If you ever want to feel like a very important person, find your way to the marble mozzarella bar at Osteria Mozza. Geographically speaking, Nancy Silverton’s Italian restaurant in Hancock Park sits in the center of Los Angeles, and at one point in time, was the center of LA’s fine dining scene. And while the city has evolved since it opened about 15 years ago, the mozzarella bar still feels like the center of the universe.
Propped up high on your bar stool, elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors, the loud, dark dining room will swallow you whole. Fresh fruit makes itself known in pedestals, mozzarella and antipasti are plated with precision behind the counter, and other diners are having a good time. If we could afford it, we’d have a standing date here with a very close friend. We’d meet every other week, talk over each other, and share bites of decadent burrata, some pasta, and gelato without making a fuss. Yes. A low-stakes dinner at the mozzarella bar will make you feel whole.
But beyond the bar, the rest of the restaurant doesn’t quite hold up anymore. Great handmade pasta is now the standard at many serious Italian restaurants in Los Angeles. When menus tout seasonal produce, our eyes glaze over a little bit. And while Mozza gets points for being one of the first to bring incredible pasta and California-fresh Italian food to LA, many of their fan favorites are stuck in the past, oversalted, or both.
The main dining room is muted and serious. It’s filled with dressed-up couples who appear to hate each other, going through the motions of another anniversary or birthday. We were once captivated as a man scrolled on his phone and forked orecchiette into his mouth while his partner sobbed across the table. It’s so dark and loud that hardly anyone else seemed to notice.
Tables have tablecloths, servers wear ties, and those servers will recommend you order Nancy’s Caesar. For $25, you get about seven little gem leaves stacked neatly on top of each other beside a crostini piled high with hardboiled egg, anchovies, leeks, and chives. The deconstructed take on the classic would be cute for a bridal shower luncheon. But after you get through all of the laborious cutting and tossing, you’ll find the lettuce is lacking in crunch.
Onto the pasta, which are what put this place on the map. The giant ricotta and egg raviolo used to wow us with its carefully balanced brown butter sauce that seeps into the rich egg yolk. Now, the butter takes over, making it sweet and bland. But it’s the famed orecchiette that keeps us up at night, chugging water, wondering why Osteria Mozza just isn’t what it used to be. The handmade pasta is lost in the overpowering and oversalted, already-salty sausage. The pasta has become a disappointment.
photo credit: Aliza
As much as we’d love to have carefree evenings at the mozzarella bar, this restaurant is not your once-a-week hangout spot. The prices are too steep, the reservations too coveted, and the pasta too salty. Unless you’re in it for the nostalgia, Osteria Mozza shouldn’t be at the top of your list for a knockout special occasion meal. If you want to experience the best of Nancy Silverton in LA, head instead to Chi Spacca or The Barish. Osteria Mozza just isn’t what it used to be.
This is a $25 deconstructed Caesar that you’ll have to chop and mix yourself. Little gem leaves come stacked in a tower beside a crostini piled high with a tasty, pungent mix of braised leeks, hard boiled eggs, anchovies, and chives. It requires a lot of work on your end for such a classic salad, and the final result is just OK. Those little gems should be crunchier.
Unless you’re a mozzarella purist, skip the tasting and opt for any of the other mozzarella bar offerings instead. The tasting comes with fresh mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, and burrata With a side of fett’unta—bread soaked in olive oil. You’ll get to taste each of Mozza’s mozzarellas, but after a few bites, it’s bland and overbearing.
Riccotta & Egg Raviolo
This gargantuan raviolo is pure decadence. Bathing in brown butter sauce, and filled with egg yolk and ricotta, just a couple of bites could put you over the edge. This was once one of our favorite dishes in the whole city, but on recent visits, it leans too sweet.
Orecchiette With Sausage And Swiss Chard
Ah, the famous orecchiette. While the pasta itself is perfect, it’s drowned out by the unbearably salty sausage. If you’re nostalgic like us, you’ll probably order this anyway. If so, go ahead and put a glass of water on your bedside table tonight.
Pappardelle With Rabbit Ragu
A more delicate pasta, the pappardelle ribbons are beautiful and adhere nicely to the tomato-based ragu. Order this.
Crispy Duck Confit
If you’re looking for a meatier main, this duck confit won’t let you down. Is it also oversalted? Yes, but not unbearably so. The skin is so crispy, it’ll go CRACK when you tap it with your fork. Get all the juice out of that lemon wedge, don’t be shy with the pear mostarda, and craft the perfect bite.
Meyer Lemon Gelato Pie
Despite being served a touch too frozen, this is a great way to end the meal. The refreshing bite from the meyer lemon is practically a necessity after all that salt.