Santa Barbara Spot Prawns at Osteria Mozza – Los Angeles


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I’m giving Santa Barbara Spot Prawns co-billing b/c they deserve at least as much attention as Osteria Mozza, and I consider this post something of a PSA — I have to spread the word about Santa Barbara Spot Prawns. I hadn’t known about them before yesterday afternoon, when I happened upon them in Suzanne Goin’s cookbook. Happily, two hours laters, I found them offered “al diavolo” during an impromptu first trip to Osteria Mozza. In short, they’re wildly delicious. Very sweet with a strikingly soft texture. The flavor has notes of lobster, but I’m inclined to claim that, in terms of pungency, they out-lobster lobster. Look out for them. And read more about them here.

Combined with a spicy tomato sauce and fresh cranberry beans (I believe), it was the dish to beat last night. And that’s saying a lot. Chad’s Beef Brasato with Polenta and Horseradish Gremolata was a wonderful rendition of braised beef short ribs. It may be more of a winter dish, but who would be foolish enough to turn down meltingly soft meat just because it’s a little warm outside? Once my fork sank into the meat, I could tell it was in a league of its own. And sure, braised short ribs seem to be everywhere in restaurants these days, but this dish was full of life, bolstered by a richly flavored sauce and sprightly garnishing vegetables, such as porcini mushrooms and caperberries. And the polenta was creamy without being bland or gloppy.

Chad thought that the Burrata with Escarole, Bacon, and Caramelized Shallots from the cheese bar was “amazing,” but I thought that flavors aside, the greens and bread were too oily. I still ate it all.

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I was smitten by the Bombolini with Lemon Mascarpone and “Fruit of the Woods” Sorbet (mixed berry). Well-orchestrated classic flavors. The sorbet was silky.  I liked that you could dip bits of fried dough into the mascarpone at will, so that every bite was like a custom-made stuffed donut. And there was a ricotta fritter amidst the bombolini, which was a clever touch.

As for the restaurant itself, it’s a bit fancier than Pizzeria Mozza, but nowhere near the operatic pretensions of Del Posto. It’s comfortable and stylish, with a rock ‘n roll soundtrack. We showed up at 7pm last night (Friday) and had a 10 minute wait for two seats at the marble cheese bar, manned by Nancy Silverton. I couldn’t imagine a better seat in the house. In fact, I’m sure that a satisfying meal could be cobbled together by the cheese-focused small plates. I ordered the burrata b/c I’d first had it served to me by Silverton herself at a Mozzarella Monday at Jar a couple years ago and I was feeling sentimental, but there were many cheeses that I was unfamiliar with that I would have loved to try. I would also be tempted by the starters, such as crispy pig’s trotter and testa (head cheese). Frankly, the main courses are a little staid in comparison, but as our’s showed, they do deliver nicely.

My main criticism of Osteria Mozza would be the profusion of Italian words on the menu. I can understand using the original Italian words for un-translatable proper nouns, but too many dishes had at least one wild-card word. And since it was so busy, no matter how friendly and helpful our waiter was, it took a long time before we could order — he suddenly stepped away halfway through our first  round of simple questions to tend to get grappa for other guests. Then we waited… and waited… for him to come back. And then we had to quickly make our decision based on what we learned during the second round so that we wouldn’t have to wait yet again to order. We’re reasonably well-informed and low-maintenance diners, so I think it’s an unnecessary flourish on their part. They could keep the phrases if they also print a description in the menu. Perhaps they want to encourage a dialogue btw the diners and the wait staff, but administering pop quiz is hardly my idea of a meaningful relationship or a perfect night out.

Anyway, I’d go back to Osteria Mozza, but the real question is, would I rather go to Pizzeria Mozza or Osteria Mozza? A craving for pizza aside, it would be a hard choice, since their sensibility is so similar. I guess I’ll have to visit them more — much more — to decide that. 🙂

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