For a good two years, I’ve been fantasizing about it.
Some night, I told myself, when I have something really exciting to celebrate, I’m going to go to Osteria or Pizzeria Mozza and indulge in fabulous, solo dinner at the bar. I’ll get all dolled up for the occasion, order a quartino of Barbera, and quietly sit and savor a self-indulgent Italian feast complete with an appetizer, main course and, of course, dessert.
During all the months that I had this picture in my head, however, it never occurred to me that this dream scenario would take place after a four-course-meal that was not as generously portioned as I’d hoped. Even as I approached the intersection of Highland and Melrose Avenue that evening at nearly 10:00 pm, I was still deciding how I was going to assuage my growling stomach.
“Do I dare?” I thought, studying the vaulted doorway to the Osteria that I knew would be serving till at least midnight. A bowl of pasta sounded so good – so warm and filling on the rainy night. I told myself that if I could find a place to park within the block, I would stop. But even when I found an open meter a few seconds later, I still hesitated, sitting in my car for a good minute before snatching my coat and running down the street toward my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles.
As soon as I was settled into my seat at the nearly vacant Mozzarella Bar, I felt perfectly at ease with my decision. Since I’d already had wine at my first dinner, I opted out of the quartino of 2007 La Spinetta Barbara d’Asti ($20) and refreshed my palate with water instead. A moment later, my amuse bouche – the usual delicate crostini spread with mozzarella, tapenade, fresh basil, and lemon – appeared, and seconds after that, two slices of whole wheat La Brea Bakery bread were resting on the plate to my left. I smiled, already feeling better about my impromptu, high-class pit stop.
I knew what I would be ordering as soon as I saw the thick, licorice-like ropes of bucatini that the sole couple at the bar was enjoying to my right.
“Is that the Bucatatini alla Amatriciana ($18)?” I asked my server, who graciously kept filling and refilling my water glass throughout the evening. He nodded, cautioning me that it was a touch spicy and would take at least 10 minutes to prepare since it’s made with dried pasta. I nodded my acquiescence with the terms, and then I relaxed into my stool, feeling a bit giddy that I was spontaneously living out a version of my fantasy special occasion meal.
As promised, the pasta arrived approximately 10 minutes later, armed with steam and primed for fresh parmesan reggiano. The bold, spicy tomato sauce, molested with generous slices of crispy guanciale and tender onions, was generously lacquered over each al dente bucatini noodle. I didn’t even bother attempting to twirl the stiff strands around my fork. I let them dangle from the prongs like panty hose hanging on a clothesline, biting through the assertive mass of pasta, pork and sauce with unrestrained pleasure.
Midway through my solo feast, the couple that had inspired my order asked me if I wanted one of their half-portions of a special pasta for the evening, a lobster spaghetti dish with chilies and dried bread crumbs. The kitchen had sent out two half-portions by mistake, and with distressed eyes, they admitted they’d already ordered too much food.
“Are you sure?” I asked, hungrily eying the chunks of lobster that were littering the nest of noodles.
Their pained, pleading expressions were all the assurance I needed to reach across the bar to snag the plate. I immediately dug into the fresh spaghetti, surprised at how pronounced the chilies were – perhaps even more tongue-tingling than the red pepper in the bucatini. While I preferred my original order – the elements were in such perfect balance – I quickly cleared both plates, and then used one of my slices of bread to sop up the residual sauces.
After my empty plates were shepherded away, General Manager David Rosoff, always a reassuring fixture of authority in the perpetually packed restaurant, came by to express how impressed he was that I ordered – and ate – two pastas.
I sheepishly looked up into his approving face and admitted that it was actually my second dinner of the night.
He shook his head in amusement, and then asked if I wanted an aperitif, a cup of coffee… dessert? I smiled, but declined the offer. The restaurant itself was all the dessert I needed that evening – the perfect $18 pasta nightcap on a perfectly ordinary, yet spontaneously extraordinary night.
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038