Since the mid 90s, the restaurant location on Melrose and Highland has been, for lack of a better word, cursed. Ever since the long-standing Emilio’s closed its doors, it’s been hard for another restaurant to gain a solid footing in that space. This changed in 2007 as both Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, joint ventures by culinary luminaries Nancy Silverton (La Brea Bakery, Campanile), Mario Batali (Babbo, Iron Chef, Iconoclast) and Joseph Bastianich (son of Lidia and Mario’s business partner), look like they’re ready to set up permanent shop at this famous Hollywood intersection and transform Southern California into the West Coast epicenter of fine Italian cuisine.
Osteria Mozza was the third stop on our wedding anniversary eating tour, and we were excited about this new restaurant after our visit to Pizzeria Mozza, as well as the incredible meal we had at Batali’s flagship restaurant, Babbo, when we were in New York last May. Could Osteria Mozza possibly live up to our expectations?
If you want reservations, you need to call in advance up to one month before your desired dining date. I managed to get through after a few tries and got a 7pm reservation. (When I called for Babbo, it took me 4 hours to get through, and the only tables available were at 5:30pm or after 9pm.) We were 15 minutes early for our reservation and were seated on arrival. The room is dark with lots of espresso wood furnishings. The mozzarella bar is in the middle of the space, and it was nice to see Nancy Silverton back there working her magic. And while Mario’s influence on the cuisine is undeniable, Osteria Mozza really belongs to both Nancy and Executive Chef Matt Molina, a Batali protege who’s running the show at the tender age of 29.
On advice from our server, we started with two antipasti—grilled figs wrapped in pancetta and the burrata with bacon, marinated escarole and caramelized shallots served on crostini. The concept of pancetta-wrapped fruit is irresistable, and the grilled figs had a beautiful smokiness and sweetness that was incredible. The burrata was really nice, especially when accompanied by the smoky bacon, but the crostini was a bit hard, which made this a bit of a challenge to eat. Nonetheless, the melding of flavors and textures here was wonderful.
Our primi was the Orrechiete, an ear-shaped pasta served with fennel sausage and a light, delicious sauce. After one bite, I was beaming with joy. I actually giggled. The sausage was chopped fine enough so that it got trapped inside every piece of pasta and every bite was hearty and flavorful. This is the kind of dish that you would eat a bowl of on a cold, rainy night…sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and watching a movie or sitting by the fire. This was definitely the the best dish of the night.
That’s not to take anything away from our secondi, which were delicious in their own right. My wife’s Monkfish was outstanding. It was served with a wonderful tomato-based sauce, greens and generous scoop of seasoned breadcrumbs on top that provided a crunchy complement to the tender, meaty fish. I ordered the Beef Brasato, a melt-in-your-mouth beef short rib that was served atop a polenta and horseradish gremolata. I have a bit of a love affair with beef short ribs, so this dish was basically perfect. The polenta was a little bland on its own, but once it soaked up the flavors from the meat, it was creamy and delicious.
For dolci, my wife ordered the Roasted Olive Oil cakes. Served with an olive oil gelato and some salt (maybe fleur de sel?), the cakes were like a mini muffin with a nice olive oil flavor. I didn’t taste the olive oil in the gelato, but my wife said it was very distinct and went great with the salt. I ordered the Bombolini, little round donuts served with lemon mascarpone and Fruiti di Bosco sorbet. The bombolini are similar to the malasadas you can find in Hawaii, only denser, and they have a wonderful creamy interior that’s a nice contrast to the crispy exterior.
Service was on point, much more efficient than the experience we had at Babbo. In fact, I’d say that it might have been too efficient. I’ve been starting to appreciate longer gaps between courses so that we can rest and savor the previous course before diving into the next one. It was nice not having to wait too long for our food, but if it had arrived five minutes later, that would have been fine too.
To say that Osteria Mozza met our expectations is an understatement. It was in many ways a much more satisfying experience than Babbo, which may have a lot to do with what we actually ordered. But when you combine the excellent service with amazing food, and the fact that L.A. is much more accessible than New York, Osteria Mozza comes out on top.