|Freshly made pici pasta at Osteria Mozza|
Amidst the euphoria of celebrity chef openings in Singapore back in 2011, Osteria Mozza (“Osteria”) by Mario Batali bizarrely slipped through the cracks for me.
Admittedly it was by choice. Then, I’d visited its next-door sibling, Pizzeria Mozza, for a review, and the dinner failed to blow me away.
Since then, many a foodie friends have waxed lyrical about the Californian-inspired Italian fare at Osteria.
This dim lit space at Marina Bay Sands has consistently been packed every time I strolled past it. En-route to DB Moderne, Cut and Waku Ghin, I would steal furtive glances at the diners through the dark wood-framed windows and I’d wonder at their joie de vivre.
My work on Zagat Singapore in 2013, which never published (Google decided to put it on the shelf), piqued my curiosity about Osteria. Then, this eatery had emerged one of two top Italian scorers amongst the crowd of Italian restaurants in Singapore (the other shall remain anonymous for now).
Osteria also landed the No. 35 spot in the inaugural addition of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013. Despite a break from the list in 2014, it returned with a vengeance this year at No. 45, under the stewardship of executive chef David Almany who grew up in California and spent the last nine years with his current employer (4 years of which was in Singapore).
And so I found myself dining at Osteria recently.
Its dark wood setting, while austere, came to life when diners settled in by about 8pm. Service led by General Manager, Owen Edson, was deft and utterly charming, yet professional. Most of all, the regional Italian fare, which finds comfort in the fresh and vibrant produce of California, where Batalia and business partner Nancy Silverton are based, was lush, hearty and immaculately executed.
For all its celebrity chef hype, the experience at Ostera turned out to be deliciously grounded. If you veer off the a la carte route (where mains are priced at a whopping S$48 to S$68 each), it can be hugely affordable. A 6-course dinner tasting menu can be had for S$128++ a head (S$228++ with wine pairing). Comprising an antipasti, something from the Mozzarella Bar, a pasta, a secondi followed by a palate cleanser and then a dessert, Osteria’s daily-changing tasting menu delivers great value.
For amuse bouche, a morsel of smoked prosciutto draped around a Californian date sautéed in olive oil provided a teaser of the Californian produce to follow.
|An Italian rendition of Nicoise salad sans the tuna|
Then, green and yellow wax beans – which are not unlike our string beans – arrived as an Italian rendition of Nicoise salad sans tuna, in a herby thyme vinaigrette with bottarga, crostone (large toasted bread) and half a perfectly cooked onsen egg topped with a piece of lip-smacking Cetara anchovy from Italy.
|Burrata, red onions, sieved egg, cive, caviar|
From the Mozzarella bar, which showcases predominantly the cheeses of California with just a smattering from Italy), creamy Italian-made burrata from California beckoned with a plethora of condiments. Between one served with red onions, sieved egg, chive and a crown of glistening caviar and another with coppa (a dry-cured Italian ham), pickled shallots and pane al pomodoro (sliced bread rubbed with tomato), we were hard-pressed to pick a favourite.
|Freshly made celery root cappellacci|
The highlight of the meal was the pasta course. Take the celery root cappellacci, a dish of house-made pasta dumpling stuffed with celery root puree and a touch of marscapone, sautéed with delightfully earthy blue foot mushrooms and fresh spring green garlic in a light butter sauce. The very mention of celery conjures up jarring flavours but this was like nothing I’d imagined. Instead of shocking the palate, the celery root provided a dash of refreshment to a dish that was more woodsy and savoury.
|Griled iberico pork chop|
Mains of grilled iberico pork chop with smoky chargrilled radicchio and cranberry beans stew cooked in sofrito (sautéed aromatics) was lush and downright hearty although one may have to muster-up an appetite to clean-up the plate at this point. The grilled lamb chop with mint yoghurt and sides of insalata di fregola sarda, that one of us had for mains, however, was less inspiring although it was no less well executed.
|I devoured the signature dessert of rosemary olive cake, olive oil gelato, rosemary brittle|
As with most tasting menus, dishes are rotated frequently and it’s no different at Osteria. During our visit, we were presented with rosemary olive oil cake with olive oil gelato and rosemary brittle, Osteria’s signature dessert by Ariana Flores, the executive pastry chef of Osteria. I am rarely besotted with sweets, but this savoury thing got me fixated on the endless possibilities of olive oil, not least as a concluding sweet that I devoured.
As Osteria’s tasting menu has shown, a good meal at a pedigreed eatery needn’t always cause you an arm and a leg.
It may be late in the game to brag about your long-overdue visit to Osteria but I’d say it’s better late than never.