Restaurant Review: Osteria La Buca

Handmade Buccatini Carbonara
(Photo Credit: Stephen Sakulsky)
Everyone has a memory of a nearly perfect meal. You know, the one that lingers in your mind long after you've swirled that final bite of al dente pasta coated in bolognese, sopped up the last drop of soup with a chunk of crusty bread, or savored that final sip of Italian vino rossoThe tastes, smells and sounds live on after you've signed the check and reluctantly walked out the door, satisfied yet sad that it's over. For me, that meal happened at Melrose Ave's Osteria La Buca, just a stone's throw from Paramount Studios but worlds away from Hollywood's touristy culinary scene. 

Osteria La Buca's Dining Room 
(Photo Credit: Stephen Sakulsky)
One step into Osteria La Buca, especially at dinnertime, and you're greeted by a dark, minimalist interior, lit sparsely overhead by delicately industrial fixtures (if there is such a thing). A floor-to-ceiling glass wall is all that separates you from the hustle and bustle of Melrose traffic, but La Buca's rustic wood-lined walls, glowing candles and centerpiece bar invites and insulates diners from the outside world.  

Sit down, order a bottle of Montefalco Rosso from Italy's Umbria region and let Executive Chef Jason Neroni's inspired menu sink in. Neroni, a Southern California native whose resume reads like that of a Top Chef Master -- think Spago, Tabla, Blue Hill, Alaine Ducasse's Essex House and Downing 10 Food and Wine -- was brought in last spring to lead Osteria La Buca's kitchen. He brought with him a serious farm-to-table approach, a phrase that in many cases proves cliché but in Chef Neroni's kitchen is a philosophy that rules all. 

Osteria La Buca's Executive Chef Jason Neroni
(Photo Credit: Stephen Sakulsky)
On the particular evening I was at Osteria La Buca, the tables were filled with diners enjoying plates of Neroni's housemade chicken liver pate, porchetta di testa and terrine campagnola by candlelight. Servers went by with order after order of homemade pastas -- made in La Buca's designated "pasta room" upstairs -- like Ricotta Gnudi coated in brown butter, smoked prosciutto, balsamic and rosemary; short rib ravioli with parmesan butter, black pepper and vincotto; and Bucatini Carbonara, topped with an oozing poached egg and mascarpone, guanciale and black pepper. 
Tallegio Pizza with Hen of
the Woods Mushrooms 
(Photo Credit: Stephen Sakulsky)
Neroni's pizzas were also in hot demand, arriving at each table with perfectly blistered, chewy crusts bordering Taleggio cheese, hen of the woods mushrooms and sage; spicy Soppressata with tomato, mozzarella, oregano and garlic; and even Neroni's post-service favorite: paper-thin slices of pressed pork head, mozzarella and an egg so fresh it was laid by Lake Arrowhead fowl that very morning. 

While the pizzas and pastas were great, I could have had an entire meal from the antipasto selection alone. A small bowl of Brussels sprouts with poached egg, Granapadano cheese and boquerones (marinated white anchovy) vinaigrette was easily the best I've ever had. Word to the wise: It's a small portion, so get two. 

Pork meatballs with Calabrian chilis were tender, packed with flavor and served with a Romesco sauce that we literally wiped clean from the bowl. And Neroni's pièce de résistance -- his bountiful salumi platter -- was culinary art, almost too beautiful to eat. Key word: Almost. We savored the platter, finishing every bite save for a few slices of bread burned beyond repair. That was the only downfall, and a big one at that: the aroma of appropriately-charred bread can be lovely, but the bitter smell and taste of outright burned bread overpowers everything else. We simply moved it aside.

Pork Meatballs with Calabrian Chiles & Romesco Sauce
(Photo Credit: Stephen Sakulsky)
Four hours,  a few glasses of wine, several licked-clean plates of food and countless laughs later, our Osteria La Buca dinner was over. We were the last to leave the restaurant, on our way out passing candles burned down to nubs, a bartender closing up shop, and Neroni about to enjoy his post-service pressed pork pizza. Over a month later, I'm still thinking about that meal and can't wait to take my husband back for round two. 

Osteria La Buca
5210 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 462-1900

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