Thursday, February 25, 2010

Osteria Mozza - Sweet Prix Fixe Menu at Amaro Bar

Nancy Silverton (La Brea Bakery), Mario Batali (eponymous culinary empire) and Joe Bastianich join forces to grace Los Angeles with two 'famous neighborhood gems' that sit side by side on the corner of Melrose and Highland.  Pizzeria Mozza serves incredible gourmet pizzas (with creative combinations of toppings and the most amazing crust I've ever tasted) in a casual, intimate setting, while Osteria Mozza offers more committed (and wealthier) diners a unique, more upscale concept restaurant anchored by two bars (mozzarella / 'Amaro') and a dining area serving gourmet Italian/Mediterrenean dishes in a cozy space that feels like it's the most sophisticated restaurant in a sleep East Coast town where everyone who comes in knows each other.

Pizzeria Mozza is hands-down my favorite place for pizza in the city - but in this post I'd like to talk about my night with its more upscale sibling - a Sunday evening adventure with the prix fixe menu at Osteria Mozza's Amaro bar.

Every Sunday through Thursday Osteria Mozza offers a special three-course menu, available only at their Amaro Bar. You have to sit at the counter and can then choose: one item from Nancy's Mozzarella Bar (or share the Mozzarella Tasting for two), one Pasta, a Dessert and a glass of either Bastianich Friulano or La Mozza Morellino di Scansano - all for the amazing price of $35 (tax and service extra).  They don't take reservations for these seatings - it's first come first served, so get there early if you want to take advantage of this menu!  We arrived just before opening (5pm) on a Sunday - love free street parking! - and there was already a small crowd waiting eagerly by the entrance.

After the excited diners politely piled in, we were happy to take the last two seats at the bar - which worked out really well, as we were right next to the service counter and were treated to lots of wine and champagne tips by the exceptionally friendly servers (one even asked my friend to help 'sample' the champagne when he popped open a brand new magnum, to make sure it was up to par!).

The only minor 'not so positive' thing about sitting at the Amaro bar, is that you sit facing the wall of wines, turned away from the nice ambience in the dining room, and from all the action in Nancy's Mozzarella Bar, where you can often see Nancy working the exquisite cheese dishes herself!  

With the seating arrangements all sorted, we all but devoured the menu with ravenous eyes.  The prix fixe menu allows you to choose one item from the full list of Mozzarella Bar options - the print alone made us salivate on sight.  There were no less than 14 different configurations of cheeses (Bufala, Burricota, Stracciatella, Burrata) with intriguing accompaniments from braised artichokes to spiced walnuts to fried rosemary.  We considered the task of selecting just one from among the incredible options an exercise in cruelty - though, when ultimately confronted by the sad reality that the size of our appetite was inversely proportional to the size of the contents of our wallets, we finally decided on the two dishes below.

Starters from Mozzarella Bar menu: Burrata with leeks, vinaigrette and mustard breadcrumbs ($14)I had the burrata (incredibly silky smooth, creamy, and soft - melts away on contact in your mouth!), topped with crunchy mustard flavored breadcrumbs, served on a thin strip of leeks sprinkled with pepper and marinated in a vinaigrette -  a divine combination of perfectly contrasting textures and harmonious tastes! 

Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole and carmelized shallots ($15)
Updated photo Feb 2011

My Foodie Mentor, who has had my dish on a previous visit, ordered burrata (slightly firmer and more chewy than the one in my dish) topped by carmelized shallots, which sat atop salty bacon strips, cushioned by marinated escarole, which topped a round of toast.  Again, a sophisticated layering of contrasting textures held together by a perfectly balanced blend of flavors.

First courses from Pasta menu:
Squid ink spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, uni and jalapeno ($19?) 
Being adventurous in no other area of my life, I am invariably drawn - when it comes to food only - to the exotic or unusual.  So for my first course, I had no choice but to order the squid ink spaghetti, which was served cold and punctuated by thick and fluffy chunks of Dungeness crab, topped by a sliver of fresh uni, and mixed in a jalapeno broth.  A surprising find on an otherwise authentic (and all mouthwatering) Italian menu!

Tagliatelle Verde with lamb ragu, olive Taggiasche and mint ($19)

Foodie Mentor opted for something which was in comparisan a little more traditional - the tagliatelle verde with lamb ragu - but with a refreshing surprise ingredient added - mint!  The dish was fantastic - with extremely tender and flavorful lamb mixed in with the perfectly cooked tagliatelle pasta.

Torta della Nonna with honeycomb and pine nuts  ($11)

Dessert for me is usually the best part of the meal, but it would be hard to top my previous two courses! At first I was unsure about the Torta della Nonna 'cheesecake' - that seemed to me a little plain and unimaginative - but after the first bite, I see the light. This is not the dense clunker of a dessert you would expect from its English name - but turned out to be incredibly light and airy, with a perfectly crumbly crust, and a crunchy, flaky top layer sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. The only thing that made the experience even better was dipping pieces of fluffy cake into the small pool of light, amber-colored honey on the side. I wasn't as into the honeycomb side, which was a sticky dense glob which didn't add fit with the lightness of the rest of the dish, and didn't provide a complementary contrast either.

Rosemary Olive Oil Cakes with olive oil gelato and rosemary brittle ($11)

Foodie Mentor had the rosemary olive oil cakes (in the shape of mini-muffins and consistency reminiscent of donuts) plated with a scoop of olive oil gelato, topped by a flip of spun sugar that encased a sprinkle of needles of rosemary.  I thought the taste was a little too subtle for me - but did appreciate the sophistication behind a dessert that wasn't 'whack-a-mole' style over the top sugary.

All-in-all, an amazing meal at an incredible price - definitely need to come back again the next chance I get!

Update Feb 2011:

Some more photos from another amazing visit to Osteria Mozza - still in my opinion the best deal in town for foodies with its very filling 3-course meal + glass of wine for $35!  I will forever assess the value of every other meal in 'units of Mozza'!!!
Amuse bouche - ricotta cheese on toast topped by
marinated olives & basil

Maltagliati with wild boar ragu ($18 on regular menu)

Bombolini mountain huckleberry marmellata
& vanilla gelato ($12 on regular menu)

Limoncello dessert

Update Summer 2011: The prix fixe at Amaro Bar is now $42 per person.

On a 7 point scale:

Flavor - 7 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars

Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks - great deal)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Ph: 323.297.0100
OpenTable: Look for reservations

Osteria Mozza on Urbanspoon   Mozza Osteria in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

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