Truth be told, I avoid Los Angeles like the plague, and I only live 90 minutes away. First reason: the oppressive traffic (Seriously? Only two lanes on the I-5 with construction that hasn’t budged since the last time I passed through two years ago?) Second: There’s only one topic of conversation: “The Industry.” Third: The type of car you drive automatically dictates your social position. (Ten years ago I was openly mocked at a valet station for having a station wagon.) Nonetheless, a family get-together had me planning a weekend in L.A. and, naturally, I intended to eat my way through it!
A friend suggested Campanile, a culinary classic from Chef Mark Peel. We arrived Saturday afternoon anticipating a delicious start to the weekend. What we got was mediocre hotel brunch. Unfortunately, the more nuanced weekday menu is suspended for warmed-over eggs that could be served at the Hilton. And I’m pretty sure those breakfast potatoes started out pre-cut and frozen in plastic bags that morning. It seemed odd to me that a chef would downgrade his brand two days a week because it wasn’t Power Lunch primetime. So, sorry, no photos of our grilled cheese and sausage & egg skillet.
This because I had promised myself to try something besides Mozza, the Italian pizzeria co-owned by Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, which serves up the most delectable fried zucchini blossoms (and Neapolitan pizza). After some sightseeing, I decided we would have to make up for that Campanile lunch with a few nibbles at Mozza’s bar (despite a dinner reservation at 9pm for Providence).
Light, airy, crispy: Mozza’s zucchini blossoms (they are usually removed from the zucchini before being sold in stores) stuffed with a delicate ricotta mixture (hint of nutmeg) and then deep fried. Could eat like potato chips.
Fried arancini, or little rice balls, usually stuffed with cheese and meat ragù; and tricolore, or “three color,” salad (arugula, radicchio, frisée) with parmigiano reggiano and anchovy dressing
Ipswich clams, garlic, oregano, pecorino, and parmigiano pizza. Bring breath mints for the eyelash-curling garlic breath you’re going to have!
The late afternoon bar crowd at Mozza.
Next, we met up with an old friend for dinner at Providence, recommended to me by Chef Trey Foshee of George’s at the Cove restaurant in La Jolla (sometimes you gotta love Twitter). She brought along a very entertaining friend who is a casting director for Entourage (apparently Kevin Dillon and Scott Caan are princes).
The service was attentive and precious, with prices to match, but for the most part the food was pretty outstanding.
Amuse bouche: A gougère (Gruyère cream-stuffed pastry) and wasabi-dusted marshmallow (my friend: “Fancy Peep”) along with a stunning glass of lemon curd, arctic char, and whatever else made me want to eat this all night long
Spaghetti alla chitarra with Santa Barbara sea urchin, Maine lobster, pea tendrils, jus de crustace
Foie gras ravioli with Italian black summer truffles, aromatics, parmesan
Palate cleanser: margarita and greyhound shots — I just started liking molecular gastronomy a bit more!
The only disappointing dish (chewy meat): Prime New York steak with bacon, aromatics, porcini, duck fat potato, bone marrow
“The sweeter side of panzanella”: Harry’s strawberries, burrata ice cream, basil, balsamic, pan-fried frangipane. I’m not much of a dessert person, but it was the perfect end to a rich meal.
Even though Los Angeles traffic is enough to induce an adult tantrum (and a numb behind), making a periodic visit is always entertaining, and it was refreshing to try new restaurants (and revisit an old favorite). Still, nothing makes me happier than seeing the ocean as I veer toward the coast on the way back to San Diego. Mozza, you know I’ll see you next time.
Restaurants recommended by friends for next time — Have you been?
The Gorbals from Top Chef Ilan Hall (read about the farm dinner he hosted)
Xiomara for Latin food that Ruth Reichl (Gourmet magazine) called “fascinating”
Rivera for Modern Latin cuisine
Jar for steak
Mastro’s for steak (“eat upstairs”)
AOC Wine Bar for cheese (and wine)
Osteria Mamma for Venetian food
Church and State for French bistro food
The Bazaar (Chef José Andrés)
Comme Ca for the burger, per Bon Appetit‘s Andrew Knowlton
Ludo Bites pop-up restaurant