Monday, September 28, 2009

Iron Chef Osteria Mozza: Battle of the bellies at the Amaro Bar

It was a battle of epic proportions. On the right – me, Diana Takes a Bite, a valiant warrior who once ordered (and consumed) a banana nut bagel from Panera Bakery, and a full stack of plate-sized blueberry granola pancakes and side of potatoes at Le Peep restaurant for breakfast.

On the left – Sook from Yutjangsah, who has eaten her way through the tasting menus at both Providence and Hatfield’s, and recently completed a 5-mile San Gabriel Valley food marathon.

The scene of the gorge-fest: Osteria Mozza for the Amaro Bar menu that offers patrons the choice of an item from Nancy’s Mozzarella Bar, one pasta, a dessert, and a glass of either Bastianich Friulano or La Mozza Morellino di Scansano for $35.

The time: Thursday, September 24th at precisely 7 pm (7:17 pm once Sook and I were both seated and drinking).

The stakes: None. (That I know of.)

I knew Sook could eat – had even witnessed her prowess at PF Chang’s that past Sunday, but was confident that I would have no trouble meeting her bite for bite in a head to head match. Or at least I was until we sat down at the Amaro Bar (the less chic one) at Osteria Mozza on Thursday evening for my last birthday hurrah…

“So you want to get the octopus, right?” Sook says, referring to my favorite appetizer in LA – the grilled octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon.

“It’s amazing – if you’ve never been here before, you have to try it.” I gush, already salivating over the mental image of the tender charred tentacles bathed in a lemony vinaigrette.

She nods, then turns back to the menu. “Do you think we should get another starter? A salad maybe?”

I blanch. “Umm…”

“Do you think it’s going to be enough?” She presses, looking genuinely concerned for the well fair of our bellies.

My throat tightens. I stare regretfully at the crumbs from the slice of whole grain bread I’ve already devoured.

Sook can’t be serious, can she?

“Well, we are already getting the shared starter on top of a mozzarella dish, a pasta, and dessert…” I say finally, trying my best to disguise my horror that she doesn’t consider three and a half courses plus bread plus an amuse bouche enough food.

She looks doubtful.

“Let’s just start with this, and if we want more, we’ll order more?” I reason.

“Okay.” She agrees after a moment’s hesitation.

Our first dish of the evening, the aforementioned octopus, arrives alongside our mozzarella dishes that came highly recommended from our server – the mozzarella with shell beans, pesto and bitter greens for me, and the burrata with speck and pickled spring onions on crostini for her.

The octopus is, as usual, fork fight-worthy, but we both restrain ourselves in an honorable attempt to match our decorum to the restaurant’s formal setting. (Secretly, I think Sook wants to take me out with her knife…)

We also make a great show of how eager we are for the other to try our mozza plates. Her selection is decidedly heavier than mine with all the bread, succulent strips of meaty speck and three dollops of burrata cheese. All the components work really well together (the pickled spring onions are a highlight), but with all the food coming our way, I am happy to be noshing on my lighter dish. The bright pesto and greens are the perfect counterbalance to the rich mozzarella. I have no trouble scraping my plate, and even use my bread to sop up the extra pesto. I know I’ll be able to take down my pasta and dessert with no problem.

Sook, who has been diligently working her way through her crostini, looks over at me with a slightly pained expression on her face. “I hate to say it, but…”

“What?” I ask in concern. Does she want to order another starter? Another round of mozzarella? Two entrees?!?

“… I’m getting a little full.” She confesses, hanging her head in shame.

I’m a little stunned at first – is she admitting defeat? And more importantly, does this mean I’ll be the sole clean plate diner in our party of two? I don’t want to be the overeater by myself! It was bad enough being the only one to order a shared appetizer, entrée and dessert at Tavern the previous week! Her stomach has to rally – it just has to!

Fortunately, my concern is for naught. Sook doesn’t hesitate when her hearty portion of the tagliatelle verde with lamb ragu and mint arrives. Despite its robust size, she finishes every al dente noodle, while I attend to my standby favorite, the orrecchiette with sausage and swiss chard. The bite I try makes it clear why. The dish is a knock-out, and I’m a little jealous that I didn’t order it for my pasta, as well.

To finish, we both go with our server’s recommendations for dessert. Sook opts for the bombolini with mountain huckleberry compote and vanilla gelato, and I select the rosemary olive oil cakes with olive oil gelato and rosemary brittle. I’d been leery to try the olive oil cakes in the past because I fancy desserts that error toward the sugary sweet side of the equation as opposed to the savory side, yet, I can’t stop thinking about Tony of Sino Soul’s recent post about the dish. It inspired him so much that he went home and made his own (delicious) version of the olive oil gelato with rosemary.

As soon as our plates arrive, all my concerns immediately disappear. The warm made-to-order cakes are sweet, moist and pair well with the subtle olive oil gelato and sweet rosemary brittle. It’s an incredibly thoughtful and well-executed plate – the best of any of the dishes (sans octopus), I’ve had/tried that night.

Sook’s bombolini, while also warm and served with the lush housemade gelato (a most desirable set-up for any dessert), is, in my opinion, the weaker of the two, but is by no means unworthy of praise. I’m just glad I ordered the olive oil cakes. (I love winning the battle of the dishes!)

By the time we hit the exit, both of us are in pain from our all-out eating efforts. Neither of us left a crumb, blob of sauce or stray noodle on any of the plates that graced our stretch of the Amaro bar highway. Even though Sook may deserve the nod for getting through two of the heartiest plates of the evening, in my mind, we are both victors. But then again, anyone who dines at Osteria Mozza is a victor. It’s just that good.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

(323) 297-0100


Jenn said...

Delicious choices! The desserts are calling me!

youseela73 said...

Burrata and speck? I would so go with that. I have to try this dining option soon. I don't know where you put it, girl.

Esi said...

Um, yeah...that last comment is from me. I hate Blogger!

Diana said...

Jenn - The olive oil cakes are calling me too -- they want me to come back and visit them! ;)

Esi - haha, and here I thought I had a new commenter! You should definitely check out the Amaro Bar. Just be sure to get there early so you don't have to wait too long!

Marie said...

Looks like it was a fantastically filling and beautiful meal! Funny post as well; you ladies are hilarious. :P

Heather said...

ahhh. that all sounds so good! i want to come to the battle of the bellies!!!!

Anna A. said...

I love it! you are so fierce Diana! Hmmm I can't wait to go here.

mattatouille said...

that sounds like a great deal. believe it or not, i haven't been to osteria mozza yet, though I've been to the pizzeria many times. i need to make a visit very soon.

weezermonkey said...

I feel like a victor having just read this. :)

Ashley said...


yutjangsah said...

i was shocked at my rapid fullness. it's something to do with the mozza franchise. they inject oil into everything! very tasty. good times.

SinoSoul said...

D, thanks for the linkback. The " fried doughnut holes with the Italian name Sook-shi had were tepid at best. I find desserts at OMozz extremely hit and miss. Really hope gorging one self is not a new trend amongst food peeps. Nothing about a eating contest says sexy to me...

Gastronomer said...

KICK ASS meal!! This Amaro Bar deal is fantastic. Perhaps a good excuse to return to Osteria Mozza? I think so...

Diana said...

Marie – It was lovely – I know you aren’t in the hood anymore, but the deal is definitely worth a trip back to WeHo!

Heather – I’ll battle your belly at O Mozza anytime! Come visit!

Anna – I can’t wait for TALFs take on the Amaro Bar! It won’t know what hit it!

Matt – I’m shocked! I would have thought you’d have been all over the O Mozza. Definitely make it out there soon. And don’t leave without ordering the octopus and olive oil cakes!

Sharon – Haha, you were a victor before reading this.

Ashley – Don’t worry. I’ll take you back. And then we’ll make Ali jealous. ;)

Sook – Yes, I think it’s a Batali trait too. He leaves trails of olive oil wherever he goes.

Tony – It’s disturbing how much satisfaction I get when you agree with me on something food related (re: the bombolini). As for the gorging, I only gorge for a good cause (ie. Mozza and tasting menus) – never for sport.

Cathy – You bet it’s a good reason!!!

Cinnamon Girl aka Reeni♥ said...

I love the theme of this post. Battle of the bellies! I don't have anyone to eat with like this. Everything looks really yummy!!