Osteria Mozza - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Sunday, May 20, 2012

I don't think Osteria Mozza has seen a slow night since the day it opened its doors - a testament to their consistently delicious food. Deservedly, Matt Molina recently won "Best Chef: Pacific" at the 2012 JBF Awards (granted, there were many equally deserving chefs who did not win). We strolled in for dinner on a Sunday, the night of the partial eclipse in Southern California. Perhaps there was that magic in the air - the restaurant was radiating exuberance. Nancy Silverton herself was front-and-center, putting the finishing touches on dishes in the Mozzarella Bar. But we were here to taste the dishes of the man behind the scenes, and we were not disappointed.

Amuse - Crostini, ricotta, basil, olive
Radicchio, spiced walnuts, honey, fried rosemary
Burricotta, that wonderful marriage of mozzarella and ricotta, is a favourite of ours. Subtly sweet, with a lighter body than burrata, it carries and elevates its companion ingredients. Here, the bitterness of the radicchio was tempered by caramelization as well as the sweetness of the cheese and honey. The spiced walnuts echoed the vegetable's sharpness while the aroma of the rosemary grounded everything.

Leek, mustard, breadcrumbs
Significantly richer than the previous course, in no small part due to the rich creamy center of the cheese. The charred leek was a beautiful counterpoint to the burrata, and the breadcrumbs added a nice crunch, but the sheer amount of mustard almost overwhelmed its partners.

Grilled octopus
Celery, lemon, potatoes
Our server described this as "one of the best octopus dishes you'll ever have". Rather hyperbolic, but this was pretty darn good. The flavours were on-point, with nice balance. My only problem was that the octopus was too tender, verging on mushy - what happened to people enjoying some chew in their proteins?

Crispy pigs trotter
Cicoria, mustard
Snapper alla Livornese
Polenta, Parmigiano-Reggiano
Fish cooked in the traditional style of Livorno is typically poached in the liquid - a heady mixture of tomatoes, onions, white wine, garlic, stock, capers and other flourishes. Heathen that I am, I much preferred this updated version - the crispy skin of the snapper was absolutely perfect and the flesh beneath was equally well-cooked. The broth was a very finely calibrated mix of tangy, salty, sweetness. Bravo. The accompanying polenta was relatively staid by comparison.

Spaghetti Calabrese
Southern Italian done right. The kitchen did not shy away from the spiciness here, and it hit me in all the right spots (I assume that they used real Calabrian chilis in the sauce, but if not, it was great anyway). The house-cured anchovies were simply terrific - easily equal to the upper-level of canned products from Italy and Spain.

Huckleberry marmaletta, lemon mascarpone
Having enjoyed some excellent beignets at Umamicatessen earlier in the day, it would've been remiss not to order the bomboloni at dinner. Surprisingly, the beignets actually came out on top (they were superlative), but don't let that scare you away - these were excellent specimens in their own right. Barely any hint of grease, paired with a sour jam to awaken the palate. The chilled mascarpone provided a nice temperature contrast whilst lightening the dish.

Torta della Nonna
Honeys, pine nuts
How better to finish a meal than with an Italian grandmother's cake - here, a warm, lemony cheese tart served with three different honeys. It was remarkable to compare and contrast their drastically different tastes side-by-side. The toasted pignoli, both within the cake and sprinkled atop it, added their characteristic depth. Delicious.

Italian food in this country tends to leave me ambivalent - for us, it suffers from the "I can make it just as well at home" problem (although I suspect the real issue is that most Italian places are mediocre). And yet, a number of places do shine (OenotriSpiaggia and Cotogna to name but three). I don't find Osteria Mozza quite as impressive as that pantheon, but it's a place we'd happily return to for many visits.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Phone: (323) 297-0100