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Restaurants & Bars 14

Osteria La Buca: Mamma, it's the beginning of the end.

ilhooq | Jun 2, 200802:14 PM

First time poster, frequent lurker, and, yes, I know how people feel about first-time rant posts...

All that having been said, here goes:

Osteria La Buca (Melrose) is on its way down, far and fast. In fact, I think our experience this weekend will be our last. Short version: we ordered to go and they didn't make our food.

I say this having been a very early and very big fan since the restaurant's opening. Like so many other places, it was better -- much better -- when it was a hole in the wall. Presently, it seems to be turning itself into a crappy best-for-undemanding-lunch-only, owing any financial success to its proximity to Paramount. Fabiolus Café comes to mind.

This past weekend exposed and reinforced a number of fundamental problems which might be rationalized as charmingly Italian in nature, but when taken together and repeated (many times), seem to me like a death knell. To wit:

- La Buca is apparently possessed of the world's moodiest pizza oven and/or pizza oven operators. Unless you're doing something extremely specific and/or extremely special, an Italian restaurant in the US offers pizza on the menu. If you offer pizza on the menu, then you serve pizza, no excuses. My order very early (6 pm) Saturday was unilaterally canceled by the young woman taking orders because "they're not making pizza tonight." (More on her, the service and "silent failure" below.) "Because they're not making pizza tonight" is the wrong reason. Please see other posts on the subject of "No pizza" elsewhere in these pages.

- If you accept phone orders, then you make the meal that was ordered. Likewise, you ask for and confirm the phone number of the person ordering. That way, if someone in the kitchen refuses to, for example, make pizza that night, you contact the customer to tell them that there's no food for them waiting. The silent failure for me last Saturday was that, after ordering and after lengthy confirmation with gli spiriti capriciosi della cucina that the order would in fact be made, it wasn't. Since the young woman at the phone, who isn't a new member of the team, neglected to take our phone number (and of course, we neglected to force it on her), it wasn't until I showed up that I found out that we had no dinner. It seemed somewhat amusing to her. Not so to me.

- Since this wasn't at all the first time there has been some, shall we say, reluctance on the part of La Buca to fully embrace the concept of "to go" I'd like to recommend to them that they get with the program or drop it altogether. There's no small amount of (not very) passive aggression coming from Mamma or others on the subject, but since we are in fact in Los Angeles, you pretty much have to accept orders to go if you want to stay in business for very long with this kind of locally-driven business. This leads me to...

- Parking. Figure something out about parking. Now. This has been a problem before the expansion and remodel and is logarithmically more of a problem now that there are more than five tables and the newness has worn off. Without parking, OLB will only be a Paramount lunch and neighborhood place, which turns into a feedback loop for the "to go" issue above. Please someone translate into Italian the following: Valet. Parking. Is. A. Requirement. At. These. Prices.

- Delivery. OLB had a moment when it first opened where they offered delivery, which immediately vanished. I guess they were trying to figure out what restaurant they wanted to be. I tried to make the point with them very early on that LA people expect delivery from a small neighborhood place, and that many weeknights the last thing that their local clientele wanted to do was drive again to go out to dinner. I think they completely mishandled it and they thought they were justified in trying to make OLB a destination place... not going to happen. Please see comments on parking above.

- The service in the restaurant itself is just not good. Never really was, but when OLB was a hole in the wall, the surly attitude seemed like part of the charm. Now, it just seems like incompetence, which is what it is. The young woman I mentioned earlier in the post, based on this weekend and previous experiences... I'd have fired her on the spot. Plenty of other people waiting in the wings to do her job. (The service I've had at Maggiano's is better. Yes, I'll admit it, I went twice.)

- OLB's pasta (its claim to fame in my view) is still pretty uniformly very good-to-excellent, but the prices for most of the secondi are ludicrous. Comparisons to Mozza have been made elsewhere on CH, but Terroni is the more apt comparison. Value doesn't seem to enter into the equation for OLB and the specialness is simply gone from where it was prior to the remodel.

- The pizzas are still very good to excellent and the Celentano is still a standout, but the pizzas invite direct comparison to Pizzeria Mozza, and then again, you actually have to make the *^(&(*&^ pizza to sustain the comparison. (Any comparison to Osteria Mozza comes out very poorly for OLB, despite the late Restoration look of OM and the extreme and jarring punishment of the music there, and despite the presence of actual Italians at OLB.)

On balance, the party is over, and OLB of late struggles to offer Terroni level food and Louise's level service at Osteria Mozza prices. Actually, Louise's delivers, so that should read "struggles to offer... _sub_-Louise's level service..."

Too bad. Hancock Park has now lost La Luna and I'm now putting OLB on the deathwatch list, where they'll stay until they figure out how to actually run the place.

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