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RESTAURANTS: EARLY BIRD

New to the O.C.: Pizzeria Ortica

David Myers of West Hollywood's Sona and Comme Ça tries Italian in Costa Mesa.

March 02, 2009|S. IRENE VIRBILA | RESTAURANT CRITIC

David Myers, the chef-entrepreneur behind Sona and Comme Ca in West Hollywood, has gone south to O.C. to open his first Italian restaurant with former Valentino chef Steve Samson as executive chef.

It's a pizzeria, to borrow a publishing tag, "in the spirit of" Pizzeria Mozza, the Nancy Silverton-Mario Batali powerhouse in L.A. So, in addition to pizza, the kitchen turns out an array of antipasti and some pastas (this, Mozza doesn't do) and main courses. Sounds good, especially since it's close enough to the O.C. Performing Arts Center to pop in for dinner before a performance.

Pizzeria Ortica has an appealing look, despite its oddball configuration: a long, narrow space alongside a parking structure across from the much pricier Mastro's Steakhouse. With its high, arched ceiling and double rows of tables, it feels as though you're eating under one of the covered arcades in Bologna or Napoli.

Pizzas come topped with a simple tomato sauce scented with garlic and dried oregano -- plus mozzarella or house-made sausage with caramelized fennel or fresh ricotta with house-cured pork cheek and fennel pollen. They were a bit underbaked when I dined there. But in pizza-making, practice can make perfect.

There's plenty else to try, and the big table whooping it up next to me tried nearly everything. My picks are based on that one meal. There's house-preserved yellowfin tuna with cranberry beans and pickled red onions. Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style braised artichokes) are terrific, even worth a long drive. Just be prepared: The antipasti are small, more like tapas in size. Pastas are Italian-sized portions too, smaller than many restaurants serve. Highly recommended: ravioli filled with ricotta and stinging nettle served in a lovely tomato and basil sauce.

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virbila@latimes.com

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Pizzeria Ortica

Where: Pizzeria Ortica, 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa.

When: Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Beer and wine. Two hours' free parking, with validation, in adjoining parking structure.

Cost: Antipasti, $5 to $12; salads, $10 to $13; pasta and soup, $8 to $16; pizza, $10 to $18; panini (lunch only), $10 to $14; secondi (dinner only), $17 to $42; dessert, $5 to $7.

Info: (714) 445-4900; www.pizzeriaortica.com

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