway); there’s one with egg (I love egg on pizza) and bits of bacon; squash blossoms, tomato and burrata which is dolloped on like clotted cream (another favorite – it has great texture when mushed up in your mouth); a delicious one with clams, garlic and pecorino which I’ve never had elsewhere; and of course the staple margherita, which tastes anything but ordinary. Every time I go to Phil and Monica’s there seems to be another topping I haven’t noticed before, including fennel sausage, goat’s cheese, funghi, spek, salumi, and fingerling potatoes with gorgonzola dolce. The trick is to come early so you don’t miss your favorite because it’s rare for the same one to appear twice, no matter how sweetly you smile at the cook. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

Because Phil is such a food fanatic, he knows the best restaurant, dessert and café in every city he’s been to which comes in very handy when you don’t. When I was in Paris, he recommended that I go to Angelina for the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. So last October, I dragged my best friend Kimberley and two of her friends across town through the rain to rue de Rivoli, only to be confronted by a queue that went out the door. Annoyed, wet and hungover from excessive shopping and partying during Paris Fashion Week, we waited impatiently in this palatial and uncomfortably snobby café. It was well worth the huffing and puffing when our enormous serving of thick, rich, velvety hot chocolate l’Africain arrived, accompanied by whipped cream in a white ceramic pitcher. Phil was right. It was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and my foul mood subsided almost instantaneously so that I could continue to shop and drink with a smile on my face and a warm, comforting sensation oozing through my veins.

Unfortunately, Angelina doesn’t cater at Phil’s house but Thomas Keller – arguably the best chef in America and owner of The French Laundry and Bouchon – does. There are always the most amazing desserts sprawled out across the marble kitchen countertop, and I usually do my best to not get distracted from the pizza, but when everyone was making yummy noises and Ray Romano went for seconds and then thirds of the chocolate peanut butter cups, I had to grab one before they all vanished. YOU HAVE GOT TO TRY THESE – even if  you don’t like peanut butter. They are gooey, almost-liquid, peanut butter-filled, Vahlrona chocolate-coated cups with rock sea salt chunks that burst with flavor as the center immerses your mouth, leaving you not wanting to swallow in case you never get a chance to taste something this good again. I had planned to race straight to Bouchon Bakery to suck them dry of peanut butter cups, but of course none of Keller’s restaurants are local, and when I called all three Bouchon locations in Vegas, Yountville and New York, none of them would deliver (yes anyone out there, feel free to send me some….). But for those of you in L.A., don’t lose hope… at the end of the year, Keller is opening a Bouchon in Beverly Hills right next to Phoenix Books’ office, and I plan to be their first customer. (For those of you planning to join me it will be in between Beverly Drive and Canon, in the courtyard where the new Montage Hotel just opened, north of Wilshire.)

Last week there was more to-die-for dessert from another sugar haven, Huckleberry Bakery, which couple Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan from the Rustic Inn just launched. Zoe’s mother hand-delivered the cakes (of course) and after my 8th slice of pizza I vowed to stay away until my lack of self control took over and I wolfed down a slice of the best blueberry, custard cream tart you could ever possibly imagine. Rebecca and I also swiped a mini chocolate cupcake on our way out and found ourselves chewing the wrapping before we had reached the car. l

Once everyone has rushed to stuff themselves with as much pizza and dessert as they can before the movie starts, they shuffle into the luxurious sofa-crammed screening room, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the old-fashioned cart outside. Once everyone’s settled, Lily shouts out to make sure everyone has water and the 13 1/2-by-10-foot screen slowly descends from the ceiling. The screenings range from oldies to sneak previews, to Oscar-nominated pics and the annual Academy Award ceremony, to documentaries eagerly offered up by their producers (the creators of “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?” have both held Q & A’s while I’ve been there). There’s nearly always someone in the audience who either made the film or points themselves out while we’re watching it. I watched “Raging Bull” last week and the woman next to me whispered that she was an extra in one of the scenes, “It was on the Lower East side, boiling and took a whole week to shoot.”

First Phil plays a short live music clip of his choice (in Blue Ray so that it feels like you’re at an actual concert) and then the movie starts, by which point I’m usually stuffed so full of wine, pizza and dessert that I can barely stay awake. The very first time I went to pizza evening (before the days of the Mozza oven and their new house), I was so warm and cozy that despite my best efforts to prize my eyelids open, I slept through the entire movie. Shortly after, at Phil’s book signing, I was talking to a friend of his about how amazing his movie nights are, when she recognized me, “Oh, I sat next to you. I think you were asleep on my shoulder!”

To read more about Phil’s movie night in the “L.A. Times,” click here.

Now… it’s up to you to start the fight…. Feel free to comment if you think you can compete for best movie/pizza night. (I know it’s not apparent but you can comment by clicking on the highlighted comment link below.)

Other amazing pizzas worth mentioning are:

Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in Beverly Hills. The one with smoked salmon and dill cream, topped with caviar. (Nancy Silverton was once the head pastry chef there and Phoenix Books takes over the restaurant every year for its staple Super Bowl Party.)

Mulberry Pizza (which I just discovered was founded by Robert DeNiro’s wife in “Raging Bull”). The one with the breaded eggplant (aubergine).

And these ones I haven’t tried:

Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan; Spacca Napoli in Chicago; and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.

Go to the Pizza Share website to find the best pie hole near you. You can boost their ranking by clicking on “share.”


8 Responses

  1. Mmmmmn Phil’s/Pizza Mozza’s fennel sausage pizza was definitely delectable and my new favourite and totally blew my intentions of vegetarianism out the window….and I dont even like sausages!!!…..combined with a Cinematic screening of Raging Bull it was the perfect Sunday evening, as you can see from my expression above.
    But I will throw in Cheebos on Sunsets truffle mushroom pizza……smokey truffle infused mushrooms on a cream base and ciabatta style bread served square shaped on a bread board. Worth a mention.

  2. those little chocolate cupcakes are wicked aswell!

  3. First, let me start by saying that I, being your culinary wizardress of a friend, am hoping for an invitation to this movie night!!!!!!

    Secondly, how very timely. I spent the afternoon at Angelina in Paris today!!! This is from my own blog:

    If you die without experiencing Angelina, then you have never truly lived.

    Quite a few friends highly recommended this Salon de The, having sung the praises of the African Hot Chocolate. The long line of bourgeois locals and travel guide toting foreigners outside the door does not lie. The good things in life are worth waiting for.

    Through the window you can see the tantalizing tiers of pastel hued patisseries: The pale green of nutty pistachio macaroons, easter yellow custard in the Mille Feuille and the bursting rose colored framboise biscuits.

    After 20 minutes in line, I’m led to a small marble-topped table by the window. In one direction, I have a perfect view of the adjacent gardens. In the other, a bustling turn-of-the-century room full of Sunday brunchers. Though the patron’s fashions give away the true date, I can imagine this exact same scene taking place for over a hundred years.

    It’s 4pm and I haven’t had a bite to eat yet so I start with a Quiche Lorraine and a glass of Sancerre Blanc. The quiche is perfectly executed. A bubbly golden top gives way to the billowy scrambled egg and ham filling, all held in place by a thin, flakey butter crust. A bed of bitter greens provides a succinct contrast to the sultry richness of the quiche. And the crisp white wine, with its lingering flavor of ripened pink grapefruit, marries together all the textures and tastes.

    My hungry belly is doing battles with my sophisticated palette. “Devour it!” “No, savor it, stupid!”

    I look up at the eager faces outside the window and lick my fork, taunt them with my smug satisfaction. I’m in no hurry to give up my seat. I haven’t even gotten to the heart of matters yet.

    Finally, after finishing every last crumb of my quiche, I allow the vested waiter to take my plate.

    “Would Mademoiselle like a dessert menu?” he asks me, though from his smile I can see he already knows the answer.

    I’m sure the hot chocolate is a dessert unto itself but I’m greedy so I order both of the house specialties: Le Mont Blanc and Le Chocolat a L’ancienne dit “L’Africain”.

    The patisserie comes first. The base of the dessert crumbles like confectionary chalk. Atop this layer sits a scoop of light Chantilly crème, while the entire pastry is dressed in “Vermicelles” of crème de marron. These spaghetti-shaped strokes of sweetness are the flavor of a gourmand’s cookie dough.

    And then it arrives. L’Africain.

    A delicate cup, saucer and demi-tasse spoon are placed on the table. The hot chocolate itself is served in a small pitcher, with a ramekin of unsweetened whipped cream alongside. This polite presentation does little to mask the raucous decadence of the libation it contains.

    I feel like Augustus Gloop, ready to dive head first into the frothy chocolate river.

    I muster all my grown-up composure. I pour a small amount of the molten liquid into the cup. It’s as viscose as maple syrup. Then, I take a spoonful of the whipped cream and stir it in, watch it make psychedelic tie-dye swirls in the chocolate. I take my first taste by spoonful. I feel my eyes roll toward heaven. I pick up the cup and take a long drink, let the sensuous liquid slowly coat my whole mouth. It tastes like I’ve just drunk from a cup of the most exquisite melted chocolate bar in the whole world. It’s like a speedball. I’m buzzing with a sugar-driven rush while simultaneously in a cocoa-coma.

    I want to feign an orgasm at the table, like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

    After I’ve drained the pitcher, I run my finger along the inside of the cup and lick it clean. I stare for a while into the garden across the street. I marvel at the tiny buds just beginning to appear on the branches of the thousand trees in the Tuileries. I’m lost now, for a fleeting moment suspended in time.

    I’m sad I have to depart before the nibs burst into blossom. I think the waiter just caught me teary-eyed as he approached with the check.

    Though all good things must come to an end, I will be back for you soon, Paris, my lover.

  4. Yes, the hot chocolate was thick… a little TOO thick and WITH CREAM???!!! It was fabulously indilgent, but once a year at the most!

    Pizza night sounds wonderfully charming. The Pizza topping are adventurous and an uplifting surprise to the palette, it seems. Very good commentry, Henrietta.

    Continue to write about food!

  5. I think I’m fairly against toppings on pizza. Or at least *many* toppings at once, on the same pizza. Goat cheese is pretty amazing, with basil and tomato. Mozza has one with truffle oil I think — that’s amazing.

    My über pizza is currently a simple cheese and tomato. When the ingredients are good, it’s hard to beat.

    I don’t see how one can really compete with a pizza night that features a clone of the Mozza oven and their chef on top of that. Those cupcakes look Amazing…

  6. Mmmm I love pizza any way I can get it. This is my perfect Valentine’s Day date….no fancy restaurant or jewelery wrapped with a bow, no love songs, no bouquets of flowers. No! My idea of heaven is Joey, a hot cheese pizza from Nicky D’s (on Rowena), and snuggles on the couch.

  7. the African Hot Chocolate sounds really inviting, when in Paris must go and try to see Angelina.
    The food you are writing about , the sound just wonderful one would like to eat them right now!
    But … my body says no a lot’s of time… thanks god!

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