We Americans can do some things in the restaurants as well or even better than the Europeans. In fact, we can sometimes beat them at their own game.
I was thinking of that following a couple of dinners in two hot new restaurants in Los Angeles, Osteria Mozza and Comme Ça. Both are essentially American versions of time-honored European eateries, the trattoria and the brasserie. It’s not a question of fancy ambiance or silver dome service, but of great food with a buzzy atmostphere.
In both instances, they totally deliver. I think you would be hard-pressed to find better renditions of either one in their respective countries, compared to the two new restos in La La. Service and atmosphere are great. Forget Paris or Milan.
First, check out my video from Mozza. Sorry it’s a little dark, and we ate all the sweetbreads before I turned the camera on, but you get the vibe there.
What I think Mozza and Comme Ça have done so well is sourced fantastic ingredients for their dishes. For example, Mozza (incidentally right next door to Pizzeria Mozza, which I wrote about in January) has a mozzarella bar that serves milky, pungent, fresh cheese in various ways that most Italians have never dreamed of. Even the simple bufala mozzarella with a range of sauces from tangy pesto to a tapenade is an improvement on the Italian way. Don’t miss the hearty orecchiette pasta with sausage and Swiss chard, or the smoky grilled quail wrapped in pancetta. I am getting hungry thinking about it now as I write this in Tuscany. I also dug on the decadent, spicy sweetbreads in a picatta sauce with artichokes. Why doesn’t my local trattoria (highly rated in the Guida Gambero Rosso) serve dishes like these? Oh well. Back to L.A. ...
Comme Ça is also very cool, and is equally solid on the food side. It's evocative to someone like myself, who remembers France at its best in gastronomy in the mid-1980s. The skate in brown butter and sautéed sweet breads are both juicy and flavorful, with a lightness and delicacy that makes me think of lost weekends in Paris and Lyon restaurants in the mid-1980s with many pretty faces. And the steak tartare is meaty, rich and almost buttery, with just the right amount of spiciness. God save you if you eat steak tartare in most restaurants in France nowadays. The frites ... yummy and crunchy.
Mozza’s wine list is awesome, with hundreds of selections and a great choice of Barolos from all the top vintages and names. I went for a fabulous 2000 Massolino Barolo Parafada. Good prices too. Granted, Mozza is not very trattoria-like with so many wines. But who is complaining? Comme Ça is more typical of a brasserie, with about 300 solid labels with plenty of good bottles for $40 to $80 a bottle.
I ran into David Myers, the brilliant chef and owner of Comme Ça. He also has Sona, one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, which has had a Wine Spectator Grand Award since 2006. He also blogged for this website earlier in 2007. We spoke for a few moments outside the restaurant on the street as some friends and I smoked cigars after the meal
He said that he had spent a few weeks in France, mostly in Paris, eating at all the top brasseries, and he was “surprised how mediocre it was in general.” David said that most places just didn’t use very high quality ingredients. And service was ambivalent at best.
That’s been my experience of recent in many places in Europe. And worse, these places are not cheap, especially with the very weak dollar!
I think that most major US cities have places like Mozza and Comme Ça. Granted, they are not cheap, and you will not walk away with much change from $200 for dinner for two with a good bottle of wine. But it might be a hell of a lot cheaper these days than going to Europe and trying to find the same quality…