Two months ago he opened Mother Dough in Los Feliz Village on Hollywood Boulevard. Compani designed the place and was the construction foreman. The menu is obsessively minimal: a careful selection of beer and wine, a few excellent starters, a pair of desserts and five pizzas.
When Compani ran out of Italian bufala mozzarella one night, he shut his restaurant down rather than stoop to using cow's milk mozzarella. He refuses to take any modifications to his pizzas because he can't bear to throw off the particular balance of Neapolitan pizza. You might mistake it for pretension, but just walk back to the counter, watch him deliberately stretch out each dough against the countertop, pressing air bubbles outward, carefully avoiding touching the rim. Watch him stand in front of the oven, hand out, feeling the heat, waiting for the right moment to pop in the next pizza, and you'll realize that this is dedication.
Mother Dough is a long, echoey room, a brick-walled hangar of sorts dominated by an enormous, glowing beaten-metal Italian wood-burning pizza oven at the far end. If you catch him in a slow moment, Compani will happily give you a quick flashlight tour of his wood-burning oven. "It's a beast, but it's like dancing with a female. You have a relationship with the oven," he says. "In Naples, you are trained from a very young age to do it. You have to feel it out. When people don't understand the oven, it's a disaster." He painted over the thermometer on the side of the oven. He didn't want to let himself rely on the numbers, on formulas. "It has to be intuitive," he explains. "There is no formula. Everything depends on external variables."
The reason, partially, is that Compani is dealing with wild yeast sourdough, using a mother dough that he's been developing and playing with for years. The dough is hyper-responsive to slight changes in temperature and humidity, and dealing with it is a perpetual mix of improvisation, nurturing and bullying. "People ask me, 'Why don't you get somebody else to make your dough for you?'" says Compani. "I'm committing suicide here! I barely see my son anymore! They have no idea how hard it is to retain consistency. But the dough is everything that I have. It's the infrastructure of everything we do here."
What comes out of his oven-beast is majestic — a subtly charred, quietly tangy, soft, densely chewy crust that is basically the happiest thing you can do for your mouth. It has layers of chew, geological strata of toothsome stretchiness.
If you're used to a crispy crust or a heavily loaded pizza, you might need to make some internal readjustments. If you are a loyalist to, say, New York-style pizza, you may have to set aside your biases. Approach Mother Dough with the same attitude you might give a sushi master — attentive, focused, open.
The sourdough gives the crust a wild, subtle tang. It's worth closing your eyes and sniffing it like a red wine. Try it in its most bare form — perhaps the Margherita or the oven-roasted tomato pizza. But the height of Mother Dough might be the prosciutto and arugula pizza, with ultra-thin slices of prosciutto melting like meat butter in your mouth.
The crust will be different from day to day, from pizza to pizza — the price, and the reward, of sourdough. The pizzas can take a while — during a rush the staff will occasionally apologize that the pizza will take over half an hour because they only have one pizza maker. They have a bemused look in their eyes, as if Compani is their beloved but slightly mad uncle.
Compani — born in Iran, raised in London, schooled in Naples, educated in breads around the world. This is our new hero: International Man of Flatbread.
LOCATION: 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 644-2885, http://www.motherdoughpizza.com
PRICE: Appetizers, $5 to $12; small pizzas, $15 to $19; dessert, $8
DETAILS: Open 6 to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Beer, wine, soft drinks. Credit cards accepted. Street parking.