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

Redwood City’s Michelin Recommendation

I’ve frequently complained that superior service and truly inventive cuisine just doesn’t exist on the Peninsula.  If you’re a career waiter and take it seriously, you’d end up somewhere higher profile in the city.  And the most ambitious chefs would want the glory of cooking in San Francisco.  It’s just my opinion, though I know I’m generalizing quite a bit.

Enter Donato Enoteca in Redwood City.  The location has seen a lot of turnover (right across the street from the RC Library), but it’s a seemingly perfect spot for a restaurant like this.  There’s lots of light bouncing off the clean white walls, white tablecloths, and very rustic accents and chairs.  The place is charming and actually feels like it’d be a neighborhood joint in the city if it weren’t for it’s large size.  There’s also ample space for al fresco dining here.

Though @istelleinad and I dined here only for lunch, I got a good feel for the kitchen’s potential.  It should also be noted that the restaurant is Michelin guide recommended (but not starred).

We started with the Proschutto plate.  It was heavenly with thin slices of salty tender meat, accompanied by two small baked cheese tarts mixed with egg that had the texture and taste of a quiche, and a tiny bowl of pickled spring veggies.  It was a thoughtful combination.

@istelleinad had the risotto special that sat in a large homemade parmesan cheese crisp “bowl”.  I had the housemade radicchio ravioli with grape tomatoes.  @istelleinad’s risotto was a bit heavy with the cheese crisp it was served with, but the risotto itself was flavorful, seasoned and prepared well.

My ravioli was also delicate and simple.  I appreciated that the ravioli tasted housemade and wasn’t overly heavy.

It was a well prepared, simple meal with delicate touches here and there.  The service was nothing special, but good.  For now, this restaurant fills a niche on the Peninsula.  It’s expertly prepared Italian food with a sophisticated (but not stuffy) vibe at a reasonable cost.  It’s not a chain, its cuisine isn’t generic, and its menu is more interesting than most.  This place has character.

Donato Enoteca on Urbanspoon