(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
IT'S THE hottest day of the year -- 91 degrees -- and Phil Rosenthal is stacking almond wood kindling in the pizza oven of his Hancock Park home. In little more than an hour, a cook from Pizzeria Mozza will arrive, as he does most Sunday nights, and begin kneading dough and sprinkling cheese for the 25 to 30 guests who come for movie night.
Rosenthal, the creator and executive producer of "Everybody Loves Raymond," and his wife, actress Monica Horan (Amy on "Raymond"), have hosted the weekly movie night for years, practically since they met in New York City in 1986.
But now, instead of sending out for pizza from Fivo's on 187th Street and watching "Tootsie" on a 12-inch television set, the couple shows DVDs (Blu-Ray when available) in the screening room of their Tuscan-style villa and serve Mozza pizza made in the same oven you'll find at the restaurant, if you can get a reservation.
"When I heard that Mario Batali, the greatest Italian chef in the world, and Nancy Silverton 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."
It also explains why he can finagle Mozza pizza cook Gustavo Canseco into coming to his house to cook for his friends.
Every half hour or so, Rosenthal pushes the kindling to another spot on the oven floor; when the soot burns off the oven ceiling and turns it lunar white, the chamber will be hot enough to slip in the pizzas.
"Where I come from, we couldn't afford to eat in great restaurants," Rosenthal says. "When I lived in New York, I'd save up all my money to have a meal in a four-star restaurant. And then I went to Italy, and the simplest meal in any corner restaurant was the best meal I ever had."
IT LOOKS like Italy out the window. The late afternoon sun dapples the olive trees in the garden as Canseco arrives with crates of provisions and sets up at the L-shaped kitchen island. On the golden marble countertop, Canseco arrays balls of pre-measured pizza dough and clear plastic containers full of ochre squash blossoms and yellow pineapple, bright green scallions and rapini, rosy prosciutto, bacon and guanciale, lipstick-red marinara sauce, and ashen Taleggio mozzarella and sottocenere, a black truffle cow's milk cheese.
Gilma Repreza, who helps out on Sunday nights (and was nanny to Ray Romano's children), puts wineglasses, utensils and paper plates on the counter along with Silverton's chopped salads, served right out of their plastic takeout containers. Rosenthal grabs a few bottles of wine -- "whatever we happen to have or whatever people bring," he says -- tonight a selection of bold reds from France, Italy and Napa.
The kitchen fills with laughter as the guests, a melange of movie buffs and foodies, trickle in. On weeks when he is in L.A., Rosenthal e-mails invitations to about 50 people; the first 25 who RSVP are in. Tonight Valerie Harper is here, just back from Chicago, where she was a guest on "Oprah" with the rest of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" cast. Harper's presence spurs actor Tom McGowan to reminisce about "Mary," which was part of a nightly ritual at Hofstra University, where he and Rosenthal were theater students.
"We'd get together in Phil's room because he had one of the only TVs at school, a tiny black-and-white one," recalls McGowan, who played the station manager on "Frasier." "And every night we'd watch [Johnny] Carson and Tom Snyder, which were followed by two back-to-back episodes of 'Mary Tyler Moore.' "
Director Jake Kasdan, whose film "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" will be shown after dinner, strolls in with his wife, singer-songwriter Inara George, looking impossibly chic in her vintage dress and nerdy black glasses. The film's music supervisor, Manish Raval, arrives with his wife, Sage, an artist and art teacher to Rosenthal's daughter. Rock 'n' roll writer David Wild -- "You can say I'm a recovering Rolling Stone writer," he quips -- corners Mike Viola, who wrote several songs for the movie. "I have more of your songs on my iPod than I do songs by the Beatles," Wild says.
Gourmet hot dog purveyor Sue Moore of Let's Be Frank regales event planner Kathleen Sacchi with stories of her days as a meat forager at Chez Panisse as she watches Canseco take pies from the oven and place them directly on the marble counter. If having his boss here this evening makes Canseco nervous, you'd never know it. Mozza executive chef Matt Molina isn't even paying attention, it turns out. It's his night off, and he's here with his girlfriend.
Rosenthal marvels that a pizza with guanciale, radicchio, escarole and bagna cauda (a "warm bath" of garlic, anchovies and olive oil) has four eggs on top. "When you go to the restaurant," he says, "they serve it with only one egg."