There’s no such thing as a recession-proof restaurant, but there are certainly concepts better equipped to weather the deluge. In L.A., look no further than Mozza, a multi-pronged Italian juggernaut from Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich armed with enough tantalizing options to please just about any palate. My first Osteria Mozza meal was solid in 2008, and considering the accomplished players, it came as little surprise that the restaurant was even better after a year-and-a-half.
Just like in 2008, our Mozzarella Bar-inspired Amuse Bouche consisted of crostini slathered with fresh ricotta, topped with tangy olive tapenade, draped with ribbons of fresh basil and drizzled with Tuscan olive oil. This simple preparation left us longing for more, which is the whole point of an amuse.
The Little Gem Lettuce ($15) salad was surprisingly hearty, crisp, dewy leaves piled with crumbled hazelnuts, bacon, creamy crumbles of Gorgonzola dolce (a mild blue cheese) and shaved hard-boiled egg. The diverse textures were another bonus.
Of course no visit to Osteria Mozza would be complete without ordering from the Mozzarella Bar. The bar is Nancy Silverton’s domain, and even though she wasn’t behind the counter during our visit, her imprint was unmistakable, with bowls of the season’s freshest ingredients and the city’s deepest selection of mozzarella at the staff’s disposal. We particularly enjoyed the crostini heaped with burricotta ($15): mozzarella skins with a creamy ricotta core. Up top, you’ll find cascading mint pesto and tender braised artichoke cups filled with tart black currants and pine nuts. My only complaint is that we had to split this dish four ways.
Mario Batali’s father Armandino has become a legendary salumi artisan at his Seattle shop – Salumi – and his mole salame is addictive, with an earthy spiciness. Scamorza is another great ingredient: aged mozzarella. However, they didn’t quite work as a Scamorza Panino ($15). There was more than enough flavor, especially when combined with spicy cherry peppers, but sandwich’s bread was overcooked, so it was tough to chew.
It hardly seemed like a single Ricotta & Egg Raviolo ($18) would be enough to eat as my main, but the plate quickly proved me wrong. The fluffy ricotta and runny egg yolk proved too dense and rich, especially when doused in browned butter and showered with Parmigiano-Reggiano. The single sage leaf was a nice touch, but it wasn’t enough to lighten the raviolo’s load.
If Mozza pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez retired tomorrow, she’d undoubtedly be remembered for decades as a result of her butterscotch budino with Maldon sea salt. Thankfully, that probably won’t happen, and her talents aren’t limited to puddings. For example, take her leaning tower of Rosemary Olive Oil Cakes ($11), with texture that’s a cross between a Belgian waffle and a canele, only lighter. On the side, we received a scoop of olive oil gelato that doubled as a stand for a sheet of rosemary brittle. The sweet brittle looked like amber, with aromatic rosemary needles suspended within.
Osteria Mozza’s Piccolo Budino Caldo di Cioccolato ($12) was the night’s biggest surprise, and not really in a good way. Unlike Pizzeria Mozza, where “budino” is a pudding, Osteria Mozza’s budino is a molten chocolate cake. That was disappointing, but the dessert was still pretty good, especially when accented with candied almonds and a scoop of Blanton’s bourbon gelato that packed a real punch.
Osteria Mozza is hardly bulletproof. There are aspects of the food that could improve, but overall, the restaurant combines good Italian food (an L.A. rarity) with an inviting vibe and professional, attentive service (another L.A. rarity?). It probably won’t take another year-and-a-half to return to Osteria Mozza.