Friday, December 2, 2011

Mouth Gluttony at Osteria Mozza

Dining out is most fun between fellow foodies, when you not only pick a place you've heard of and have always wanted to go, but you also get to sit and strategize the menu with another person who's just as adventurous with the palate as you are and willing to swap and share, doubling the culinary experimentation. This time it started with my favorite negroni, perfectly bitter and up, at the Nancy Silverton/Mario Batali gourmet Italian collaboration Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles.

My dinner mate and I came to the table with decidedly different taste buds. Me, of the bitter and acidic variety, and he, of the fatty and sweet persuasion. This made for an interesting pairing of all courses.

First, we were compelled to order a starter from the infamous mozzarella bar. He chose the burricotta with radicchio, spiced walnuts, honey and fried rosemary.

I chose the burrata with bacon, carmelized shallots and marinated escarole. Both plates arrived with two heaping toasted baguette slices topped with a generous dollop of creamy cheese, slathered in the middle with a golden pool of olive oil and then generous amounts of the other toppings. Both were melt in your mouth luscious yet we both agreed that the bacon option was the best. The crisp and meaty slices mixed with the bitter escarole and the vinegar taste of the dressing combined with the pile of cheese in a way that I can only describe as sinful. Tangy perfection on a sopping, chewy bread bed. The portions were surprisingly enormous and we agreed that one was all that was really needed per order but that didn't stop us from finishing both plates - how can you let mozzarella that divine go to waste?

The entire incentive for me to go to this restaurant in the first place had been spurred by reviews on one particular dish in the Primi course - the Squid Ink Chitarra Freddi and it lived up to the hype. A magnificent cold dish of squid ink pasta with flakes of Dungeness crab, moist mini-filets of sea urchin and a kick of jalapeno piled in a refreshing briny sauce. Slurped up as if slurping directly from some deep jeweled pocket of the sea. I told my dinner mate that I would no doubt wake up craving this dish oftentimes in the future. 

He chose a Orecchiette with sausage and Swiss chard for his Primi and it was a lovely shallow bowl of pasta, perfectly cooked and filled with meaty nuggets of smoky ground sausage and a slightly spicy, musky aftertaste. We had many exchanges of dish in this course with shared wines to alternate between the darkness of the sausage and the lightness of the juice of the sea: a sparkly and enlivened Offida Pecorino white and the La Mozza "Aragone" sangiovese blend.  

For our Secondi, he chose the guinea hen crostone with liver pancetta sauce. A small piece of meat beneath the super smoky sauce was a bit indiscernable but flavorful nonetheless. Which hardly mattered because by this bursting point in our guts we were focused on finishing my dish. 

 I opted for the decadently exotic sweetbreads picatta with braised artichokes, greens and whole capers. A bite of caper bursting with juice alongside the other tangy and tart greens on top of the subtly cooked sweetbread bits crusted excellently and charred was a match made exactly for my mouth. I think this is my favorite sweetbread version tasted thus far. 

As if that weren't enough, we ordered the warm chocolate cake with a shared glass of Madeira "New Orleans" to seal the exquisite meal. A watery nub of ice cream ignored in lieu of the belly-aching hot and moist cake with a swish of the fragrant, bruised plum-reminiscent drink was in order to top off the night at this world class joint.

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