Chefs’ Picks: Los Angeles Pizza
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Unlike New York or Chicago, there are no preconceived notions of what pizza in Los Angeles ought to be. As a result, inventive pizzaiolos are letting their imaginations run rampant, spinning out an array of pies as diverse as the city’s sprawling urban landscape. Check it out for yourself. But beware: In a city this size, simply wandering the streets in search of anything is a half-baked endeavor. Allow a few local chefs who deal in (pizza) dough to guide your pursuit of the perfect pie.
For Executive Chef-Owner Lior Hillel of Bacari GDL, forming the perfect dough is essential to making a formidable pizza. No detail is overlooked when it comes to making the dough at his restaurant in Glendale, California. “It’s a four-hour process, kneading it and punching it every hour or so” he says. “We let it rise three times, punching between each rise, then let it rest for 25 minutes, cut it into portions, roll it out and let it rise again in the refrigerator. This helps with flavor development.” One look at the menu and it’s obvious that Hillel’s pies are far from standard. Options include smoked cremini mushroom, two-year-aged cheddar and double creme brie with jalapeño and bacon. “I was initially inspired by Pizzeria Mozza, who I think makes the best pizza in Los Angeles,” Hillel notes. “What I like about [their pizza] is that the bottom holds up — it’s not as flimsy — which is what we do at Bacari as well.”
Another dough devotee is Duke Gervais, executive chef at Baldoria in downtown LA. Fashioned out of only four ingredients, the canvas for his pies undergoes two-and-a-half days of cold proofing before it’s ready to hit the oven. “I believe that if you have a fantastic pizza dough as your base, and an intimate knowledge of your pizza oven, it’s kind of hard to mess things up,” he says. “There are a lot of great pizza spots in Los Angeles, primarily because the city holds a lot of truly talented and integrative chefs with understanding of what makes good pizza.” One of his favorites is Milo & Olive in Santa Monica.
As a hipster hotspot, LA’s Silverlake neighborhood is notoriously devoted to all things new and next. Surprising then that Wood — one of the area’s most-successful pizzerias — focuses exclusively on the oldest, most-classic style of pie in existence: Neapolitan. “In my opinion, Neapolitan style is rarely done correctly [in Los Angeles] in its true form,” says Owner and Pizzaiolo Erik Martirosyan. “That means the pizza isn’t too thick or too thin. There are no extra additives… No frills.” When it comes to trying other pizza spots across town, Martirosyan is largely inspired by places that have also adopted the Neapolitan approach. “Two of my favorites are Gjelina in Venice and DeSano on Santa Monica Boulevard [in East Hollywood],” he says. “I will never stop trying to better the pizza here at Wood, but each pizza is a snowflake: unique and perfect!”
Italian restaurant Vinoteca may be located inside the high-end Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel, but that doesn’t mean its menu toes the line. On the contrary, Chef de Cuisine Mirko Paderno was given room to both innovate and increase accessibility. “I wanted to bring something new to the pizza scene in Los Angeles,” he says. “So the dough for our Neapolitan pizzette at Vinoteca is kneaded with cooked potato and specialty flour imported from Ancona [Italy], specifically milled for pizza-making.” Deep-fried and topped with unexpected add-ons such as smoked mozzarella, truffle honey and arugula, Paderno’s creations are a testament to how experimentation can encourage excellence. But when he steps outside of his own kitchen, the Italian chef is inspired by a local eatery that hits close to home. “If you want to experience true Italian-style pizza in Los Angeles, go to Terroni,” he recommends. The restaurant sources many of its ingredients straight from the old country, which means their pizza dough is also made from imported flour milled just for that purpose.
Peppering a pizza with the flavors of traditional Taiwanese cuisine may seem like a surprising choice, but the combination came about organically for David Kuo, chef and owner of Little Fatty in Mar Vista. “The inspiration for the duck pizza came to me when we finally mastered our green onion pancake recipe,” says Kuo. “Once we nailed the base down, I immediately thought of the classic Taiwanese beef roll. Traditionally a beef roll is made from a scallion pancake, hoisin, cucumbers, braised beef shank (and) cilantro. I am a huge pizza fan so, naturally, this made sense.”
Kuo appreciates pizza joints with more orthodox approaches, such as Bestia in downtown LA. He’s also a fan of new-school pies from Lodge Bread Co. in Culver City and The Rose Cafe in Venice. “I am personally excited for Alvin Cailin’s by-the-slice spot, Lunchini,” he adds of this new Hollywood pizzeria and bar.
Photography by Pizzeria Mozza, Baldoria, Kathy Delgado, iStock/Kari Hoglund and iStock/kudryavtsev