A culinary three-way
A Los Angeles couple dares to eat, drink and be silly at Street, Hatfield’s and Osteria Mozza — all in one night.
“What should we eat?”
After eleven years of a shared life, this is a serious question. Together, my husband and I have climbed the tenous ladder of success from PB&J to pasta to “Tender Greens, again?”
Wins are celebrated with culinary fireworks, losses are narcotized with comfort food, and ever-expanding waistlines are the bottom line of either box score.
On weekends, holidays, and holiday weekends when there’s something to celebrate, “What should we eat?” approaches the importance of “Where should I go to college?” or “What should we name the baby?”
On Friday of Memorial Day weekend, all three boxes were gratefully checked, so I suggested the only logical course: “Round the world at Melrose and Highland.”
(Yeah, yeah, urban dictionariats, I know.)
There are four restaurants within a block of this intersection: Susan Feniger’s Street, Karen and Quinn Hatfield’s eponymous restaurant,and Silverton & Batali’s Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza.
We decided to sample the fare at each,all in one night. And if you count the Mozza duopoly as one, we succeeded in spectacular fashion.
Every foolish adventure needs a few rules, if only so they can be broken:
1) Early-bird it: First restaurant opens at 5pm? Don’t be shy—it’s gonna be a long night. Attempting this feast on a ‘skip town’ holiday weekend increases your odds of success.
2) Walk the walk: Unless you’re a valet enthusiast, pick restaurants in walking distance. Park on the street to avoid explaining why you’re “totally not” abandoning your car at the first eatery.
3) Sit at the bar: Save table service for your next birthday. Street, Hatfield’s, and ‘the Mozza’s’ all have top-shelf bartenders.
4) Chill out: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t sigh harshly when the bartenders are too busy making drinks to immediately submit your food order: lean in and enjoy their alchemy.
5) One per: Limit one small plate per person, per restaurant, or wallet and wardrobe will shriek in horrified unison.
6) Tip huge: If you’re going to be a culinary swinger, leave ‘em happy. You never know when you might be back.
ROUND ONE: STREET
Matt and I didn’t ‘discover’ Street until a few months ago. In full PB&J mode when the restaurant opened, we assumed the coffee shop that preceded it had changed names.
So we were entranced by the Kaya toast filled with coconut jam, dipped in a soft egg laced with a subtle, nutty soy sauce that demanded all other soy sauces go ‘ferment’ themselves. Angry eggs — deviled eggs with red and green sriracha sauce — rounded out the nibbles. Following Rule Five, we resisted the urge to dive into the rest of the menu.
But even more than the morsels, it was Sam the Bartender who kicked the night off right. When business is booming, Sam is a man of few words — it’s all in the pour. He served us a watermelon mojito, a crisp cider, and a sipping sample of his ‘Bartender’s Ketchup’ — St. Germain on ice.
During a lull, I asked, “What is bartender’s ketchup?”
Sam said,“It makes everything better.”
Last up, a shot of pineapple soaked tequila which kicks off this exchange:
Matt: “Slam that!” Jennie: “I tend to savor.” Matt: “You’d do it for [college friend with respectable job]”.
Jennie slams shot.
Street begins to spin.
“We’ll be back for a nightcap,” we tell Sam, on the way out the door. A generous application of Rule Six earns us a big grin and a fist bump.
ROUND TWO: HATFIELD’S
The quality of the bartending at Hatfield’s is a ‘known known’ among the high-end restaurant crowd. We are not that crowd, so meeting mustachoied Carl and his cheerful compatriot was more of a ‘new wonderful.’
The same can be said for a miraculous pan-roasted diver scallop, recently added to the menu. Resting in a frothy green puree, that scallop went from bite to endorphin high in a nanosecond.
Along with a shimmering English pea and ricotta anglinotti, we couldn’t resist breaking Rule Five and ordering deviled quail eggs with smoked trout, because they were three dollars, and who wouldn’t? These tiny eggs evoked my Zabar’s-infused childhood in one bite. Resisting the urged to pull a mini-Cool Hand Luke, we sipped the fine drinks created by Carl, the memory of which linger fondly, even if the names escape me.
Karen Hatfield’s sugar and spice beignets beckoned, but ordering dessert meant we wouldn’t make it to…
ROUND THREE: OSTERIA MOZZA
We floated across Melrose in the moonlight and landed in front of the elegant church of mozzarella. At the bar, Matt ordered the crispy pig trotter, and I indulged in the burrata with bacon, marinated escarole, and carmelized shallots. And since no night in LA is official without a celebrity encounter, the open seat next to me was soon occuppied by none other than ‘Elder Price’ himself, Andrew Rannells.
(I wish I had a fabulous picture to show you, but, you know, I live here, so I have to obey the unwritten rule of not photo-stalking actors at rest. Unless said actor was once on the West Wing—then all bets are off).
Armed with new knowledge, I ordered a St. Germain cocktail, a delicate apertif that the hard-working Mozza bartender served with a lemon-infused soda water. It glowed with purpose and meaning and — oh lord, I am getting pretty toasty right about now.
No food adventure is complete without dessert and Osteria Mozza provided a spectacular creation: small rosemary olive oil cakes with a glassy brittle that looked less like dessert and more like a Chihuly at the Bellagio. It shimmered in the candlelight, as did we…
We could have gone straight to the car, or strolled the avenue beneath the street lamps and the carefully groomed trees, but instead found ourselves back at Street. The crowds had cleared, and closing was near enough that we could have been sent home with a polite smile.
But Sam the bartender invited us in and poured shots of Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine, which tasted like dessert, if dessert was a summer month. We shared our adventures: lessons learned and fine folk met. We learned about Sam; what he’s hoping to do in this world, and how he’s trying to get there, but if you want to know all that, you’ll need to pull up a seat at Street and stay awhile.
So what did we learn from our night of excess and wonder?
Rule Five is made to be broken.
Sometimes you just have to slam it: This is a lesson to no one except me, a borderline teetotaler.
Listen to your bartender: These muddling magicians have secrets worth sharing, and concoctions worth the expense.
It won’t break the bank, unless you let it: The grand total, including Rule Six tipping: $281.35…
That’s not cheap, but not as bad as you might expect. Should we have paid down a credit card with that money? Sure!
Are we back to PB&J for a while? You betcha!
Was it worth it?
The answer lies in the secret of bartender’s ketchup. A night of fine food and fine company…
It makes everything better.