Friday, August 24, 2007

Osteria Mozza, Hollywood

Our dinner at Mozza was a last minute detour and we weren’t prepared for photography so unfortunately I have no accompanying pics (they would have been beautiful but you’ll have to use your imagination). We had ringside seats at the mozzarella bar directly in front of Nancy Silverton’s station and involuntary eavesdropping on her unabashed food fondling proved an entertaining distraction to our conversation. From poking her thumb into the center of an artichoke heart, tossing salads with both hands, or plumping a freshly sliced slab of mozzarella, she left her stamp on all food leaving the bar. I watched as she inspected a plated salad and the unused portion of the fennel bulb, instructed the salad chef on how to ascertain the quality of fennel, tasted the tossed salad and throw the less than perfect dish in the trash while selecting a more suitable specimen. Indeed, everything coming out of her station was a celebration of high quality ingredients.

Our palate was whet with a taste of things to come with the complimentary rollatini, pinwheels of capers, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and olives rolled in a sheet of mozzarella.

There were three choices for the house bread: white, whole wheat, and whole grain. The whole grain was nutty and sweet, the white was chewy and light, but the sour hearty wheat was my favorite. The bread and water kept coming. The service was attentive, friendly and not at all pushy.

The menu is divided into antipasti, mozzarella dishes, pastas, entrees, and sides. Unfortunately I didn’t see the cheese tasting menu until after the meal and although I had been eying the cheese selection displayed on cake plates at the bar all night, there was no room by the time the dessert menu arrived. Not that I needed anymore cheese. As a vegetarian, there were plenty of options but almost all included cheese. It was not a light meal and this restaurant has little to offer vegans who would only be able to eat a few of the side dishes.

The antipasti and entrees had no vegetarian offerings for which I was actually grateful to help me to narrow my choices. With the prospect of watching our dishes constructed before our eyes, we opted for three dishes from the mozzarella menu, all of which celebrated the freshness and ripeness of the cheese with generous portions of cheese in each serving.

The sheep’s milk ricotta with lemon zest and hazelnuts was like a whipped cloud of cream drizzled with honey. The cheese, fresh and very mild, would have satisfied as a dessert. The Buffala mozzarella with pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade, and caperberry relish was everything one could hope for in an appetizer. The soft blooming cheese arrived unadorned in the middle of the plate surrounded by 4 small cups of sauces and three pieces of grilled bread. The red romesco made with breadcrumbs, almonds, and tomatoes was perfect. The spread of pickled caperberries tossed with minced onion tasted like the kind of relish you always hope the green sweet goop would taste like (if it did, you’d be eating a lot more fast food). There were enough flavors dancing on my plate in three thimbles of paste that I didn’t even miss the black olive tapenade (prepared with a heavy dose of anchovy) that I avoided.

My favorite of the three appetizers was probably the burricotti with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto on grilled bread. I must admit that I was never excited about mozzarella as the centerpiece of a dish until I tasted the burricotti on a mozzarella Monday at Jar.

We decided on the bavette cacio e pepe (linguine with Pecorino Romano and black pepper) for our entrée. The house made pasta was served conspicuously al dente and absorbed the round smooth film of a sauce that hinted of cheese and shouted pepper. There are two types of recipes that intimidate me into not making them at home, those that are too complicated and those that are too simplistic. Ordering either in a restaurant is a treat and this instance was no exception. The pasta with cheese and black pepper validated the marriage of three simple and yet perfect ingredients.

The side of cannellini beans dressed in lemon and olive oil served with Italian parsley and sweet grape tomatoes was a palate cleanser between all of the wheat and cheese. We were discussing with a woman at the bar sitting next to us, a restaurant owner from D.C., the ideal hour to nab a table prior to the L.A. dinner crowd. I remarked on the irony of the fact that restaurants don’t get crowded until 7:30/8pm but are empty by 11pm. Our neighbor lamented missing the opportunity to sample the pizza next door on her last night in town when Nancy Silverton chimed in that Pizza is served at Mozza until midnight and recommended that she should return later in the evening. Hey, why wait until later, we thought; we can go around the corner and finish off our meal with a pizza now. But alas, we were having too much fun and decided that we had to order another dish, goat cheese ravioli with 5 lilies (onions). The buttery onion, leek, garlic sauté atop the mild ravioli was the perfect sweet rich finishing touch; it was our dessert.

One thing I appreciate about Nancy Silverton’s cooking is that she knows how to use salt to tease the flavor from everything. While she employs it liberally at every layer to brighten each ingredient, the salt is present, but never cloying as it rides at the edge of efficacy. The crust on her pizza is a seasoned element that nobody dares discard once the toppings disappear.

Osteria Mozza
Corner of Melrose & Highland (310) 297-0100
Menu posted at:

No comments: