"Where is he taking me?" I thought at the time, my eyes floating over the exposed brick walls and mismatching clusters of tables and chairs.
It was my first time visiting Richard in the city – the first time the two of us had spent "quality" time together since a memorable evening the night before his law school graduation when we bonded over generic wine, mixed drinks and 3 am burritos at Cosmic Cantina.
The entire New York trip had been akin to the trust-building game where a person allows themselves to fall backwards – trusting that their partner will be there to catch them. Each day, Richard enthusiastically told me what we would do, where we would eat and what I would order. And each day I would nod my head obediently – trusting that my older brother knew what he was talking about, and trusting that he wouldn't trick me into eating something like small intestine.
That particular evening was no different. Before I had a chance to look at Supper's simple Northern Italian menu he informed me that we would be ordering bruschetta, two orders of the spinach gnocchi and, to drink, a bottle of La Spinetta “Ca’ di Pian” Barbera d’Asti.
"It's one of my favorite wines," he explained as he carefully poured me my first glass of the peppery, fruit-forward red.
Once again, I nodded obediently, and then studied the rhino on the blue label, committing the unfamiliar bottle and unfamiliar varietal to memory.
In the years since that dinner, La Spinetta's Barbera has become symbolic of the relationship that Richard and I developed after we stopped hating each other as children. He opened the first bottle I gave him the night he signed the papers to buy his house in Phoenix. He opened the second bottle I gave him on the three-year anniversary of that night. And when I forwarded him the announcement that Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles would be hosting a wine dinner with Giorgio Rivetti, Owner and Winemaker of La Spinetta, he immediately called to insist that we reserve our spots at the private dinner.
Again, I nodded my head obediently.
With its epic Mozzarella bar deftly manned by Nancy Silverton, al dente pastas peppered with luxurious drizzles of olive oil, and expansive wine list, I've long considered Osteria Mozza to be my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. It never fails to wow me, and it always feels like a special occasion when I'm ensconced within the walls of the perpetually busy, cosmopolitan space.
Even so, in the lead up before the dinner last Thursday, I couldn't help wondering if the meal would be worth all the effort and expense. My brother was flying in from Phoenix just for the night, and at $150 per person, the five-course paired dinner prepared by Mozza's Executive Chef Matt Molina was not exactly an every day kind of affair.
It was, however, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and Richard and I leapt upon it without too much hesitation. Flight arrangements were made, reservations were confirmed and before we knew it, I was leading my older brother through Osteria Mozza to the private, sound-proof room in the back of the restaurant. As we entered the richly festooned dining room with its tapestry-lined, window-less walls, I briefly wondered if he was thinking, "Where is she taking me?"
Most of the fifteen diners were already present when we arrived – sipping glasses of La Spinetta’s 2003 Langhe Bianco Sauvignon Blanc and making small talk about the unseasonably warm weather. The special events manager greeted us with our own glasses of the spritely wine before we were chaperoned to our seats at the large square communal table.
As I took in the platters of prosciutto, the carefully coifed table that had been impeccably set with silverware and goblets of still water, and the army of servers that would be silently attending to us for the next three hours, I experienced a glimmer of what it must feel like to be royalty. In this scenario, Giorgio Rivetti was the humble self-described “farmer” who rose up to become King, we were his loyal knights, and Osteria Mozza’s wine director, Jeff Porter, was the Prince.
After a brief introduction from Rivetti about La Spinetta’s wines and his passion for creating a quality product, we dug into our first course of the evening – Bufala Mozzarella with crushed lemon bagna cauda that was paired with the Sauvignon Blanc. In Italy, bagna cauda, a mixture of garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and parsley, is traditionally served as a dip or spread for bread. In Molina’s interpretation, the pungent, pesto-like sauce was generously ladled over a bulbous round of imported fresh mozzarella. The acidity from the lemon. herbaceous bite from the parsley, and briny finish from the anchovies helped temper the richness of the cheese, which begged to be eaten with a fork and knife like a steak. Despite the assertive nature of each component, everything worked together harmoniously.
The harmony continued with our second course of the evening – Risotto ‘al Barbera which was paired and prepared with the 2007 “Ca’ di Pian” Barbera d’Asti. The al dente beads of risotto were luxuriously strewn over a bed of sweet carrot puree and then dusted with a delicate shower of parmesan. To the eye it looked mundane, but it was a strong finisher on the palate. The sweetness of the carrot puree helped relax the acidity in the wine, and added further depth and character to the overall plate. This was not just a standard by-the-book risotto dish – it was focused, refined and not assaulted by an excessive amount of butter or cheese. As they cleared the table for the next dish, I whispered to my brother, “Can we open up one of your Barberas to make risotto like this at home?”
He shook his head with an emphatic, “No.”
Before our next course arrived, we were presented with three glasses of La Spinetta’s collection of 2003 Barberescos. Each wine is made from grapes from a specific vineyard in the Piedmont region – Starderi, Gallina and Valeirano, and by tasting them together we were able to see the nuances that are created through the geographic discrepancies. Upon my first sips, the Starderi stood out to me as having the most balance in terms of acidity and fruit, but as the Valeirano opened up, it also became rounder on the tongue.
To pair with these slightly sweet, full-bodied reds, Molina prepared Capalletti with duck liver and black truffle. The delicate pillows of precisely cooked tortellini-like pasta were the perfect vehicles for the subtle foie gras filling and intense shaves of black truffle that, while potent, were not overpowering. I felt most like a knight while consuming this indulgent dish – particularly when the servers came by to spoon extra pasta (and truffles) on each of our plates.
For our final savory course, the Veal Osso Bucco, we were poured a glass of the heaviest hitter of the group – the 2001 “Campe” Barolo. The hearty wine was a strong match for the braised veal shanks that were served sans accompaniment aside from a tempering smatter of parsley leaves. It's a satisfying finish – the veal was prepared simply, but the execution was spotless.
We ended the evening with the first wine that La Spinetta produced – the Moscato d’Asti. It’s a sweet wine, but full of citrus, and was a lively companion for the Limocello Zabaglione with pandolce and coserva di arancia. The almond-dusted sweet bread was almost reminiscent of angel food cake in terms of flavor, but was more similar to a pastry in texture. The lemon custard strewn over the top added a welcome note of decadence, and the segments of orange contributed an additional layer of brightness to the plate. While I don’t usually favor citrus desserts, it was the perfect companion for the 2010 “Biancospino” Moscato d’Asti, and the perfect light ending note after the hearty preceding courses.
After the last drops of wine were gone, and we had said our final thank you to our esteemed King Rivetti, I whispered to my brother, “It was even better than I expected.” As the words tumbled out, my mind traveled back to the beginning of the dinner when Rivetti told us that we need to seek enjoyment in life – through food, wine and good company. Many people will opt for the cheaper, okay bottle of wine to save a few dollars, he continued, but for just $5 more you can have a great bottle.
That night, Richard and I had the best bottle – impeccable food, impeccable wine and impeccable service. More importantly, we created a new memory to supersede those from the days when I used to pinch his arms and scream “I hate you” down the hallway of our parents house.
We’ve come a long way since that time – perhaps because when he tells me what to do, I now know it really is best to nod my head obediently.
And perhaps because we both strive to find Rivetti’s version of the good life – through quality time with family, through a bowl of truffle-topped pasta and through great Italian wines.
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Information about future wine dinners at Osteria Mozza can be found on the restaurant’s event page.