Leading up to last year’s opening of Osteria Mozza and adjacent Pizzeria Mozza, Nancy Silverton spent her Monday nights at Jar, preparing 13 different mozzarella-based dishes weekly, including dessert. This proved to be the genesis for her wildly popular partnership with celebrity chef Mario Batali and Manhattan restaurateur Joseph Bastianich. Silverton can now be found nightly behind Osteria Mozza’s mozzarella bar, which is noble given the massive windfall from the sale from her La Brea Bakery in 2001. As soon as Osteria Mozza opened, critics pronounced that Silverton and protégé Matt Molina were probably producing the most ambitious Italian food in the city. As a result, my cousin and I both entered our dinner with massive expectations. They weren’t met, but we still had an interesting experience.
The handsome space featured high ceilings, a muted aqua and black color scheme and twin bars. Any empty seat came as a surprise. Osteria Mozza opened over a year ago, but the Italian restaurant is still generating plenty of buzz.
Given Silverton’s accomplished baking background, it was no surprise the slabs of complimentary bread were such a success. We were given a choice of white, whole grain and wheat bread. The latter two breads both featured addictively chewy crusts.
Ever since Osteria Mozza opened, I wanted to try the Crispy Pig’s Trotter ($12). This was a compelling dish. Thin sheets of pig hoof were formed into a disc and deep-fried like a crab cake. Ultimately, the flavor was pretty good, but the texture was overly gelatinous. Whole grain mustard added some spice. Chive-loaded cicoria and sliced plums formed a nice salad.
My cousin ordered Bufala Mozzarella ($16) with prosciutto di Parma from Silverton’s mozzarella bar. This was a simple dish that relied exclusively on the quality of the ham and cheese. It was impossible to screw up. My cousin was fairly pleased, but made it clear that he’s eaten better versions in New York, at lower prices.
We split a Primi of Orecchiette ($18) with crumbled house-made sausage and minced Swiss chard. This was a stellar dish, springy “little ears” of pasta in a luscious pork sausage broth studded with spicy red chile flakes, spooned with breadcrumbs for added texture.
Crisp Duck al Mattone ($29) was half a bird served on a wood plank. Fat from the bird’s skin melted into the meat, making it luscious, and laying a brick on top of the duck during cooking made the skin crispy.
The duck came with dishes of pear mostarda and sweet corn. The pear chutney featured translucent fruit slices soaked with sugar and spicy mustard oil. Roasted corn kernels were flavored with roasted garlic shavings and green onions. The spicy accompaniments were individually successful, but the mostarda didn’t quite meld with the duck meat.
Grilled Beef Tagliata ($28) turned out to be slices of seared hanger steak marinated in 25-year-old balsamic, plated with a salad of rucota and Parmigiano with aceto balsamico. The steak had a nice char, and the flavor was initially intoxicating, but the balsamic grew overpowering after multiple bites.
Roasted Potatoes ($8) with rosemary looked dry. The crisp skins betrayed how tender and moist the interiors were.
None of the desserts sounded that compelling, and they cost $12 apiece, so we skipped dessert in order to introduce my cousin to Scoops.
On our previous visit to Pizzeria Mozza, all three appetizers were outstanding, and so was the butterscotch budino. Only one Osteria Mozza dish reached those heights – the orecchiette. Considering Osteria Mozza costs much more, that shouldn’t have been the case.