We didn't exactly end up at Osteria La Buca on purpose. Rushing to make reservations for one final meal out together in 2011 before splitting up for the holidays, the conversation went something like this:
"How about that Italian place, that...Osteria something?" "Hmmm...Mozza?" "Nope, the other one." "Mamma? Angelini? La Buca?" "Uh, La Buca. Yeah, that's the one I mean."
It was not the one he meant, a fact we realized about 10 minutes before leaving the house. To be fair, Osteria La Buca has undergone a name change and two expansions since opening, and shares a past with a neighboring Osteria - in 2009 chef Filippo Corvino and mother, Loredanna, left Osteria La Buca to open Osteria Mamma, just down the street.
Traditionally, an osteria in Italy is an intimate neighborhood place serving wine and simple food. To say that La Buca has dressed up the concept is an understatement. Located on Melrose near Paramount Studios, Osteria La Buca’s façade sprawls across three storefronts, with ceiling-to-floor picture windows allowing views of the modern, elegant brick and wood interior designed by L.A. local Brendan Ravenhill. We were seated downstairs, but loved the look of the glass-enclosed upstairs dining area, which overlooks the beautiful zinc-topped bar.
Fully on board with the décor, we turned our attentions to the food, designed by another local, Southern California native Jason Neroni. Little bites of rustic, slightly charred, buttery bread, topped with rosemary was a nice start to the meal.
The burrata with roasted leeks, pancetta, and hazelnut vinaigrette was very good, if not as refined as some of the selections at Mozza. The pronounced flavor of the leeks was particularly noteworthy.
Also solid was the fried egg pizza with speck, mozzarella, tomato and arugula. I’m not sure if the chewy, charred crust is worthy of a stamp from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, but it’s tasty enough, as are the toppings. The arugula may be a little heavy-handed, but somewhere beneath the towering pile of greens is an egg ready to spill its yolky insides all over your next slice.
Probably the favorite dish of the night, the rye rigatoni with braised duck leg, Swiss chard, figs and goat cheese paired bold sweet and savory flavors with hefty pasta. The hearty rye pasta would likely overwhelm most ingredients, but seems perfect when combined with such rich accompaniments as figs, duck and goat cheese.
Much more subtle, the agnolotti with jerusalem artichoke, crispy pancetta, sage and crema fresca was a fine dish, if not quite as exciting on the tongue as on paper.
Finally, the smooth, thick chocolate budino with salted caramel cream did a pretty decent job of leaving us with a good impression. The very word 'budino' often brings to mind thoughts of another popular Osteria/Pizzeria's famous dessert just down the street, but La Buca's is not far off its pace.
Regardless of which Osteria we actually meant to attend, La Buca proved more than worthy of our final holiday meal together. Yes, there are a few others we still need to visit, but I think just may come back around to La Buca in the future.