Thursday, October 29, 2009

Los Angeles Dining: Osteria Mozza

I landed at LAX, and by the time I joined my friends Paul and James for dinner it was after 9 Pacific time. My stomach was grumbling wondering why on earth I had waited until midnight to eat. Fortunately, Osteria Mozza was worth the wait. With a culinary power team like Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich it’s little surprise that Angelenos literally lost their mind for this restaurant when it first opened. Even two years later, the place was impressively packed for late on a Thursday night.

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For the uninitiated– Silverton is a partner at Campanile, a long beloved LA restaurant and the founder of the wildly successful La Brea Bakery, among other culinary feats. Batali needs no introduction, and Bastianich was born into the biz with famous mother Lidia leading the way and a long partnership with Batali cementing his stature. And they live up the hype.

The menu mixes the traditional primi and secondi courses with an extensive mozzarella bar list. We sat at the back bar for a special weekday night deal – a mozzarella bar dish, a pasta, a dessert and a glass of wine for just $35. Considering most mozzarella bar items are $15 on their own, this is a spectacular deal!

Alas, the deal can only be had at the back bar, not the larger central one, so the three of us had to wait it out. Fortunately the hostess eventually convinced Desperate Housewives’ Richard Burgi to move over a seat so we could sit down.

The pasta and dessert were good. They didn’t rock my world, but they were well worth the price. The Tagliatelle with oxtail ragu was amply meaty and full of flavor, but I’d certainly tasted similar dishes before. The pumpkin, date and bourbon torte was also quite moist, and I love any dessert with pumpkin and dates, but it still was the star of the show. I think I would have fared better with the three different flavors of cannoli as Paul seemed to be enjoying his dessert most of all.

No surprise given it’s the name sake of the restaurant, mozzarella is where Osteria Mozza shines. The dishes we enjoyed from the mozzarella bar were indeed mind-bogglingly delicious. I chose the Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole and caramelized shallots because I love the super fresh, milky texture of burrata. First off, I was thrilled to see they didn’t skimp on this dish. It came with two crostini topped with heaping slices of creamy burrata. The soft cheese had such a lovely texture and lightness. Not the chewy grocery store mozzarella that usually bums me out. The balance of meaty bacon and pungent shallots added umph to the heavenly simplicity of the cheese. Seriously, wow.

Years ago, Mr. AT and I were driving through a town in Italy known for their mozzarella prowess. I insisted we find a fromageria so we could try for ourselves. We ended up buying a ginormous bag of  floating fresh mozzarella. So incredibly, addictively delicious it was, that we ate something like a pound of it in mere minutes with our bare hands as we headed south. This experience wasn’t quite like that, but it was close. Certainly the best cheese dish I’ve had in years and definitely worth an impatiently growling stomach.

Osteria Mozza on Urbanspoon

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