Cocktail of the Day: Sculaccione

Don’t worry, we’ll get to the cocktail, but surely you won’t mind sitting through some food porn first.

You may be familiar with Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, which (along with its sister restaurant next door, Pizzeria Mozza) is one of the hardest tables to get in town. It’s very, very popular, booked up a good while in advance, and the “Don’t you know who I am?” Hollywood thing doesn’t work there. We managed to get a reservation there just before the end of last year, and were lucky to get in on just a couple of weeks’ notice. “All we have on that Saturday are 5:45 and 10:00pm.” That was actually kinda perfect, as we took the 5:45pm reservation … and didn’t leave the restaurant until 10. It was one of the two or three most memorable meals of the last several years.

Mozza is owned by Chef Mario Batali and his partner Joe Bastianich, and local Chef Nancy Silverton (formerly of the La Brea Bakery and Campanile), and run by executive chef Matt Molina. It’s crowded, but not too crowded, noisy but not too noisy. It’s lively, which is something I love in a restaurant. We’ve only had the one dinner there so far, but everything was fantastic — the service, the food, the drink. Here’s a bit about what we had:

Grilled octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon. (I would never have thought to order this, but when Mary and Steve went a few months ago and sat at the mozzarella bar with Chef Nancy more or less waiting on them, they asked her to just feed them, and this is what she startedt them with. The big problem with this dish is that I now no longer want to go to Mozza and not have this, and that’ll make it a bit more difficult to work my way through the rest of the menu. “Okay, we’ll try this, but we have to get a plate of grilled octopus to split! Okay? Please?”)

Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole & caramelized shallots. (Mmmmm, burrata … an outer shell of fresh bufalo mozzarella with a cream-and-mozzarella filling. It is to die for. And with bacon. I ask you. The version with guanciale that’s currently on the menu would have been the one we’d have ordered had it been on the menu when we were there.)

Gnocchi with wild boar ragú. (Perfect gnocchi, light as pillows, and that ragú … oh God.)

Pork loin alla griglia, seasoned with fennel pollen and served with caramelized fennel, onions and olives. (We had had our hearts set on the slow-roasted pork Mary had told us about, and when I tried to order it our server’s face fell. “Oh no … we just took that off the menu today!” she said. “But …” she continued, and told us that it had been replaced with another pork dish, this one grilled, and I got that one. It was stunning. Boneless, and with a half-inch strip of luscious fat along the side — which our friend Eric told us some stupid L.A.-type gymbunny people saw “ewww” and leave it behind. Sheesh. Anyway, it was seasoned with fennel pollen, perfectly medium rare, and absolutely delicious.)

Crisp Duck al Mattone with pear mostarda & Brussels sprouts. (Duck cooked weighted down by a brick, an ancient recipe, and beautiful. A whole duck, crispy as bacon on the outside, served on a wooden platter with that gorgeous fruity and pungent mostarda, and Brussels sprouts that not only didn’t stink but tasted great — ya just gotta know how to cook ’em.)

You get the idea.

Their cocktail menu is world-class, featuring classic and new cocktails plus a selection of terrific aperitivi, which our friend Eric helped put together when he was there. Here’s an original cocktail created by him, for which he was kind enough to share the recipe with me. It’s not only a great way to start a meal but a perfect refreshing drink for warm weather.

(Created by Eric Alperin for Osteria Mozza)

2 ounces blanco tequila (these days we’re likin’ Partida).
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice.
1/2 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a lime wheel.

Eric’s now one of the founding bartenders at The Doheny co-owner and head bartender at The Varnish, and Chris Ojeda is running the bar at Mozza as of the first of the year also at The Varnish (as of 2010 I’m not sure who’s running the bar at Mozza, as I haven’t been in a while, unfortunately). It is undoubtedly one of the best places to drink (and eat) in Los Angeles.

(By the way, “sculaccione” means “spanking” in Italian.)