If you don't mind eating a decadent meal on a backless stool, it's not too hard to snag a seat at Osteria Mozza's mozzarella bar. At 7 on a Friday night, the restaurant is fully booked, but just a few people are waiting in the bar. I like the marble counters and cool blue color scheme much better than Pizzeria Mozza's burnt orange walls. While I waited for Kathy, I ordered a potent and tasty cocktail made with bourbon, fennel honey and lemon -- like the hot toddies I used to make at bedtime, only chilled and refreshing. Once we were seated, sommelier David Rosoff helped us choose a reasonably-priced Barbera which proved an excellent foil to our extremely rich dishes. We watched Nancy Silverton assemble all manner of burrata-laced goodies and our crostini with burrata, bacon and escarole arrived (top photo). I'm a sucker for wilted escarole, and these were some rich little morsels. Grilled octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon was the only somewhat light dish we tried, and I could eat this every day. I've never had such tender, meaty octopus, and the lemony dressing cut the rich flesh perfectly. As I often did when I travelled in Italy, much to the horror of Italian waiters I'm sure, we had appetizers and pasta instead of a meat course, even though the grilled orata looked pretty choice. At some point, director Ron Howard settled in behind us with three young writerish fellows in t-shirts with slogans, proving again that you can almost never be too casual in L.A.
I had the orecchiete with sausage and chard which was as rich and delicious as our first courses, if not quite enough for a whole table as S. Irene wrote. If you're sensitive to salt, the food here might seem over-salted, but as I'm kind of a salt hound it was just right for me. Kathy's garganelli pasta had a meaty ragu that was a little too meaty-tasting for me; we ended up each preferring the one we had chosen. We also had a delicious beet side dish with a wonderful salsa verde -- sort of like a pesto that works better for beets. When it was time for dessert, all I could think of was the butterscotch pudding from Pizzeria Mozza, which isn't on the menu at the Osteria, so suddenly nothing else appealed to me. Portions are on the modest side, but for $120 including an entire bottle of wine and two cocktails, that was certainly one of the best meals I've had in a very long time. Service was extremely attentive and competent, even if you're not Ron Howard, who had the mussels, by the way.
Minor cavils: Nearly two hours straight of the Beatles Greatest Hits doesn't strike me as the best restaurant music, and when the Beatles finally ended, the soundtrack changed to even-louder undistinguished rock 'n roll. Is this a Mario thing? In a New York-feeling place like this, maybe some great vintage jazz or something more instrumental might work better. And those backless stools are a little rough for a two-hour meal. That is all.