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Dining -- finally -- at Osteria Mozza, with leftovers to show for it

April 12, 2010 |  7:44 pm

I have been trying, forever it seems, to get to Osteria Mozza.

I don't live in the area, so dinner at the Nancy-Silverton-Mario-Batali-Joe-Bastianich hot spot is an Event That Requires Planning. The meal with a group of friends kept getting put off for one reason or another, but we finally pulled it off Sunday night.

Turns out that Sunday is a popular night at Osteria Mozza -- we were only able to get a 5 p.m. reservation, right when the restaurant opens for dinner service. And we arrived, on time, to find a small crowd outside the entrance, waiting for the front door to open. Within the hour, the restaurant was mobbed -- every table, every chair at the bar, filled.

We were a table of five, and included a friend who recently moved here from Iraq: He's not all that familiar with Italian food and kept reading a menu item aloud and exclaiming, "What is this!?! I don't know what any of this is!" Our waiter -- I wish I'd made note of his name -- patiently answered all our questions. (Saif wasn't the only one who had questions. We all had questions about how dishes were prepared. We had waited a good long time for this meal, and we wanted to choose wisely.)

We started out with salads -- the endive and fennel with anchovy date dressing, and a seasonal salad featuring fresh peas. We liked both, but decided that if you must chose one salad from the menu, go for the peas. We shared appetizers from the mozzarella bar, too: Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole and caramelized shallots and burrata with asparagus and browned butter. Once again, we enjoyed both, but when all the asparagus was gone we all took chunks of our bread to get every last bit of browned butter.

The pasta dishes we shared included the gnocchi with duck ragu, and orecchiette with the housemade fennel sausage and swiss chard. The orecchiette was served searing hot, and the plate was even hotter, but we still kept sending it around the table to share -- ow! ow! hot! ow! -- because we just couldn't resist those little ears.

Even though we were a table of five, we only chose two menu items for dinner. Two of us had the veal, the rest of us had the beef tagliata. Once again, there was a clear "winner": The veal, which had been recommended by our server, was terrific, but we could not get over the tenderness of the beef, served simply, grilled and drizzled with aceto balsamico and olive oil. If you need to know why some balsamic goes for $3 and some goes for $63, try this dish. We also ordered the cipollini onions, and calvero nero -- flash fried kale with garlic -- as side dishes. When they were inhaled, we regretted that we hadn't ordered two of each.

By the end, all the dishes were stripped clean, save three small pieces of steak on my plate. A server started clearing the table. I hesitated for a nanosecond -- is it tacky to ask for a doggie bag for leftovers in a place like this? -- and then answered my own question: "Can I have this to go, please?"

Moments later, the server returned with a small card: Take it to the front when you're ready to leave, and your leftovers will be waiting, he told me.

On my way out I did just that. I was expecting a small box of some sort. But when the hostess came toward me with the cuter-than-cute Mozza shopping bag, I noted how large it was and thought hopefully -- maybe they put some of that homemade bread in there to keep the steak company!!!

Alas, no. It was just a large shopping bag for my three tiny bites of leftover steak, too good to leave behind, and small enough that it all fit into a condiment container.

--Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo credit: I'm recycling that shopping bag as a sandwich tote. (Saif Al-Azzawi / For The Times)