The Italian word "osteria" is defined as "a tavern or humble restaurant." This is a complete understatement when it comes to LA's Osteria Mozza. Made famous by celebrity chef owners Nancy Silverton (La Brea Bakery), Mario Batali (Iron Chef America on FoodNetwork) and Joseph Bastianich (Babbo NY and Batali biz partner), Mozza has received great praise and applause by critics and patrons alike since its opening in late 2006. Why am I always the last one to try out the new places???
Upon first entering the restaurant lying on the southwest corner of Melrose and Highland Avenue in the heart of LA, the dark wood floors and walls and starch white table linens make you feel as though the weather outside is 20 degrees with snow, and you are about to see Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall in the back corner enjoying an aperitivo in the company of their businessmen. The buzz inside the restaurant is warm and welcoming, and a hearty laugh is definitely not balked at.
Before spotting the Don or his conciliere anywhere, we first enjoyed a drink at the bar, touting a wine list of over 200 regional Italian wines, almost all unfamiliar to me, who now seems to be the extremely novice wine lover. We were immediately informed that the menu varies daily, so I will caveat my experience by saying you may or may not have the exact same inspiring meal... In the center of the main dining room is the Mozzarella Bar - a 3-sided counter area encasing 3 to 4 chefs dedicated exclusively to the preparation, presentation and praise of all things mozzarella. The specialty is a burrata basilicata, served only on Thursdays on a bed of leeks in a warm puddle of olive oil. Delicious and subtle in flavor, this burrata is served with warm (and very buttery) grilled sourdough panini. A few bites will leave you licking your fingers and checking the corners of your mouth for residuals to savor.
Before jumping right into the cheese, the chef served a crispy ricotta crustini that just made me salivate for more. The ricotta light topped with a small drop of olive tapenade - sure, I could make this little appetizer at home, but do I? No! Will I now? I damn sure will try!
The extensive "primi" portion of the menu includes a number of pastas I have either never heard of and/or have never tried. The hands-down best pasta of the evening was the Agnolotti, a small pillow-like stuffed pasta that tingled the taste buds with butter and sage flavors. These little bites of heaven worked so well in concerto with the rest of the evening's flavors, and like the crustinis, left you wanting even more.
A trio of pastas, clockwise from top: Oriecchette, Agnolotti, and Tagliatelle.
"Secondi" includes a broad range of meats and fish, such as a Grilled Quail that was so tasty, it made you curse its small size. I may have been the only person in my party whose heart jumped at tasting the pancetta wrapped around the tender bits of quail coated in a light honey sauce. The grilled beef tagliata did not disappoint either, nor did the light monkfish served alla diavolo in a subtle spicy sauce paired with a side of polenta.
Top to bottom: Grilled Quail; Monkfish; Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary; Fava Bean Salad
I would be amiss to not mention the desserts... although by the time you get through the wine and main courses, dessert just might put you over the edge into a coma. That didn't seem to stop us though as we ordered to Bombolini, fluffy, sweet and cinnamoney donut balls paired with vanilla bean ice cream, or the Dark Chocolate Cake with its rich bittersweet flavor that balanced the palate at the end of the night.
A great experience all around, definitely meriting a number of return visits, even if I never spot the Don or his conciliere, or if it never snows in LA.