When talking about Osteria Mozza, there aren't any nasty rumors to put to rest nor much criticism at all, really. I was ready to drink the Kool-Aid before the long anticipated restaurant finally opened, and now I've swilled and chugged.
First off, let me state for the record that Marissa is a VERY good friend for giving us her Wednesday night reservation as a wedding anniversary present. (She also tried to pre-arrange another gift for us there that didn't work out due to a staff snafu, but for both gestures she deserves a major thank you.) She's been there more than anyone save for the two major restaurant critics in town, yet if I were her I'd hoard any chance to go back.
As Marissa pointed out, the well-organized menu with its four main sections (antipasti, mozzarella bar, primi and secondi, plus contorni and dessert) is like the best of Nancy meets the best of Mario. The mozzarella bar is clearly Nancy's domain, from which she oversees the bins of latticini freschi and a dizzying number of accompaniments. The majority of the antipasti and mozzarella menu section offerings are focused on seasonal ingredients and the whole farmers' market thing, but make no mistake -- pig trotters and testa make an appearance. Ah, the hand of Mario becomes apparent.
All items are under the $30 mark, which nearly feels damn well charitable in this restaurant market. But don't worry -- there are plenty of things to spend money on. And note that the pasta portions border on the skimpy side.
Tender octopus pieces remind me of the incredible stuff we had at Babbo a couple years ago, but I prefer like the delicate sweetness that rings through the lemony bed of celery, potatoes and chives to the pepper medley served on Waverly Place. The affetati misti showcase Papa Armandino's handiwork, including magically melting lardo, but the gnocchi fritti side falls flat. In the world of fried savory dough, I'd rather have sopapillas slathered with honey in New Mexico. The delicious crusty bread works great enough.
The quasi-open faced sandwiches are the real show stoppers.
Burratta Burricotti topped with currants, pine nuts, bread crumbs and braised artichokes is definitely best eaten before the hot little number with bacon, escarole and carmelized shallots. The only bummer is the first one is gone so fast. There's some disagreement about the second item, and while the crisp bacon is really intense, I still love the smoky/slightly bitter combo of ingredients.
Pasta offerings stick a few classics. No beef cheek ravioli or other complicated items here. Or so it seems. Ask the waiter and you'll get a ton of information about what's what, and the image of the food's simplicity evaporates. (This is one seriously well trained and informed staff.) For instance, the menu says "Agnolotti, burro e salvia." All it takes it one simple question to learn the pillowy wonders are stuffed with a mixture of veal, salami, and a couple other meats, and the garganelle al ragù contains some homemade fennel sausage. Ah, so that helps explain its incredible lingering depth.
Of all the desserts, rosemary fritters with olive oil gelato -- a slightly savory, herb-based concoction -- beckons the loudest. I haven't had gelato this creamy and subtle since Grom in New York; I'd gladly eat the cakes' soft crumbling texture again for breakfast the next day. The elegant rosemary brittle ribbon that joins the two components could have been made by a former Chihuly disciple who abandoned the glass trade to work in pastry.
My two biggest -- and essentially major only -- criticisms: 1) it's fuh-reeeezing in there, and 2) pleasant dinner music The Who doth not make. I know Mario likes to rock out with his er, smock out. And while the White Stripes and R.E.M. are fine (though the selection of the latter was, alas, later dull Warner Bros. material), Roger Daltrey's screaming pitch doesn't make me feel good. So by extension the strains of "Won't Get Fooled Again" don't help people look prettier, the wall colors more complimentary, the sauces taste any richer or the charcuterie more luscious.
We'll be headed to the lively mozzarella bar counter next time. Those deluxe sheets of burnished marble look like half of Carrara's export for the year was earmarked for Mozza's dining surfaces. It's the best vantage point from which to watch the action taking place beneath the double height ceilings (the mezzanine level from the previous occupant was removed), dark woods, pin-spot lighting and soft glowing pendant fixtures. Plus no one has to sit with his back to the restaurant facing the Mobil station across the street (sorry, H).
Osteria Mozza's got that fabulous busy urban restaurant buzz, and believe you me, there are no signs of it fading any time soon.
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
323.297.0100 (good luck with that!)