This is LA: Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza

Venice Beach

I recently made a quick trip down to LAX for a video shoot with BlogHer CEO, Lisa Stone. We were invited to do a funny tongue-in-cheek Super Bowl video for Network Solutions with the legendary Cloris Leachman. It’s been over six years since I’d set foot on a television set, but it felt like old hat. And Cloris and her son/agent, George Englund, were an absolute hoot and kept us in stitches all day.

I realized that although I only live one hour away by air, I hadn’t been to Los Angeles in over 11 years! Crazy, I know. So since I don’t get down there very much, I wanted to make sure I went to at least one restaurant on my “must-try” list.

So I made a reservation at Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza. I always got the impression Batali’s restaurants were impressive, regardless of his celebrity. I was eager to see if this was true.

My friend, Rene, and I decided to go family style and order a variety of things. We started with the Crispy Pigs Trotter (pig’s feet), and the Burrata with Leeks & Mustard Breadcrumbs. We weren’t sure what to make of the pig’s trotter since neither of us had eaten it before, but we enjoyed it. It had a creamy, rich, smooth mouthfeel and a savory, meaty fat flavor. The closest thing I can think of to it in flavor and mouthfeel would be bone marrow, since both are very fatty. But I’m glad I tried it. And I loved the amount of crispness in the breading. It was fried to a perfect golden brown and crisp without a touch of grease.

Burrata w/Leeks & Mustard Vinaigrette

The Burrata and Leeks were a delight. I’m curious as to how they got the leeks to this soft texture and regret not asking our server. And the dijon vinaigrette had just enough tang to cut through the buttery leeks and smooth creamy cheese. The breadcrumbs on top, of course, added texture. It was a very well conceived dish.

For our pasta course, we shared what was to be my favorite dish of the night. It was the Ricotta and Egg Raviolo, which was just one large housemade pasta pocket with a soft egg on top that oozed its orangey yolk when you cut into it. The ricotta was creamy, light and airy, and it all sat in a small pool of browned butter. It was awesome and far and away the best pasta dish I’d had in a while. It was rich and decadent yet clean and simple. Perfect.

Egg & Ricotta Raviolo

We ended on the meat entree: the Grilled Beef Tagliata with Parmigiano and lightly dressed arugula on the side. The aged balsamic they used on the arugula was sweet with the flavor of grapes and had a little tang, just like a quality aged balsamic vinegar should taste. It also graced the beef tenderloin giving the meat a slight peppy, zesty flavor. It was grilled a perfect medium-rare, flavorful, juicy, and expertly prepared.

The decor for this large space is slightly industrial with it’s high ceilings and large wrought iron light fixtures, yet intimate enough with its dim lighting and comfortably spaced tables. It was sophisticated but not overly warm or pretentious, which helped the mood. It’s a great place for a special occasion or date, but not stuffy, which is perfect for LA. The place was packed all night and we were lucky to get seated earlier than our reservation.

Though our meal was wonderful and certainly memorable, I’m not in a rush to return. It was a great dining experience, just not a regular haunt that I’d crave. I think I’ll head to Batali’s equally buzzed about, Pizzeria Mozza, just next door, on my next trip down South.

Osteria Mozza on Urbanspoon

Is Gialina’s the Best Pizza in San Francisco?

The hubby, kid and I decided to head to the city for something fun, yet family friendly.  Enter Gialina, which foodies in the area have described as one of, if not the best pizza in San Francisco.  It’s also been named one of the Best Pizzas in the country by GQ magazine.

The place is TINY and is a neighborhood joint in the Glen Park area of the city, which means you don’t head there for atmosphere or decor.  Parking is a breeze, but the wait can be torture.  The only answer is to show up before 5:30pm, which we did.  They only serve dinner, but they do it 7 nights a week.

Service is accommodating and friendly, but not warm or inviting.  They’ve got a job to do and they do it well.  However, with the space being so small and the amount of people who are waiting outside, they never make you feel rushed so they can turn the table.  I greatly appreciated that.

We had the Little Meatballs w/tomato sauce & provolone, and the Pork Belly w/sauteed chard studded with currants.  Both these appetizers are fantastic, which is why this restaurant is known not only for their pies but the small plates they put out.  Surprisingly, I LOVED the chard because the bits of currants gave it tang and sweetness that contrasted the flavor of the bitter greens and pungent garlic so well.

Then the pies.  We ordered two: the Wild Nettles pie w/panchetta, provolone and mushrooms was first.  WOW!  The combo of flavors is incredible and not one you would think of.  The nettles give texture and fresh green flavor while the panchetta and provolone give heft and richness.  But the biggest thing about their pies is the CRUST!  It’s paper-thin, so much so that you can practically see through it.  Yet it’s not annoyingly crackly and dry like a cracker.  It had a nice soft texture on top and a thin crispness on the bottom.  It was almost like a freshly baked baguette, but of course, not as thick or doughy.  How do they do that?  I mean, it’s paper thin!  And the crust also had the slightest tang, almost like it was sourdough.   Amazing and very impressive.

Our second pie was just as delicious, but in a totally different way.  The Atomica had a tomato sauce with a little kick from chilies, mushrooms, thinly shaved red onions and mozzarella.   Again, wow!  Such simplicity and quality in its ingredients and preparation.

We were so impressed that my husband declared it the most memorable pizza he’s ever had.  I declared it the best thin crust pizza you’ll ever find in San Francisco.

I’ve tried A16 (the restaurant, overall, is overrated IMHO), Pizzeria Delfina (great Neapolitan-style pies, but it’s a different crust that’s much more pillowy, and the pies can occassionally be soggy in the middle), Pizzeria Picco (a bit dry and boring), and Pizza Antica (can you say inconsistent?).  But none compare to the innovation, simplicity, and sheer expertise of Gialina.  It’s the little unassuming Italian neighborhood restaurant that blows most others like it, out of the water.

Gialina on Urbanspoon

Sociale Redo

A repeat visit to Sociale is always a welcome opportunity. Getting there is easy, parking is a breeze, and walking down that hidden cobblestone corridor to find this gem of a restaurant at the end of it is nothing short of a pleasure. I sometimes feel sorry for the people who are dining across the street at the well-known Spruce Restaurant because they have no idea what they’re missing!

Their menus change with the seasons and they represent the essence of that time of year so well. The Foodinistas and I (@joanneisafoodie, @lickmyspoon, @istelleinad) shared a variety of appetizers, including their famous Fried Olives stuffed with fontina cheese, Seared Scallops with mango, hearts of palm, and a citrus reduction, and the Watermelon and Burrata Salad. They were all wildly different, wildly fresh, and wonderfully delicious.

I am a huge sucker for burrata, now. It’s like a creamier version of fresh mozzerella, liquid and all. So creamy soft that it’s perfect on a small slice of bread. Just heavenly. And the red and yellow watermelon slices with a touch of chili flakes were such a simple yet ingenious combo.

And the scallops were definitely worth mentioning since they were perfectly cooked, sweet, and tender. Hearts of palm usually reminds me of a cross between fennel and bamboo shoots, and here, they were the perfect textural contrast to the sweet mango slices. This dish was perfectly executed and beautiful as well.

For our entrees we ordered the Pici with Venison Bolognaise, Spinach Tagliatelle with corn and tomatoes, and the Duck Breast with a cherry sauce and potato torte. All of these dishes had wonderful character and flavor combinations.

I LOVED the tagliatelle and have always wanted to order this dish simply because the colors are beautiful! And I’m happy to say the dish itself is just as delightful to eat. I love how fresh the sweet corn and tomatoes were, and the housemade pasta was chewy and delicious. A generous shaving of cheese on top and I was loving every bite.

But it was the duck breast that really surprised me. The accompanying cherry sauce fortunately didn’t overpower the meat, like it can sometimes. It was merely an accent to the perfectly medium rare duck, which was perfectly prepared and seasoned. I would definitely order it on my next visit.

As always, sitting outside at this restaurant is the only way to go, which means you must request a table here beforehand. It’s so charming and adds to the whole experience of eating there. It’s at once romantic, intimate, special, and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a quaint little elegant European restaurant. Yet the service is exceptionally friendly and comfortable. Eating here is always an experience I relish.

Sociale on Urbanspoon

Italian in Mountain View

rist.jpg Courtesy of www.dongiovannis.com

If you’re ever in downtown Mountain View, specifically Castro St., you’ll never have any trouble finding a good Asian restaurant. There’s a wide selection of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese joints all up and down the street.

Unfortunately, my friend and I weren’t in the mood for Asian food. And our options didn’t look good, until we saw Ristorante Don Giovanni.

I was a little afraid upon entering the place because of it’s stereotypical Italian bistro decor of peach colored walls, dime a dozen Italian posters and the pungent smell of garlic. The place needs a facelift to make it more modern and give it some distinction.

Upon opening the menu, I noticed an abundance of typical Italian favorites you’d expect to see like pastas and scallopinis. Nothing terribly innovative or exciting, but there were a lot of choices.

If you love veal, you’ll love this place. There is a ton of veal on this menu and not as much in the way of chicken or beef. I decided on the Veal Scallopini with Marsala and Mushrooms. I LOVE marsala dishes, so I was hoping for the best.

But first, my friend and I shared the crab cake appetizer. There are so many ways to screw this dish up, but fortunately, it exceeded my expectations. The crab meat was flavorful, fresh tasting, moist, and the breading was light and crispy. A solid dish.

My friend ordered the ravioli stuffed with ricotta in meat sauce. She loved it and practically licked the place clean. And my veal marsala was surprisingly good. The veal was pounded thin and was moist and tender. The mushrooms and marsala sauce were sweet and tangy, just like it should be. It was simple, but delicious.

At one point we both stopped ourselves in mid meal realizing how fast we were eating! We enjoyed the food thoroughly, and the service was friendly and attentive. The menu and decor could stand a little more imagination, but the simple food was hearty, yet not heavy, and solidly good.

If none of the Asian restaurants on Castro are calling your name, you could do a lot worse than this place.

Ristorante Don Giovanni – 235 Castro St., Mountain View – 650.961.9749

SPECIAL OFFER: On Thanksgiving, November 22nd, 2007, Ristorante Don Giovanni will be serving their annual FREE Thanksgiving meal, as a thank you to all their loyal customers! Just show up between 11am-4pm to get a free turkey meal! Not valid on takeout orders, while supplies last. Please call the restaurant for more details.

Don Giovanni on Urbanspoon