A new pizzeria in Burlingame, California, is firing up pies with a crust like none other in the U.S.—and maybe even the world.
Mochiko Mochi Pizza held its grand opening on November 4, after a soft opening that ran for several days last week. And as its name suggests, this isn’t the kind of pizza your nonna used to make, unless your nonna was Japanese and big on experimentation in the kitchen. We’ll even go so far as to say it stands out as a unique pizza style in its own right, due to the one-of-a-kind crust inspired by the flavors of East Asia.
Founded by Chef Ty Mahler and Peter Yen, partners in the Bay Area’s well-known Sushirrito restaurant brand, Mochiko Mochi Pizza has developed a pizza crust made with a proprietary rice flour blend ordinarily used in mochi desserts. Mochi is a popular Japanese rice cake made from sticky rice called mochigome. It has a chewy texture and can be shaped into a variety of forms for traditional East Asian dishes and confections.
But a pizza? That’s a new one on us. A pizza crust made with mochi bakes up crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, the restaurateurs say. At Mochiko Mochi Pizza, it can be topped with the standard mozzarella and pepperoni or with chicken karaage (bite-sized, deep-fried chicken pieces) or spicy pork bathed in a pepper cream sauce.
“People stop in their tracks when they hear ‘mochi pizza,’” Ty Mahler told SFGate.com. “It’s something about the two words together. We go through great lengths with the dough….People don’t know what to expect, and then when they try it, they’re pleasantly surprised. People usually view mochi more as a dessert, but what we wanted to do was make it more savory.”
According to Mochiko Mochi’s website, each mochi pizza comes in 18” x 4” rectangles. As the company’s Facebook page states, the toppings “deliver a blend of salty, tangy and sweet flavors, plus an extra kick of heat.”
Mahler and Yen told SFGate they wanted to create a Japanese fusion pizza that goes beyond the usual Italian-American style topped with Asian-themed flavors. They were inspired to develop a mochi pizza by their children, who love mochi muffins and mochi donuts.
Yen said Mahler likely went through “a couple hundred” mochi dough recipes over a period of years before settling on the version now being offered at their new restaurant. “I have a list of iterations of tweaking everything,” Mahler noted in the SFGate interview. “There were so many times that we said, ‘Scrap it. It’s not going to work.’”
Interestingly, mochi dough doesn’t need to rise. Once it’s made, Mahler cooks the tacky dough first in a flat aluminum baking pan, then transfers it into a deeper aluminum pan, adds the toppings and a sweet tomato sauce made with Japanese ingredients, and bakes it again for 10 minutes at 650°. Finally, he slices it into thick squares.
The result, the owners say, is “the perfect fusion of two worlds in every bite—the chewy and crunchy mochi base and classic pepperoni goodness.”
To build interest, Yen and Mahler gave away free individual slices of their innovative pizzas from 1 to 3 p.m. on their grand-opening day.
For now, Mochiko Mochi offers a selection of just four mochi pizzas: Chicken Curry (fried chicken karaage, mozzarella, corn, jalapeños, Japanese curry and fresh cilantro); Spicy Pork (spicy minced pork, mozz, spinach and sansho pepper cream sauce); Pepperoni (pepperoni, mozz, tomato jam and fresh garlic chives); and Cheese (mozz, tomato jam and fresh garlic chives).
Susana Guerrero gave mochi pizza a try for SFGate. “I grabbed a slice from the box and lifted it above to reveal the golden-brown crust on the bottom,” she wrote. “The first thing I noticed was the crunchy edges and gooey cheese followed by the unmistakable texture of soft mochi. Unlike mochi muffins, which can have a gooey consistency, the mochi pizza had a sturdier texture that somehow held its shape with each bite.”
Mochi tends to fill the belly up fast, and one mochi pizza is meant to serve two or three adults, Mochiko Mochi Pizza’s website points out. A reviewer for Yelp learned that lesson the hard way after trying a free slice. “I’m giving this a 4 because, although it was good, I did feel so heavy/uncomfortable after,” the reviewer wrote. “I definitely couldn’t eat a whole pizza or even half without feeling sick. One slice was really enough.”