A coworker asked me to help arrange an Osteria Mozza reservation for her, but, a week later, she found out she would be unable to go and asked me to help her push the date back a week. "There's going to be an open Osteria Mozza reservation on a Saturday night!," I said to myself. How could I not take advantage of that? So it was back to Osteria Mozza for me. After all my last dinner there went so well:
Would it be silly to think my second meal here would be so nearly flawless? Uh, yeah.
Let’s get the food out of the way first.
We had only one dish from the antipasti, which was the octopus. It was magnificent, just like the last time. One diner remarked she could order five plates of the stuff. The rest of our dishes came from the Mozzarella Bar selections. The sheep's milk ricotta with lemon zest and hazelnuts was nice, but its simplicity did little to amuse past one bite, really. I was glad we were sharing as I would not have enjoyed being stuck with an entire plate of that. The burrata with bacon and escarole had a wonderful smoky flavor, and the cheese was creamy and rich, but I was surprised that the cheese itself was cold atop the other warm items. My favorite of the Mozzarella Bar selections had to be the burricotta with braised artichokes, currants, and pine nuts. The artichokes themselves were a treat, and the warm toasted burricotta was another delight.
When our pastas arrived, I specifically asked for the ricotta and egg raviolo to be placed in front of me. After reading other diners' experiences with the yolk running out to create a sauce with the browned butter, I wanted to be the first at the table to try it. The yolk did not run out as expected; it was a little too cooked for that. There was no egg-brown butter sauce to be made. Still, the raviolo was delicious, with the soft egg and ricotta tasting a lot like a cheese custard inside the pasta casing. Very simple, very rich, very elegant. After the orecchiette – the second dish to make a reappearance from my first visit and just as wonderful as the first visit – the raviolo was my favorite pasta dish at Osteria Mozza. The agnolotti were soft pillows of pork in a creamy butter and sage sauce, and the spaghetti all’Gricia was described as a “white Amatriciana,” with pancetta, pecorino, basil, and olive oil – and liberal amounts of black pepper. I thought it worked much better than their bucatini all’Amatriciana. Still, the latter two pastas paled compared to the orecchiette and raviolo.
We were already full before the secondi. Thankfully, we only were splitting two secondi. The whole orata was presented to the table before being filleted, tender and covered with herbs, hinting of mint and perhaps tarragon, but I’m far from certain. It was simple and elegant and just right after all the rich items that came before. The beef brasato was fork-tender, its richness the opposite if the orata’s spare cleanness. Fresh horseradish was grated over it, but I could not get much taste of it. The polenta it sat upon had a good consistency. Contorini of the roasted potatoes and cipolline were ordered. The potatoes were crisp and golden but generally lacking in much of the advertised rosemary flavor; the pearl onions could have done with much less vinegar to allow the natural sweetness of the vegetable to show. (I was heartbroken the wonderful long-cooked broccoli was absent from the menu.) The secondi remain the week point on Osteria Mozza’s menu. An antipasto or choice from the Mozzarella Bar and a pasta are enough for a meal here.
As has happened at the Pizzeria next door, the gelato options have been mercilessly pared down to three, none of which are the star olive oil gelato. Has it proven unpopular? It must have; after all, I have gotten resistance from my fellow diners when I ordered it for the table. Only after people have tasted it have they recognized it is actually good. I asked if we could get a dish of the olive oil gelato, and our server arranged for it. (After all, they still serve it with the rosemary cakes.) We also tried the torta della nonna, which was strange. It was reminiscent of cheesecake in texture and taste, yet it was more doughy and floury. So it was neither cake nor cheesecake, but it was not tart as cheesecake or moist as cake – ultimately, then, lacking the best qualities of either, it was a bit unsatisfying.
Our wines were really nice white, I Favati Fiano d’Avellino, which was a bit more full-bodied than the Falanghina we’d enjoyed at the Pizzeria. One friend thought it a bit like Sauvignon Blanc, but, as it warmed, I got some sweetness from it like a lighter Riesling. We transitioned to a nice red from Sicily whose name I forget (it did have “Etna” in it), but it was nice and light, not very aggressive, accompanying the beef well but not steamrollering the orata.
Whereas our first meal was at the beginning of Osteria Mozza's service - a 6:00 P.M. reservation, a scant half-hour after the restaurant opened, when we arrived to a nearly empty place brightly lit by the late evening summer sun - this reservation was for 9:00 P.M., when we walked into a packed joint, really deafeningly loud and dim as a speakeasy. We grabbed a place on one of the three floating marble slabs for those waiting to dine, and I ordered the Aperol cocktail (Aperol and soda with a bit of citrus juice added) from their new aperitivi cocktail menu – I was planning to get an Aperol and soda anyhow – while another diner got something called a Sugar Plum, a vodka concoction with orange peel that wasn't obnoxiously sweet or complicated but also wasn't particularly memorable. (At $12.99 each, I would want something a bit more exciting, like the amazing Negroni I had on my first visit.) It took awhile for the drinks to arrive, and it took us longer to flag down the bar waiter when we wanted another drink as the wait for our table was taking a little bit of time. Forgetful service was to be the theme of the evening, we would later find out. In fact, by the time we had gotten the wine lists we wanted, our table was ready, and we had to abandon them.
The hostess walked us from the bar area, and I looked to see where we would be sitting – all the tables appeared to be full. Then she motioned to the door at the back I remembered from my last visit - it's not a back entrance but another room. We were being put in the kiddie table room! I began to feel like we were marked as the short bus kids who had to take their lunch break in the special cafeteria. My fellow diners may have been saying things like, "Oh, it's much calmer in here," but I was not pleased. I knew that being through a door, down a little hall, behind a wall and some high windows meant that we were largely out of circulation. I never accept the side room tables at Ocean Star, and I'd never want the side room at Osteria Mozza.
There were three other tables in the room with us, and we all shared the same waiter. We got prompt service for a bottle of prosecco we ordered from the waiter (which was sent back when one diner, distracted in conversation during wine ordering, revealed that sparkling wine gives her a headache). The waiter was gracious when we asked to send it back while we made another choice, but our wine service slowed down for us from that point on. Requests for a sommelier were answered at a glacial pace, and we were shifted sommeliers halfway through. At least twice, I had to walk into the main room to ask for remind someone we needed a sommelier. The three tables finished their meals halfway through ours, so we were this one little table hiding in the kiddie table room, waiting for people to remember we were still there.
The sommeliers were very helpful in choosing our wines, and both of our choices were excellent. (K&L Wines in Hollywood sells the Fiano d’Avellino we had, and I’m actually considering picking up a bottle because I enjoyed it so much.) But when one diner made the mistake of ordering a glass of Cynar because I mentioned I liked it to the sommelier then discovered that it was definitely not to her taste, he told her, “Well, you have to be a crusty 87-year-old man who’s never left your village to like this stuff.” “Hey, I told you I love Cynar,” I said, “So you’re saying I’m some crusty old man?”
The bread server arrived only once during our entire meal, just after we sat down, and he asked if we had been brought olive oil, which we told him we had not. He said he would get us some right away; that olive oil never appeared during the course of our nearly three hour meal. The second time we got bread, I had to, once again, walk into the main room, go up to a waiter I had seen in the short bus room, and ask if we could have more bread. He brought us the bread himself, struggling mightily to manage the fork-and-spoon service; he was just able to get us all bread before the utensils crashed to the floor from his fingers. Water glasses similarly were not filled as often as they should have been, being away from the eyes of the waitstaff as we were.
In hindsight, it did not take longer for the food to arrive last night than on my first visit, but last night, it certainly felt like it did. Being in the still, blank-walled little dungeon of a room was a much different experience than sitting in the buzzing, vibrant main room. It was, at times, very dull indeed in our little cell, when all we were really doing was waiting for our food. (Having as a member of our party a diner who does not frequent higher-end restaurants and found cause to make jokes about everything down to the hallmarks on the sterling silverware did not make the evening a barrel of monkeys, either.)
I feel like I’ve had my Mozza experience for a long time. I’ve gotten it out of my system. One of my friends who went with me and has often accompanied me to Pizzeria Mozza said, “Not again ‘til 2008.” Another said that, if she comes back, she would want to eat at the bar. I feel the same as both of them. I don’t really need to come back for a good long while, and, when I do, I’ll eat at the bar. I’m disappointed that having been put at the Osteria Mozza kiddie table sullied the wonderful memory I had from my first meal here. As we stood outside, visible to the tables at the bar, so two of my friends could smoke before we got the car from the valet, our second sommelier – the one who gave me the sideways insult – popped out of the side door and said, “Thanks for coming. Come see us again soon.” He was sitting with the manager, who popped in to check on us in the kiddie table room during dessert twice, checking on how we were. I wondered if they were discussing how things were going in there and how strange the timing he should pop out and say this right after we had applied on conditions on when and how we would ever return.
I don’t hate or even dislike Osteria Mozza. I’d still recommend it as there is a lot to like about the place. I had one truly excellent meal there, and one good-but-flawed one. But now I have a more realistic picture of the place, and I can empathize more fully with those negative Osteria Mozza experiences here on the board. I would definitely recommend dining earlier in the evening for a better experience if possible; if you options are 6:00 P.M. or 9:00 P.M., take the 6:00 P.M. seating without hesitation if at all possible.
And whatever you do, do not let them put you in the kiddie table room.
The food prices were $222 for four before tax. – four starters, four pastas, two entrées, and two desserts, and it was still too much food. One diner did not drink and paid $60.07 before tip. The three drinkers had two bottles of wine and two digestivos and paid $89.67 before tip.
6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038