Locally produced mozzarella to be central to dishes

Silverton, Batali to join forces for Mozza Bar concept in L.A.: locally produced mozzarella to be central to dishes

Lisa Jennings

Los ANGELES — La Brea Bakery founder and renowned chef-restaurateur Nancy Silverton is teaming up with a counterpart from New York, celebrated chef-restaurateur Mario Batali, to open a new concept here that tentatively is named Mozza Bar and someday may be replicated in the Big Apple.

The casual, Italian-inspired restaurant will be a first on the West Coast for Batali and his longtime business partner Joseph Bastianich. The pair owns seven critically acclaimed New York restaurants, including Babbo, Esca, Lupa and the recently opened Bistro du Vent. The Los Angeles venture also marks a reversal of Batali’s former stance that he never would open a restaurant in that city.

Batali and Bastianich also are planning to open a new restaurant in Las Vegas at the Venetian resort-casino later this year as well as the new concept Del Posto in New York this summer. Bastianich also is a partner in four restaurants with his mother, Lidia Bastianich, who is known for her TV cooking shows and the restaurant Felidia in New York.

Silverton, who is credited with inspiring a new wave of bakeries around the country that produce European-style artisanal breads, also co-founded the famed Los Angeles restaurant Campanile with her former husband Mark Peel and their business partner Manfred Krankl. Peel recently bought out Silverton’s interest in the restaurant, which the couple opened in 1989 after they attained national recognition in two other ventures. One was their recruitment to Manhattan by the late restaurant impresario Warner LeRoy, who dubbed the couple the “best chefs in America” and charged them with reviving his old Maxwell’s Plum. Previously, Peel and Silverton were the first executive chef and pastry chef, respectively, of Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago in West Hollywood, Calif.

In 2001 Irish baking conglomerate IAWS Foods Inc., based in Dublin, Ireland, bought an 80-percent stake in La Brea Bakery for a reported $55 million and the assumption of $13.5 million in debt. Silverton would not confirm terms of the sale but said she no longer holds any equity in the Los Angeles-based company, though she remains a “full-time, paid employee,” assisting in the development of breads and pastries. La Brea Bakery products now are sold widely in chain stores.

Over the past several months, Silverton also has hosted the popular “Mozzarella Mondays” at the Los Angeles restaurant Jar, co-owned by chef Suzanne Tracht. The weekly dinners include a bar menu that features locally produced mozzarella prepared in various ways.

Silverton said the new restaurant with Batali, which they hope to open this year, would expand on that concept for a bar menu, in addition to the regular dining-room menu, hence the name Mozza Bar.

Following a Los Angeles opening, “if it seems successful and if our marriage seems to be successful–our business marriage–it’s something we might take to New York,” she said.

Batali was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment by presstime. But on a visit to the West Coast last year he said he was averse to opening a restaurant in Los Angeles because its residents tend to go to bed too early and aren’t inclined to indulge in big dinners in restaurants. Indeed, restaurateurs in the region acknowledge that its geographic spread and dependence on cars tend to inhibit wining and dining.

Silverton confirmed Batali’s initial hesitation: “He was trying to lure me to New York to do something with him. But it’s not a good time for me to go to New York. So I presented this concept to him, and he said, ‘Great. I’m there.’ It was the concept, not me or L.A.,” that changed his mind, she said, adding, “We’re going to change L.A.”

Details of Mozza Bar have yet to be decided, but the partners plan to feature salami and other cured meats made by Batali’s father, Armandino Batali, who owns the dell restaurant Salumi in Seattle.

Joseph Bastianich said his role would be more as a “business overseer, more behind the scenes.”

Silverton said she is looking for a location in the Beverly Hills area, though she would be open to good locations or good leases elsewhere in the Los Angeles region.

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