Mozz-art for the mouth
Aperitiv: My mind kept wandering off the road and down the avenues of possibility that sprang from the words, “mozzarella bar.” I was still trying to wrap my brain around this myth-like monument featured at Chef Mario Batali’s, Mozza (6602 Melrose Ave), when my aunt and uncle’s overnight layover in LA gave me the perfect excuse to insert myself into this culinary conundrum.
After pre-ordering a bottle of wine by phone, Mozza called back to inform me it would be $4 higher than originally quoted. It was a minimal difference, but their attention to detail gave me a firm handshake of a first impression before I even stepped through the door.
Amuse bouche: With all the giddiness of a school girl, I replayed the Osteria menu (vs. the Pizzeria, next door) in my head as we dipped into dark chocolate woods (including wine racks creeping close to the ceiling), contrasted by cloudless sky colored walls. Cherry red, meat slicers gleamed with all the appeal of a new bike and porcelain pedestals laden with caramelized leeks and asparagus flaunted roasted sugars like the Willy Wonka of vegetables.
We managed to scalp front row seats at the marble-topped mozzarella bar, manned by the legendary Nancy Silverton (expert cheese maker/restaurant partner) wielding her curds and whey. Our waiter, James*, fiddled with my uncle’s new camera and after telling us he had been a photography major at NYU (“Get out, we’re from NJ”), that was all we needed to create an instant bond (bond with James = James bond). *all mozzarella and pasta decisions were made upon James recommendations.
He handed us our first, complimentary bite of the evening that spread goat cheese, black olives and greens on a toasted baguette. Can taste-buds become fluent in Italian? Si et grazie.
Cheese course: Though many campfire tales had been told of Burrata mozzarella, nothing could prepare me for the reality. Slicing it was similar to the effects of biting into a Cadbury cream egg, but the oozing center was composed entirely of fresh cheese. Caramelized leeks and sturdy garlic bread only intensified this mild rendition with some sweetness and substance ($15.) To say I was blown away is an understatement.
Proscuitto and Burrata ($15, pictured above) also played its game of dismantling my pre-conceived notions of “mozzarella” like gazing into a funhouse mirror with a rearranged sense of the familiar. I couldn’t get over the texture. Two golf sized balls of mozzarella sat on a plate, wallpapered with proscuitto, but their consistency reminded me of a poached egg with a thin, outer layer that peeled back from the “yolk” (ham and eggs- Mozza style.)
Octopussy: James swore up and down that the octopus ($18) was like no other and repeatedly mentioned its tenderness with tourettes-like intensity, so again we listened to our James bond, our own 007 (yes, he speaks Italian and scuba dives) and if I hadn’t known it was octopus, I would have guessed it was a buttery pork chop. This was a must order item 1,000 times over, and though I'd never been a fan, this easily scored a ten(tacle.)
Pasta course: A giant ravioli with ricotta and egg yolk center ($18) might have been my favorite dish of the evening. Skeptical about a runny yolk (but reassured by James), my doubt was washed away with sage brown butter, homemade pasta and parmesan. My only complaint was that I wished I were at home, so I could have licked the plate.
True comfort food blended orecchiette pasta ($18) with the artery slowing serenity of sausage, swiss chard and the panko-like crunchiness of fresh breadcrumbs.
Meat course: Their crispy half duck ($29) achieved multiple awards from this judgmental jaw:
1) #1 crispiest skin on a duck
2) #1 juiciest meat on a duck
3) #1 original accoutrement*
*Wasabi pears were just another imaginative and complimentary dynamic to this dish served atop a wooden cutting board with a large enough knife to reenact carving Thanksgiving dinner all for myself.
My aunt “mmm-ed” over her thinly sliced steak ($26), candied with aged balsamic and tart from sheets of parmesan resting amongst mixed greens. My uncle’s monkfish ($29) in a red diavolo sauce was tasty, but my duck easily earned top billing.
Dessert course: Olive oil gelato and rosemary cakes with rosemary brittle ($11)- need I say more. I was suddenly a judge on Iron Chef. This was a whole new realm of dessert and I reveled in its savory, sweet seduction. Olive oil gelato ingrained rock salt sprinkles, while the brittle consisted of a sprig of rosemary encased in a clear piece of crystallized sugar and tasted as if eating the sprig itself (without the stem.) Mini cakes were pillows that fluffed my palate for satisfied exhaustion after a job well.
In a word: Memorable.
In a few words: I go to bed dreaming of the yolk/ricotta ravioli.
Final words: absolutely worth the trip (or several); ask for James.