August 22, 2011
Osteria La Buca - Los Angeles, CA
A restaurant space often takes form in the unlikeliest of places. I remember first dining at Osteria La Buca when it was a tiny nook, no bigger than 20 seats, dark as night with translucent windows that looked out to the urban rush of Melrose Avenue. Now the space is completely transformed and modern, ready for the next decade and century, with plenty of exposed brick, a nice bar in the middle of room, even a few extra room in a loft with natural light. It’s probably more likely a beautiful space in Boulder, Charleston, or Portland, not Los Angeles, with its weathered wood accents, clean lines, and nice hubbub of clientele. But maybe I'm just tough on my own city's restaurants.
I’ve been on the lookout for L.A.’s resurgence of modern Italian ever since being inspired by their ubiquity in San Francisco and New York. I’ve been to Sotto more than ten times since its opening, and I still haven’t had every dish on the menu. It’s still a go-to for me because of its proximity to Scoops Westside. Osteria La Buca got a shot in the arm with the arrival of L.A. native chef Jason Neroni, who comes with a thick resume of top New York restaurants like Blue Hill, Porchetta, and 10 Downing Food & Wine. I actually wasn’t sure what to expect until the dishes came out – let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised by the creativity alongside solid technique and execution.
We had a warm loaf of rosemary ciabatta to help whet our appetites, as well as a few complimentary glasses of bubbly prosecco. We indulged in the terrific prosciutto wrapped figs stuffed with ricotta, one of the night’s special dishes that came topped with fried rosemary leaves. Grilled watermelon was another summertime treat, with nice charred popsicle-like pieces topped with a mélange of amazing accompaniments – fried capers, edible flowers, fresh castelvetrano olives, lime and smoked paprika. The elegance and utter addictiveness of this dish will make me return here, though I doubt it’ll last much longer.
The kitchen seemed like it accidentally sent out the burrata with roasted blackout plums, pinenuts (with a fantastic intense flavor), and broken lemon basil leaves, but we gobbled it up pretty quickly. Thin strands of cucumber and more of those mild castelvetrano olives come tossed in olive oil and bottarga, making another great summertime dish.
Pastas were much larger than I expected, justifying their higher than average price. The sweet corn agnolotti were smallish dumplings topped with fresh sweet corn and lumps of Dungeness crab meat. A lovely butter sauce held it together while more lemon basil gave a bright accent. Bucatini carbonara could’ve used a sprinkling of sea salt for me, but my dining companion thought it was just fine – the dense fresh pasta was perfectly cooked and very generously portioned. A wonderful poached egg, meaty little pieces of guanciale and a few turns of black pepper rounded out the pasta. The only dud of the night for me might have been the high recommended pork chop. I think everything was actually very good surrounding the chop – roasted peaches, grilled radicchio leaves, and cippolini onions. The chop was fairly large and not too expensive, but it was sadly overcooked and dry. We didn’t finish it. We were told it was going to be medium, as recommended, but I wish we ordered it medium rare so that it had a tinge of pink.
The FOH recommended a bottle of 2008 Lagrein, which I thought served a bit too warm, but the staff did cool it down for a few moments that I thought more of the grape’s floral notes along with its nice fruit came out. It was a fine selection for the evening’s dishes. We ended the meal with a chocolate budino with salted caramel cream topping, because who wants to take a requisite after-dinner stroll without something sweet?
Osteria La Buca
5210 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038