Sunday, February 22, 2009

Candelas on the Bay, San Diego CA

After a long drive from Los Angeles and a stellar afternoon snack at Extraordinary Desserts the last stop on a nine day foodie, hockey, and interview trek from San Francisco to San Jose to Monterey to Los Angeles to San Diego was reservations to enjoy dinner and watch the sunset at Candelas on the Bay. A restaurant held in notably lower regards than the majority of our previous dining experiences, the concept of French infused Mexican food simply sounded too unique to pass up – and the scenery really couldn’t be beat. Arriving approximately thirty minutes before our reservation we had the opportunity to wander the quaint yet touristy area of Coronado Island while enjoying the wonderful weather and watching the sun sink into the horizon.

Entering the restaurant it was notably quite empty despite being 7:00pm on a Sunday, as a matter of fact there were only two other tables populated in the entire large restaurant. Decorated in low light and heavy woods with multiple candles throughout, the restaurant had the feel of a happening night spot, but also an air of romanticism and the floor-to-ceiling windows provided an excellent view of the bay. Seated promptly at a window seat as requested, water was filled and menus delivered by our hostess.

After a few moments of browsing the menu and noting the decibel level arising from a table full of children across the restaurant, our server Daniel M arrived. A gregarious fellow full of stories, anecdotes, recommendations, and quips I can say that Daniel was nothing like any of the other waiters on the trip, but I liked him more than any except maybe Ruben at The French Laundry – sometimes it is nice to have someone with personality serving your food. Referring to Candela’s food as “Beverley Hills Hispanic Cuisine” Daniel explained some of the choices and specials and left us with time to decide before brining bread and taking orders – orders which he would either approve of or disapprove of after inquiring about our particular tastes. Normally I find a waiter/waitress guiding my decisions a tad odd, but I certainly prefer it to the sort of waiter who suggests “everything is good.” I like honesty.

Orders placed we got started on the breads – each served warm from the oven along with a most interesting tequilla and oregano spiced jalapeno butter. While the seeded whole-grain and white roll were both serviceable and much enhanced by the superb butter, the star of the breads was undoubtedly the cheese roll which had the consistency of a hot buttered roll, but contained a warm core of creamy cheese that tasted somewhat of a brie. In order to not stuff myself before the meal even began I limited myself to one of each roll, but most certainly could have consumed a few more of the cheese rolls happily.

Taking my standard approach to non-tasting menus, I opted for three appetizers instead of a main while my companions each chose an appetizer and a main. After approximately 20 minutes more of chatting and watching the beautiful boats on the bay (and listening to the ever growing racket from the children with indifferent parents across the restaurant) we noted that the restaurant began to fill up with patrons and Daniel wooed each table with more clever conversation. It was at this time that our first course arrived.
For my mother’s first selection she chose the “Crema de Cuatro Quesos al Chile Pasilla, a cheese soup consisting of well blended Mozzarella, Swiss, Bleu, and Parmesan cheeses with a dollop of mashed potatoes, jumbo prawn, and shredded fried sweet potatoes. Like all of Candela’s dishes, the vast numbers of ingredients in this dish were certain to register on many different levels and unlike some of the other dishes, this one worked very well. With heavy top notes from the sweet potatoes, prawns, and bleu cheese the Mozzarella and Parmesan plus the mashed potatoes formed a smoother and more textural base that registered on the palate moreso than the tongue. Heavy and rich, the portion of this dish was quite large and sharing was definitely necessary.

Desiring something lighter, my aunt selected the “Ensalada de Palmitos,” a mixed greens salad with vinegar sauteed tomatoes, mushrooms, hearts of palm, and artichoke vinaigrette. The second unique vinaigrette of the trip (Bouchon’s Walnut vinaigrette being the first) I quite liked this salad and found the combination of perfectly tender hearts of palm with invariably sweet tomatoes to be a good base for the smooth yet savory vinaigrette. Very fresh and impressive in portion, another winner.

For my first course I was served two appetizers, one hot and one cold. The first, heavily recommended by our waiter was “Callos Jean,” or Scallops Sautéed with Portobello Mushrooms, Onions, Cilantro, jalapeno, lime, and white wine. Per Daniel these were the best scallops he’d ever tasted, but per Mike Daniel clearly has not been to Gary Danko, Moto, Deepwood, or a number of other restaurants. While decent, scallops are too delicate for such a vast number of spices and the somewhat overcooked mussels were simply lost in the jumble while the lime and cilantro just overwhelmed the palate and the jalapenos dominated the tongue.
The second dish, “Estructura de Aguacate” was a pureed Hass avocado with scallops, shrimp, and crab marinated in lime-juice and tossed with cilantro, tomato, onion and served with basil mango vinaigrette. Served like a tuna tartare and featuring a similar mixture of spices to the Callos Jean, this dish worked much better and was actually quite delicious – and large. Sweet crab and scallops were clearly detectable over the spice and the lime juice provided a sour foil to the sweet mango vinaigrette (yet another new vinaigrette) and the whole dish had a decidedly Italian feel to it while also maintaining a Spanish ceviche quality due to the lime and seafood.

Plates cleared we sat once again listening to the now-screaming-level sounds coming from across the restaurant and were amused that two of our neighboring tables complained directly to the waiter about the noise – one group even walking out of the restaurants after drinks due to the racket. While I understand that the economy is bad and you don’t want to offend a guest by asking them to leave or silence their children, I also think it is poor form to allow one table to ruin the experience of others. While not offended enough to leave, we were ~30-40 yards from the table; had I been close I’d have left as well. Eventually, just after our mains arrived, the group finally left and the ambiance greatly improved.

The first main dish, ordered by my mother, was “Escamas del Mayab,” a Grouper sauteed in olive oil and topped with baked scallop potato scales, served with vegetables and poblano Chile and yellow corn cream sauce. A large piece of grouper, I cannot say this was the freshest piece of fish on our trip – possibly the least fresh, actually – but certainly not bad. Lightly sautéed but cooked well to the middle, the mild and delicate fish was well complimented by the crispy potato scales while the combination of sauces were an interesting twist. Not a huge fan of poblanos in general, I was glad that this sauce was relatively muted and not overwhelming – thick with a little heat, nothing too memorable. The second sauce was actually tremendous and reminded me both in taste and flavor of a cornbread pudding akin to that at Moto – mild and sweet, a good accompaniment to the fish. The vegetables, while fresh, were sautéed in olive oil and spice and relatively unmemorable.

The second main, my aunt’s selection, was “Pasta Uxmal,” a linguini pasta with lobster and Portobello Mushrooms. After dinner at Mozza and La Botte in LA, plus the hand rolled pasta at One Market I’m really not sure what her thoughts were in ordering a non-house made noodle – but order she did. Unremarkable, bland, and limp the pasta was quite sub-par in my opinion while the lobster was relatively unflavorful and lost to the earthy mushrooms. I admit I did not expect much from this dish and it delivered just that. My aunt liked it, so I guess that is something, but for the price I’d take Prego, Krab, and Barilla.
The final main, actually an appetizer, was the “Ceviche de Pulpo.” Octopus ceviche sandwiched between two crispy corn tortillas, fresh mango slices and vinaigrette was definitely my favorite savory of the night and was actually impressive on a level that far surpassed the rest of the dishes. Utilizing minimal excess spices and instead focusing on well prepared octopus, fresh mangoes, and a simple vinaigrette I found the approach and execution to this dish quite different from the rest of my choices and liked it very much. Perhaps it was the lack of cilantro, perhaps the less-is-more approach – a contender along with All Angelo’s Octopus carpaccio for best octopus preparation I’ve tasted.

Having already enjoyed Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Desserts earlier in the day and feeling quite full (with some cheesecake remaining at the hotel) we decided to order only one dessert with three spoons. Highly recommended by Dan and certainly a novelty given the fruit component we selected the “Pastel Tres Leches” Traditional Strawberry Sponge Cake soaked in three milks sauce. Served in a portion large enough to share we found this dessert wonderful in texture, taste, and presentation – like an Angel food strawberry shortcake with hints of caramel and crème fraiche, but vastly better – a great ending to the meal.
When it was all said and done, our bill was quite modest compared to other dining experiences on the same trip – but so was the degree of satisfaction. While billing itself as fine dining, I personally found Candelas to be more aptly described as a bar with better-than-average bar-food. Somewhere in the preparation of the menu I do believe the chef lost track of how to enhance a dish with spices and instead opted to simply over-spice and over-season for the sake of complexity. Instead of using 6-7 ingredients separated on a plate to highlight various textures and aspects, the ingredients were all served combined thus blunting the impact of each. Additionally, while the setting is beautiful and the service was absolutely wonderful, I have to admit that the screaming children was a huge disappointment in how it was handled. In the end, I don’t think I would go back to Candelas given the myriad other options in San Diego – but if I ever opened a restaurant of my own, I’d be sure to ask Daniel to be a server.

Extraordinary Desserts, San Diego CA

Driving to San Diego after a few days in Los Angeles and four days in San Francisco I must admit I was getting a little worn out – so many great meals, so many great memories, and the realization that soon it would be “back to reality.” Having never been to San Diego before I did my foodie duty to see what was worth checking out and one name continually popped up on the radar – Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Desserts. A San Diego native with Cordon Bleu training and multiple awards running a patisserie that had withstood 20 years – sold. Planning already to see the Gas Lamp district and Little Italy while in town, the newer restaurant – located on Union Street – was decided to be our first destination in exploring San Diego.
Arriving in the later afternoon after a hearty breakfast at Cici’s and dinner plans already booked for the evening, we made our way across the impressive San Diego bridge and browsed the relatively empty Sunday-Streets of downtown San Diego before finding the small shop and securing an easy parking space at a meter. Walking into the café I was struck by how many people were present – mostly because I was unaware of the fact that Extraordinary Desserts also served brunch savories. While savories looked good and all the eclectic toys and gadgets were also interesting, the namesake desserts were certainly the most impressive aspect of the store.

Tortes, cookies, cakes, pies, scones, croissants, puddings – and each item incredibly ornate and beautiful – I can honestly say that of the 25+ options there was not a single one that looked less than impressive. To be fair, Extraordinary Desserts made even Jean Philippe, Payard, and Bouchon Bakery look pale in comparison. While pricey, the prices were certainly more logical than the far less impressive Citizen Cake in San Francisco or Philippe or Payard’s shops in Vegas, as well. Browsing for literally 20 minutes before finally settling on three items, my group went to pay when – gasp – from the kitchen emerged something even more sinister looking than my previous choice – a large steaming bowl of bread that could only be one thing – Bread Pudding. Once this assumption was confirmed I quickly switched my order, the three of us paid, and given the beautiful weather we decided to take our dishes outside for consumption on the patio.
The first selection, my mother’s, was “Au Chocolat” – a chocolate Mousse Torte with creamy Valrhona Dark Chocolate Mousse atop a thick layer of chocolate cake soaked in cocoa and covered in dark chocolate ganache. Thick, dense, and quite perfectly described I was very surprised and impressed by how the subtle differences in each layer peaked on the palate at different times giving sensations of sweet, bitter, creamy, textural, and aromatic. While I feel it unjust to make such a comparison, the overall effect was something like a Ho-ho, yet infinitely more complex and textural.

The second choice, my Aunt’s, was the White Chocolate Cheesecake consisting of White Chocolate layered on a bed of fresh raspberries and thin dark chocolate genoise and finished with Whipped Cream, shaved chocolate edges, fresh fruits, flower petals. Non-traditional in almost every way, this cheesecake was much more airy than the standard New York Style and actually fared much better for it in terms of highlighting the complexities. Hints of vanilla, raspberry, and sugar were the notable top-notes while the essence of the white chocolate and chocolate genoise formed more of a “foundation” that lingered on the palate.
The final selection, mine, was indeed the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. As I’ve said before, bread pudding is my favorite type of dessert and previously I’d found nothing to rival Nancy Olson’s at Gramercy Tavern. Well, step aside New York, for the mighty have fallen. Featuring cubes of house made buttery croissant atop what can best be described as chocolate chips and a chocolate pudding cake similar to Thomas Keller’s Bouchons, then topped with ribbons of dark chocolate and a dollop of ganache and served with a blend of crème anglaise and hot cocoa. Large in portion and rich in texture, this bread pudding was everything one should be – complex in taste yet simple in formula, textural yet complimentary, as much a “bread” as a “pudding, and most of all – delicious. Seemingly divided into 3 “layers,” each bite was savored and the addition of the cream cocoa only served to enhance the experience. Really – I’d drive from Los Angeles to San Diego just for this dessert.

When it was all said and done, my group had finished dessert only 2 hours before our dinner reservation – a reservation I almost considered cancelling in order to indulge in another round of desserts from Chef Krasne. A beautiful restaurant with beautiful foods in a nice neighborhood and a chef that sees food as a mind, body, spiritual connection – no one is ever going to pretend dessert is “health food,” but at the same time, if you’re going to eat something gluttonous, why not expect it to be extraordinary?

Cici's Cafe, Tarzana CA

Formerly morbidly obese and corrected though only hard work, diet, and exercise I generally consume zero refined sugars, plenty of lean protein, and well over 3 pounds of vegetables a day. I go to the gym, I eat six self prepared meals per day - I practice exactly what I preach to my patients. Vacation, however, is vacation - especially when you work 80 hours a week and only get 3 weeks a year off - and when I travel I indulge my sweet-tooth to the fullest.

A glutton for sticky sweet breakfasts, Bouchon, Griddle Cafe, and Bongo Room top my 'all time' list - thus when I heard about Cici's Cafe in Tarzana, just outside Los Angeles, I made it a must on my foodie agenda. Planning to drive to San Diego that day we awoke early and made our way north from West LA to arrive at Cici's on Oscar Sunday around 7:15am - the line was out the door, but we were told the wait would be around 15 minutes. Not in any rush, we sat down on the comfy outdoor seats and enjoyed the morning air while watching the cars speed by on Ventura and approximately 10 minutes later we were escorted to a small 3-seater in the dead center of the restaurant, just in front of the bar. Menus were delivered and I was delighted by the 25+ pancake options with odd ingredients like bacon and chocolate or green tea and vanilla as well as multiple french toast, waffle, and even crepe options, plus eggs and sandwiches - the variety topped even the Griddle and the novelty was on par.

After a few moments of watching waiters and waitresses whiz by, a pleasant young lady came to take drink orders (2 coffees and an orange juice) while a young man filled water glasses - unlike Bongo Room or Griddle there did not seem to be any "specific" server at Cici's, just damn good service out of the chaos. While the coffee wasn't as bold or aromatic as that at Griddle Cafe (nor as good as the Intelligentisa at Bongo Room) it was always kept full and was not bad by any means. One cup of coffee consumed, another waitress appeared to take our orders - admittedly a tough choice considering the fact that at least 20 items had caught my eye. Knowing my partners-in-crime would never finish their portions I allowed them to order first so I could fit my order to their stacks and get maximum sampling of Cici's griddle skills.

Orders placed we watched the hustle and bustle of the small cafe and remarked at the fact that like Griddle Cafe the noise was never "too loud," but instead just loud enough. We also noted that the crowd trended towards an older group - many with children - as opposed to the hip scene of Griddle. With seating much more "packed" than the Griddle, it is notable that my mother was literally elbow to elbow with a lady at the table next to us. After approximately 15 minutes of watching marvelous piles of food (thankfully not as immense as The Griddle or Bong Room) surf by, our plates were delivered.

My mother's order, the "Pink Lady" consisted of raspberries and fresh macadamia nuts mixed in buttermilk pancakes and topped with raspberry sauce & whipped cream. Not as tasty as the whipped cream at Griddle, these cakes notably suffered a similar fate to The Griddle's Boysenberry Rain in that there was too little Raspberry to "sweeten" the whole stack, thus requiring the addition of maple syrup - a syrup paling drastically in comparison to the Vermont Maple at the Griddle. While tasty and better than Boysenberry Rain, I wouldn't recommend these cakes - especially since we saw some of the other fruited options absolutely loaded with blueberries and bananas.

My aunt's choice, the "Sky Diver" was described as yummy bananas & chocolate chips in buttermilk pancakes topped with peanut butter & whipped cream - and when they say topped here, they mean it. Three large cakes heavily laden with bananas both in the batter and between the cakes plus some small chocolate chips baked in were served with what I can only guesstimate as a half cup of creamy peanut butter and an equal amount of whipped cream. Despite my considerable sweet tooth, this dish was almost too much...almost. Along with Payard's Chocolate and Nutella Waffle, Bouchon's French Toast, and the previously mentioned Griddle and Bongo these were amongst the best sweet griddle-prepped breakfast items ever - absolutely good enough to justify the drive to Cici's...from anywhere within a 2-hour radius.

The final selection, mine, was easy - the "Tiramisu." A huge fan of the Italian "Pick-me-up," I was delighted to see the kahlua and chocolate chip laden batter topped with more chocolate chips, house mascarpone cream and cocoa powder. Having sampled a myriad of Tiramisu in my life I always find the variations on the ingredients to be interesting, but unfortunately this preparation did not say tiramisu nearly as much as it said creamy mascarpone with hints of kahlua. While certainly tasty, the dish just didn't live up to its name without the espresso and rum and I'd personally have called this one "The White Russian" as a tribute to The Big Lebowski instead - I'd have still ordered it with a different expectation and likely been more pleased. Certainly not as tasty as "Eyes Wide Open" or "Saturday Morning Fever" at the Griddle.

With a full pancake of the Pink Lady remaining our table was fully satiated and the modest bill was brought on our request - it was nice to not feel rushed despite the small restaurant and ever growing line. While service was spot on throughout, the food itself was hit-or-miss compared to The Griddle or Bongo Room. While the Sky Diver truly soared and other options such as Pigs in the Mud will likely garner a return visit in the future, for now I can say that Cici's is better than anything we have in Ohio, but it hasn't cracked my top-3 breakfasts yet.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles CA

Authentic or not, Mario Batali and his partner Joseph Bastianich - restaurateur, winemaker, and son of chef Lidia Bastianich – have done more to advance America’s appreciation of the traditional and neo-traditional Italian cuisine than anyone current or prior. Whether your opinion of Chef Batali trends more towards amicable genius or overhyped and thinly spread sell-out, the man can cook and does things with pasta and offal that simply aren’t done in the standard Italian restaurant here in America (or even perhaps in many parts of Italy.) Bringing their Michelin Starred Credentials from Babbo and Del Posto further west than ever before (Vegas,) Batali and company further strengthened their repertoire when forming Mozza by enlisting Los Angeles culinary goddess and ex-Spago alum Nancy Silverton to manage breads, cheeses, and the now-famous Mozzarella bar. Coming back to town, having experienced Babbo and Otto on a previous trip to NYC, and hearing the continued hype of Osteria Mozza my family and I managed to secure reservations the Saturday of Academy Awards Weekend – no easy task, to be sure.

Leaving yet another Kings loss and arriving at 5:55pm, even before the restaurant’s official opening at 6:00pm, there was already a line – both at Osteria and the Pizzeria next door. Valet was simple and affordable and after a short wait the front doors were opened revealing the warm yet boisterous interior with aspects of wood and metal, light and dark – quite dissimilar to the homey feel of Babbo, yet not loud or showy. Centering the restaurant was the large mozzarella bar where, unfortunately, Chef Silverton was not on duty so early in the evening. As many have noted, at Mozza as well as Babbo, the soundtrack was notable for the Beatles, Who, Stones, and Hendrix – yet somehow it seemed more subdued at Mozza, perhaps due to the energetic buzz of the room compared to Babbo’s intimacy.
Seated by our hostess at a little table near the kitchen and behind the wine bar, my seat offered a great view of the restaurant, mozzarella bar, and kitchen doors – alas, no open kitchen. Notable for the low light (not Mastro’s low, but on par with The French Laundry) I found it funny that there were two guys wearing shades at separate tables to our left – apparently incognito or just too damn cool. Doors opening at six I can say that every table in the house was packed and the bar abuzz by 6:30 – clearly the “place to be.” A few moments later Anthony, our server, arrived to fill water and present menus. Gregarious in a way, but somewhat bumbling in others I found Anthony likeable, albeit not a very good waiter in comparison to others on the trip – water glasses frequently unfilled, forgotten dishes, odd mannerisms – but he certainly did have good knowledge of the menu – important given Batali’s reliance on classic Italian nomenclature with minimal explanation.

Bread was brought to the table after approximately five minutes of looking over the menu and true to form, was served without olive oil or butter unless specifically requested – and request we did. I have indeed heard others complain of this need to request, but having read the Babbo cookbook I certainly understand the dedication – bread is served solo in Italy. Regarding the bread – apparently from Silverton’s La Brea Bakery – we were served only one type, a decent but unmemorable white Italian bread nowhere near on par with the rustic country bread at Babbo.

Returning after allowing us time to decide, Anthony decrypted the menu for my guests and orders were placed – as others noted, antipasti, primi, secondi, salads, and mozzarella must all be ordered at the same time in order to divide up courses appropriately. A similar concept to Babbo, I certainly wouldn’t have minded this policy if it were actually followed and Anthony had not forgotten one of my dishes (the dish I had most looked forward to) until he was reminded…before dessert. Orders placed, we sat for a bit before our amuse was delivered.

As expected, the amuse consisted of the Crostini with fresh ricotta, olive tapenade, and basil chiffon with olive oil. Simple yet tasty, the olives and basil certainly hit hard at first but are later tempered by the creamy ricotta that is offset by the crunchy crostini. Not as good as the chickpea amuse at Babbo, this certainly is a solid “signature” amuse for Mozza.
Our first ordered dish arrived approximately 5 minutes after the amuse and was delivered straight from the Mozzarella bar. Described as burratta stuffed with ricotta, the Burricotti with radicchio, spiced walnuts, honey & fried rosemary was absolutely sublime and amongst the top dishes of the night. Smooth and creamy cheese atop a crispy slice of crostini was complimented astoundingly well by the fresh bite of radicchio and hints of zesty rosemary but then further enhanced to a peak on the palate by the addition of a succulent lavender flavored honey and cinnamon baked walnuts. A play on texture, temperature (the rosemary and radicchio served warm), and bitter with sweet, smooth with crunch – wonderful.
Second courses arriving included two pastas and a polenta. For myself, the gnocchi, a standard by which all Italian (and non-Italian) restaurants must be judged. Served with wild boar ragu at Babbo, I was pleased to see that at Mozza the decision was made to serve up Gnocchi with duck ragu. Like Babbo, the housemade gnocchi were perfectly cooked, tender yet still retaining a good texture, like potato pillows. The ragu addition to the gnocchi was quite pleasing, albeit less so than the wild boar version at Babbo or Spiaggia in that it sported a mild gamey-ness to it that wasn’t off-putting, but not especially subtle either. The heavy dusting of freshly-grated Pecorino Cheese was a wonderful addition performed tableside.
For my Aunt, yet again a fan of the simple, Spaghetti all'Gricia was chosen as her pasta and customized sans-chili peppers. Cooked wonderfully al dente with strong hints of pancetta bacon, onion, oregano, and super-1oo tomatoes (described quite prominently in the Babbo cookbook and worth every penny) I can honestly say this was the best ‘simple-spaghetti’ I’ve ever tasted. Well salted, like most of Batali’s pastas, there was no single element of the sauce that overwhelmed the others and everything was a perfect balance. I especially found the pancetta to be a wonderful taste and textural addition given its crispy yet supple mouth-feel.
For my mother, a light course was selected – the Polenta with Parmigiano. Well cooked high quality Polenta and fragrant Parmigiano served in an individual crock with hints of garlic and peppercorn. Good but not great, I think this dish would have been better placed with the secondi’s or as the carb base to another protein dish. Certainly not as good as Symon’s at Lola or the version at Spiaggia.

Plates were cleared and a short amount of time passed before our next course arrived – two protein based secondis to be shared around the table. Delivered with a flourish and topped with appropriately grated cheeses we were offered a “bon appetite” – the first of the night compared to the excess at La Botte. Oddly noting that a third primi pasta had not been delivered I must note I grew a bit curious as it was something I really wanted to try, but to avoid my food getting cold we decided to start eating. Before describing the dishes I will note that our waiter did indeed forget the dish entirely and fully admitted to doing so prior to rushing off while guaranteeing this would be “taken care of.”

Our first main, the Pan Roasted Pork Loin with fennel & olives and sambuca was ordered as a direct comparison to the superb Grilled Pork Chop at Babbo and while good, fell definitively short of the mark. Well cooked and tender, the loin was notably fatty – especially for loin, and the flavor of the fennel was lost to the potent olives and heaviness of the sambuca. While I have heard others claim that Mozza is heavy handed with the salt shaker, I actually felt that this dish was appropriately salted yet slightly over-peppered. Personally, I’d not order this again, but my mother enjoyed it.

Our second main, the Sweetbreads Picatta with artichokes and lemon spinach was something I’d looked forward to since the moment I saw it on the menu – unfortunately it did not live up to my hype at all. Large in portion and very high in quality, the tender and delectable sweetbreads were simply buried in the heavy flavor of olives and incredibly potent degree of lemon. Seemingly poached only in lemon juice and further topped with lemon peel I simply could not get over the degree of lemon in this dish and honestly wondered if there was something wrong with my taste-buds. My mother, a lemon fanatic as noted in myriad previous reviews, willingly tasted the spinach (no love for sweetbreads) and agreed that it was very lemony – even for her.
With about 1/2 cup of spinach and olives remaining, the ‘missing’ pasta finally arrived – luckily as I was really starting to feel blasé about the meal in general. While I personally believe that the gross oversight (especially in the setting of forcing you to order everything at once to assure appropriate service) should have led to this dish being comped, after seeing it and tasting it I can say it was worth the wait. Hyped elsewhere, the Fresh Ricotta & Egg Raviolo with Browned Butter arrived in all its glory as a giant single noodle stuffed with warm and textural ricotta and thick yolk that simply bled when cut. Further enhanced with the stupendous flavors of nutmeg, hints of cinnamon, and fresh brown butter plus sage I can say without a doubt that this dish was on par with all but the Truffled Egg at French Laundry and Trotter’s Poached Pennsylvania Duck Egg with Perigord Black Truffle in the “best egg dishes in America” category.
Plates cleared we were allowed to linger for a short time over the memories of the food before our waiter returned with dessert menus. Having experienced good-but-not-great desserts at Babbo and feeling somewhat full I considered deferring on dessert until I saw the options. Moments later our three orders were placed and we were left with a short wait before our selections arrived. While the noise had indeed increased from the time of our arrival, even at 7:30 I did not find the restaurant “loud” at all.

The first dessert, Piccolo Bundino Caldo di Cioccolato with candied almonds and bourbon gelato, was selected by myself and was everything I expected – but better. A rich molten chocolate cake – almost soufflé like – was served atop a slick of thick vanilla caramel and candied almonds, then topped with a scoop of succulent yet potent bourbon gelato. An absolutely wonderful dessert in every way I couldn’t have been happier to end the meal on two such high-notes.

My Aunt’s selection, Apple Borsellino with Carmel Gelato & crema, was another winner and certainly the best apple-dessert of the trip. Vastly better than La Botte, Spago, or All Angelo’s Apple Strudels, this fluffy pastry with hints of cinnamon and clove housed a perfectly baked hot apple and was matched with a room temperature sweet cream and slowly melting Caramel gelato plus warm caramel sauce, powdered sugar, and an apple chip. Taken singly each component was superb – combined they were even better.
As good as the previous two desserts were, the third dessert was actually the show-stealer in terms of “why doesn’t everything taste that good” simplicity. Bombolini with mountain huckleberry compote & vanilla gelato was simply traditional Italian donuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and flash fried, then served alongside a fresh huckleberry reduction with hints of wine and creamy vanilla gelato with crème fraiche. Simple, sweet, wonderful – a must order.
When the meal was all said and done our waiter thanked us for coming and once again apologized for the forgotten dish prior to delivering the bill. Tolling at approximately $70 per person after tax and tip I can’t say Osteria Mozza was overpriced by any means, but at the same time I can’t say it was as affordable as Babbo – nor was it as good. While the desserts were certainly elevated a step or two among those at Babbo and the Mozzarella Bar was a nice touch, the only item on the menu that truly wowed was the Raviolo – which was clearly hampered by its poor service placement. While other dishes such as the spaghetti and the Burricotti were also quite good, the secondis were very disappointing and the service was merely adequate. While I officially like the energy of the room, such inconsistency would make it difficult for me to return frequently – or at least until the hype dies down a bit.