Sunday, February 11, 2007

Osteria La Buca

Returning from a business trip to dreary San Diego last Wednesday, we were in the mood for pasta, an instinct normally and healthily repressed in Los Angeles. Against our better judgment, we ventured out to Osteria La Buca, which came recommended by a friend of a friend, who cautioned not to pass on word of it to others. I expected a charming and lively speakeasy with excellent, affordable Italian pastas. The diminutive restaurant has seven or so tables and is decorated with wall photographs of the usual suspects along with the de rigueur Italian World Cup jersey. (There are two main differences between Italian restaurants in Cleveland and Los Angeles: in Cleveland, the food is usually decent and the pictures on the wall are of Coppola’s and Scorsese’s gangsters, and in Los Angeles, the food is inedible and the photos are of Fellini and Di Sica regulars.) At 9 pm, the restaurant was full and lively. One could hear all of the surrounding conversations, but because of the reverberating walls, high ceiling, and the placement of the tables, one thankfully couldn’t eavesdrop.

For such a small place, the menu was all-encompassing, if not smothering. They offered over 15 types of pizzas, and five types of “hand-made” pasta, plus gnocchi, and 10 sauces for the diner to choose from. There were also appetizers, salads, and a few secondi, and then another half dozen daily specials. I had no hope that the tiny kitchen could pull all of this off.

To start, we split the "jijo" pizza with mozzarella, speck, walnuts and truffle oil. The speck itself was good, but then again it was pork. The dough itself was bland and had the texture of a thick tortilla. I knew then that this would be the last time I drove past Mozza for a pizza inferior to those in the Trader Joe’s frozen food section. (Silverton’s pizzas are better now than those at Otto in my estimation, but still a far cry from Una Pizza Napoletana.) We followed with two forgettable pastas: trenette with amatriciana and trenette with a "fumé" sauce that was
tomato-and-cream-based and included onions, bacon, oregano, and scamorza cheese. The trenette was soggy, and the amatriciana had no taste and looked like what I imagine Chef Boyardee sauce to look like: watery and red with lots of miniature cubes of bacon. The cream sauce was more successful but only because there was a minimal, if trifling engagement of the gustatory sense.

In the positive column, the bread was warm when served.

In the end, Osteria La Buca was just a simulacrum of an Italian restaurant with marginal charm and bad food. We will certainly honor our friend’s friend's request not to recommend Osteria La Buca to others.

Osteria La Buca
5210.5 Melrose Ave.
(323) 462-1900


Maxmillion said...

Wow -- what a completely different experience to mine, and I've been there three or so times in the past six months.

It really reads like you were there on a poor night. What a shame you had such a bad experience!

BTW -- the place *is* tiny, but there are more tables than you said.

IMHO I think the pizza at La Buca is better than the pizza at Mozza -- I'm comparing the two versions of fennel sausage. La Buca has their *perfect* tomato sauce as its base vs mere 'panna' (cream) at Mozza and La Buca's fennel sausage is more memorable.

Still, both places do good pizza.

The best meal I've had at La Buca was the delightful homemade gnocchi. They were plump and pillowy, indented and perfectly hand-formed blobs of pure heaven.

I got them dressed with a sublime and silky ‘pink’ vodka sauce that was attractively speckled with finely cut parsley and not at all salty (which I hate.)

At $16.75 it was a pricey but substantial dish, half of which served me well the next day for lunch when reheated in the microwave. When I asked for my ample leftovers to be bagged, I also asked our waiter to return the plate so I could lick it clean.

Ya know, I might have actually done that if he’d taken me seriously...

Thanks for your write up. It's refreshing to read a balanced and well-written report that isn't all raves.

Perhaps you're right, that their menu is becoming too extensive to get it all right all of the time.

I will say that one time when I went there for lunch, the salad was way overly salted. When I mentioned that to the waiter, they took it off our bill, even though we had bravely consumed about half of it. I thought that was very classy of them.

I wonder if I should have sent it back?

Steve said...

We actually have a reader. I'm still in a bit of shock over this development.

To respond in kind: I haven't had the fennel sausage pizza at Mozza or La Buca. I do like the pizza at Mozza with bagna cauda, guanciale, and the runny egg though laziness has prevented return visits.