Friday, January 04, 2008

Osteria Mozza

Having had a couple wonderfully tasty dining experiences at Pizzeria Mozza, I had been waiting in anticipation for months for Osteria Mozza to open its doors. Thankfully, they finally did and with my taste buds ready for action, I went in one night with friends for a meal.

My first impression was that it was very loud. It was so loud that it was difficult to talk to my dinner companions without practically shouting. By the time I left, my voice was hoarse and my head was pounding. Luckily, the restaurant's decibel level didn't detract from the good food.

Our meal started with our waiter offering 3 different types of breads. Soon, our amuse bouche arrived and it was a Mozzarella Involtini stuffed with fresh basil, roasted tomato, and olives. The combined flavors were wonderful.

For our starters, my party shared 4 different appetizers and one pasta dish. Of the 4 appetizers, there were two standouts. First, there were the Grilled Figs wrapped in Pancetta with Wilted Dandelion Greens. It's hard to go wrong when your taste buds get a tasty combination of a sweet and salty, paired with a hint of bitterness from the dandelion greens.

Second, I also really enjoyed the Burrata with Bacon, Marinated Escarole and Caramelized Shallots, for almost the same reasons I loved the figs, although the figs' sweetness were replaced by the bacon's smokiness. As for our pasta dish, the Orecchiette with Sausage and Swiss Chard was a definite hit.

When it came to the entrees, 4 of us opted to share ours. My particular order was the Roasted Pork Arista with Sweet Corn and Chanterelles. After one bite, I almost didn't want to give it up to the next person. I loved the pork's juiciness and fattiness and if you take a good look, you can see the wonderful spices that were encrusted around the meat. Peppery met sweet and woodsy from the corn and chanterelles for a wonderful melding of flavors.

I also sampled the Grilled Quail wrapped in Pancetta with Radicchio and Honey, which I found blah. While I loved the fattiness of the roasted pork, the fattiness of the quail turned me off. The Beef Brasato with Polenta and Horseradish Gremolata was meltingly tender, but the sauce left a tangy after taste that wasn't appealing. The only other entrée I enjoyed as much as the roasted pork was the Monkfish Alla Diavollo. The fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce packed some heat that I found surprising. I don't associate spicy flavors with Italian foods at all, but boy, that monkfish dish was outstanding.

We also ordered veggie side dishes. I think that we could have easily done without them. They lacked punch. One of the sides we ordered was the Spaghetti Squash, Chiles, Mint and Bottarga. You'd think with ingredients like mint and chiles, you'd get a little bit of zing to your palate, but the dish was quite bland and while I liked the beet portion of the Marinated Beets with Walnut Salsa Verde, the salsa verde didn't add much and as such, was superfluous.

With all the food that was consumed, we were able to fit in one dessert, the Rosemary Olive Oil Cakes with olive oil gelato and rosemary brittle. While placing our order, our waiter instructed us on the best way to eat it. Simply, try to get the cake, brittle and gelato in one bite, because the olive oil gelato on its own is quite strongly flavored.

Once our dessert arrived, spoon in hand, I did as our waiter taught us. Yum! I don't know how to describe how all three components tasted together. All I know is that I definitely loved how the flavors blended together in my mouth and I also really enjoyed the textures. You get creamy, cakey and hard in one mouthful. By the way, out of curiosity, I did try each item separately. That olive oil gelato definitely is not something to be eaten on its own, but that rosemary brittle was outstanding. I wouldn't mind having a tin to bring home.

In general, other than the noise level, the food was pretty good. Unfortunately, with such expectations, "pretty good" was a bit of let down when I was expecting "fantastic", maybe, even "mind-blowing". I did go back a second time and sampled other menu items to see if my feelings would change.

The conclusions I got from that second visit was that almost any appetizer you ordered, especially from the Mozzarella bar was going to be a real treat and I felt that same way about any of the desserts. The pastas and entrees were a real hit and miss. Either they succeeded beyond compare or they left you wondering why you spent the money in the first place. As for the veggie side dishes, why even bother?

Overall, when you take away all the hype, I think Osteria Mozza is definitely a destination restaurant. The food is well crafted and quite tasty, but for me, the next time I get a hankering for Italian food, I'm heading back to All'Angelo.

To see pics, go to:

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 297-0100

Osteria Mozza on Urbanspoon

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