20 September 2012

mmmeh : mmmozza, 75003

It should be fairly clear to most first-worlders by now that an appreciation for proper D.O.P. mozzarella is not, in itself, a sign of any particular gastronomic cultivation. Liking real mozzarella just means a person is alive, has a pulse, etc. The various forms the cheese takes - from bufala to burrata to bocconcini and beyond - are all basically risk-free crowd-pleaser components, beloved by everyone, as long as the product itself is fresh.

This is not to say that the success of restaurants like Roman mozzarella bar chain Obikà, and its spiritual descendent, my old workplace, Los Angeles' more baroque and refined Osteria Mozza, was in any way preordained or obvious. (Obikà was a pioneer; Osteria Mozza is now a certified Michelin-starred masterpiece.) This is to say that Mmmozza, the tiny sandwich-shop-slash-Italian-épicerie that opened last year on rue de Bretagne, ought to have decent commercial potential, despite its cubbyhole size and mmmoronic unoriginal name. After all, the whole quartier is more or less defined by its repertoire of minor indulgences (c.f. the menu at nearby wine bar Glou; all the trinket-rich, middle-market fashion boutiques; the "Panier des Gourmands by Franprix" mini-market...)

Alas ! After a few random visits this past summer I'm unable to avoid the conclusion that the Mmmozza the establishment is just too damn Parisian, by which I mean that its opening hours, service, and inconsistent product evince precisely zero ambition, bordering at times on actual laziness. Which is a shame, because it's one of the few épiceries of its type to have cottoned onto the natural wine thing.

On my first visit to Mmmozza I washed down a decent, if slightly underdressed sandwich of bufala mozzarella, mortadella, and arugula with a glass of Veneto biodynamic pioneer Angiolino Maule's base-bottling "I Masieri."

It's a steel-fermented Garganega / Trebbiano blend that apparently sees no skin-contact, unlike Maule's more famous cuvées; the wine's deep-ish canary colour can probably be attributed to oxygen contact. I feel there probably ought to be a name for this heavier-than-vin-de-soif category one often encounters in the base-bottlings of producers of more chest-hairy styles of natural white wine. In the 2011 "I Masieri" I read sharp white fruit, chewable vitamin, and citrus pith, all with a slightly dense, gravitational profile, as though the flavors were hanging somewhere to dry off.

For what it's worth, the wine's fine with fresh mozzarella, which in my experience is a cheese whose best hope for a beverage pairing is something that doesn't obscure or conflict with its own delicate flavors. (Nothing contributes anything.)

Post Mmmozza visit, I reflected that it was nice to have a fresh sandwich option in the Marais that included more than just cheese and meat. But I then recalled there is an extremely gregarious fellow in the nearby marché des Enfants Rouge who makes whopping enormous acultural sandwiches that include a real hearty stack of ingredients.

In Mmmozza's favor, they do offer more than sandwiches. Plates of cheeses and charcuterie are also available. On my second visit to Mmmozza, the Native Companion and I tried to purchase a plate of cheese around 19h30, only to be told that the place was closing soon, so we couldn't eat the mozzarella there, and that it couldn't really be eaten on-the-go.

We settled for sandwiches, only to be told there was just bread left for one sandwich. So the Native Companion got a sandwich, and I stole bites.

Her sandwich on that occasion came on a much nicer, more identifiably panini-esque bread, far better than the lame and in retrospect unsuitable baguette I'd previously received. In fact hers was a fairly delicious sandwich, one that has inspired me to revisit Mmmozza on several other occasions, only to find each time that service has finished or they're out of bread or the bread has reverted to the lame unsuitable baguette. It's like a conspiracy of ineptitude.

In the course of all this I learned that Mmmozza's hours are from Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am to 2:30pm and from 5pm to 8pm. I assume it must be a building code that prevents the place from staying open later, because otherwise it would be insane folly to schedule one's business hours in such a way as to cut off apéros at the neck. I suppose the blame may also to be placed on Parisians other than those running Mmmozza, as it's true the former are known to squat on tables for hours without ordering anything, and Mmmozza has just the one terrace table. Ultimately none of this would be at all frustrating if Mmmozza didn't half-heartedly provide a sketch of food and wine service.

Natural wine aside, Mmmozza is very much like Cooperativo Latte Cisternino, or Paisano, or any other Italian épicerie in Paris* - a place where a limited selection of Italian foodstuffs and Italian wine is inconsistently available for a limited span of time each day on the condition that you have unlimited patience, for the person behind the counter - in this case the nice but not overwhelmingly hospitable Florentine manager Laura Vestrucci - moves at very much her own pace.

During my first visit, I asked Vestrucci if she'd heard of the other Mozza, the one with one M from Los Angeles that has sinced opened in Singapore and Newport Beach. She said she hadn't.

I don't want to come down too hard, because after all it's fairly irrelevant that the two businesses have the same name - think of how many bars in Paris alone are called "Le Métro" or some such anonymity. But I still would advise anyone opening a business in a city of sky-high real estate prices and global press coverage to consult Google before naming anything.

That Mmmozza's proprietors are clearly not dreaming of millions of euros is, on balance, a good thing. That they're nonetheless dreaming, off in pressure-free lala land, is not. It defeats the purpose of the whole food service venture, which even if not intended to make much money, ought at least be intended to provide a discernible service. The Marais is already home to several other establishments whose food service is perceptibly a lifestyle accessory for the proprietors. What makes such places so discomfiting is how they unintentionally parody labours of necessity, i.e. most real food service ventures.

* Except the 11ème's La Rétrobottega, which is open often and where one receives wonderful hospitality. The catch is that La Rétrobottega doesn't sell mozzarella, because the owner, my friend Pietro Russano, says what's available in Paris isn't good enough to meet his standards. 

57 Rue de Bretagne
75003 PARIS
Tel: 01 42 71 82 98

Related Links:

Bruno Verjus somewhat over-enthusiastically calls Mmmozza a "must-go" @ FoodIntelligence
An informative 2011 piece on Mmmozza @ Télérama
A ditzy but nicely pictorial piece 2011 piece on Mmmozza @ We-Paris
A blurb on Mmmozza @ Glamour, in which the interviewer, in one of his paltry three questions to Vestrucci, very wisely asks when is the best time time of day to visit

Some 2009 notes from Jamie Goode on a bottle of 2008 "I Masieri" he tasted at Whole Foods @ WineAnorak
A pretty simplistic profile of Angiolino Maule @ WineStories
A profile of Angiolino Maule @ Louis/Dressner
A 2012 piece on Angiolino Maule's Recioto @ DuMorgonDansLesVeines


  1. Indeed, what is this mmmozza-Cisternon attitude? What gave these businesses the idea that a flaunted amateurism equals credibility?

  2. Mmmmmy several experiences with Mmmmmmmmmozza pretty mmmmmmmmuch mmmmmmmmirror yours, except I never succeeded in getting a sandwich from them.

    As consolation on my second attempt, though, they did offer a couple of slices of their heinously priced über-ham on the house. And I'll admit it was very, very good. I bet it would've made a lovely sandwich.