As previously first reported here, Jason Neroni took over the kitchen at Osteria La Buca earlier this month following an extensive renovation by designer Brendan Ravenhill. I had an opportunity to try several items on the new menu during a friends and family night visit. As this meal was while the kitchen was in previews, so to speak, take this as more of an opportunity to see the kind of food Neroni is putting out, rather than the exact dishes you will encounter.
Ricotta Fritters are a fun way to begin a meal. They are like savory donut holes, only lighter. These bite size treats are airy and seem to disappear from the bowl at a rapid rate when dining with a group.
The spaghetti cacio y pepe ($9) with tellecherry pepper and perorino cheese (unpictured) is a simple dish that is easy to get wrong. Neroni's pasta was perfectly al dente (that's for you Sam and Josh) and the salty cheese sauce was pungent with pepper and the tangy cheese. This is one of those dishes like margherita pizza in which there is nowhere to hide; either its right or its not. It isn't complicated; there are no fireworks. It is just good.
The ouvo raviolo with ricotta, cavallo nero, brown butter and fried rosemary (above) is another deceptively simple dish ($16). The ravioli is filled with a runny egg, which oozes all over the plate. This dish was a favorite at the table. I love runny egg dishes and this was a rich satisfying dish. It was not oversauced, as the egg itself provided much of the liquid. Order it if available.
Pollo ala Diavolo with panzanella salad, arugula and pine nuts ($22) was a large serving. It was tasty although not particularly spicy and certainly not devilish. However the croutons seemed to have done their share in purgatory as they had more of a kick than the chicken itself.
The overall design is sleek but welcoming. The service was attentive and lived up to the sign above which proclaimed, "We're Glad You're Here." Below, the chairs pictured on top of the shelves are the same ones that diners sit on at tables. That was a creative touch, which helped to unify the design elements of the room into a whole.
Neroni is known for his pork dishes, so I am happy to report that the non-pork dishes on the menu receive as much attention from the kitchen as the oinky ones. Chef Neroni had been wanting to move to Southern California for a while and it appears that he has settled in. He mentioned to me that his son and La Buca owner Graham Synder have young sons that are the same age who play together. Promising for La Buca and Los Angeles.
Osteria La Buca: 5210 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood. Phone: (323) 462-1900. Website: osterialabuca.com