Osteria Mamma may be located in Hollywood, California, but nothing about it fits the glitzy neighborhood's stereotype amongst Italian restaurants in Los Angeles. The restaurant is quiet, cozy, and at press time doesn't even have a wine license. And the food doesn't aim for fusion or cutting edge: it's straight forward Italian food, generally inspired by the northern regions, and it's prepared with gusto.
The fact that they use organic produce as much as possible and only serve local, free-range chicken may seem quite Californian. It's actually as traditionally Italian as the torta della nonna on their dessert list (which, by the way, is a must-order).
I'm going to generalize here, so brace yourselves: at Italian restaurants, there's no reason to order a main course. Veal, fish, steaks: they're staples of the American Italian menu, and they're usually done well, but they're just not exciting. Proteins prepared in the Italian way are done with enough simplicity that the average cook could easily replicate them at home. So, better to order the pizzas, the pastas with unusual ingredients, and the delicate, seasonal appetizers.
Potatoes and octopus are showing up on menus across Los Angeles of late. It seems like an unusual combination, but the textures and mild flavors pair wonderfully. Here, the nicely grilled octopus and boiled, sliced potatoes are dressed in lemon, olive oil and celery. Delicious, and a large enough serving that it could easily be enough for dinner.
But, of course, you'll want to try the pasta. They're made in-house and the restaurant is very proud of them, especially the gnocchi. Rightly so. The gnocchi are big and charmingly uneven, and achieve that rich-but-light-on-the-tongue ideal that lesser gnocchi can't quite get at. There are regulars who return weekly just for the gnocchi, and I don't blame them. On the menu, the gnocchi comes with boscaiolo sauce (cream with peas, mushrooms and ham), but the fumo is the one you'll dream about: pink sauce (just a mix of tomato and cream) with a ton of herbs, bacon and scamorza, a cheese that's very similar to mozzarella but responds better to cooking. "Heavenly" is a word used too often in describing gnocchi...but at Osteria Mamma, it really fits.