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Food

Osteria Mozza: Still a Big Deal

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On March 5th, I called Osteria Mozza to make a reservation for April 5th (they only take reservations a month in advance.) I thought I would call at lunchtime when they would first be open. A critical mistake. Turns out that the reservation line for both Mozzas opens at 10 am. I could get 5:30 or 9:45. Not being a New Yorker, I took the earlier time.

Thanks to Daylight Savings, it was full daylight when we arrived at the Osteria last Saturday. The place was nearly empty. I had gotten my confirmation phone call the day before, but they still had no reservation for us -- and after a runaround where they confirmed we didn't mistakenly make a res at the Pizzeria, they never found our reservation, but told us they could seat us anyway. We went to wait for our friends at the bar, but were shooed away from the cheese bar (which was, as the maitre'd told us, the bar was "straight ahead") first. This is the kind of stuff that drives my husband bonkers, and I think that if it were up to him, we would have left right then, but fortunately we stayed.

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When our party was complete, we were seated in short order. I was surprised at how dressy people (particularly women) were. Guys could get away with jeans and button down shirts, but most ladies were in dresses and heels with flashy jewelry. Unusual for LA. The service was better than excellent, and our waiter seemed just fine leaving us with the menu nearly five times while we figured it out. For four people, they recommend sharing 2 -3 antipasti, 2-3 pastas and an entree each.

We started off with Grilled Octopus with potatoes celery and lemon. It was so tender that it was almost like sashimi, and it was lovely. My personal favorite was the Burricotti with grilled artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto. It was light and refreshing, and perfectly delicious. Then there was the burrata with speck, peas and mint. One of our party was absolutely charmed by it. There's definitely a group of people out there who love it when something tastes like something it totally isn't. I expected creamy burrata with salty spec studded with peas and mint. But it tasted -- I'm not kidding here! Like bubblegum. I wasn't into it.

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We went pretty non-experimental with the pastas, enjoying both the Garganelli (doesn't this make you think of Gargamel from the smurfs every time you see it? I always do!) with Ragu Bolognese and the Fresh Ricotta and Egg Raviolio with Browned Butter. Both were fabulous. The pasta was chewy and fresh bit not sticky, the ravioli were perfectly cooked and very light. The bolognese was flavorful and rich. I like to experiment, but I like to try more basic dishes too. Doing both equally well is the mark of a truly great restaurant.

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The entrees arrived in short order. Three of us got beef -- two went with the grilled beef tagliata, with arugala, parmesan and balsamic vinegar and one was beef brasato with polenta and horseradish. Both were excellent. The tagliata was charred and sweet with the vinegar, perfect with the tartness of the greens. (And everything tastes better with parmesan cheese -- one day we'll be eating it on breakfast cereal!) The brasato was wonderfully stewy, the polenta was light. Our which-one-of these-is-not-like-the others friend had Grilled Whole Orata wrapped in radicchio with olio nuovo. He reported that it was great.

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There was hardly room for dessert. But we made some anyway. We got two to share. One was the Rosemary Olive oil cakes with olive oil gelato and rosemary brittle. One of our friends wished that the olive oil gelato came in pints. The cakes were delicate and not too sweet. An interesting dessert -- flavors that you don't associate with dessert, but all the better for it. I ordered the cioccolato amaro with bourbon gelato. The gelato was basically vanilla, and the amaro was was deep and tasty, if not the revelation that the rosemary cakes were.

So, yeah, while Osteria Mozza can be kind of a pain in the ass, they're packing heat when it comes to food. We should have known that from the beginning -- while we waited at the bar, we saw two diners meekly approach the cheese bar. They got Nancy Silverton to sign their menus.

Osteria Mozza, 641 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036