Early Bird: Osteria Mamma

Restaurant Critic

By now, everybody who’s ever frequented Osteria La Buca knows that the partners split recently and that Filippo Cortivo left the restaurant, taking with him his Mamma, Loredana, who made the osteria a neighborhood favorite for her handmade fresh pasta dishes. Now the two have opened their own place just blocks west of La Buca on Melrose Avenue, close to Larchmont. The corner space is drenched with light at lunch and is dark and subdued at night. Most nights Mamma, who used to be quite the vamp in her youth, if the photos on the back wall are any evidence, is in the kitchen. Waiters are authentically Italian and so, spare as the décor is, Osteria Mamma a feels like a neighborhood osteria somewhere in the back streets of Padua or any other similar-sized city in northern Italy.

Mamma Loredana Cecchinato makes all her own pastas, just as she did at La Buca. It’s a point of pride, even though a dried pasta would occasionally work better with a sauce than a fresh egg one. Ravioli, flat packets of pasta filled with mostly greens and a little ricotta and napped in butter and sage, tastes like the real thing. There’s a classic tagliatelle Bolognese in a meat sauce made with veal, pork and sausage. But amatriciana is made with those same tagliatelle rather than a thick bucatini (a dried pasta), which has more tooth. Carbonara is for my taste too rich when fresh noodles are sauced with egg, pancetta and Parmesan. It needs the contrast of austere dried pasta in a shorter shape.

Pizzas are generous and good, much like you’d get at a neighborhood pizzeria anywhere in Italy, the kind of place where families, not gourmands following the guidebooks, would go. To start, there’s a graceful “fungolata” salad, basically mixed greens, including arugula, with a few finely sliced white mushrooms in lemony vinaigrette. Or a salad that includes pear, walnuts and Gorgonzola, another that pairs Belgian endive with radicchio and that sharp baby arugula.

If you’re still hungry, order the battuta Fiorentina, a pounded free-range chicken breast perfumed with rosemary at $14.95. You can spend more, of course, for a tagliata, grilled New York steak sliced and fanned out over more of those baby arugula leaves. If you don’t like the stuff, your choices are limited since the green appears in so many dishes.

The vibe is warm and friendly, the space basic but inviting. And with a handful of sidewalk tables out front, on warm nights, it would be wise to ask for one when you make your reservation. No guarantee, but you can always try.

Osteria Mamma Where: 5732 Melrose Ave. (at North Lucerne Boulevard), L.A. When: Open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays, and 5 to 11:30 p.m. Saturdays. Price: Antipasti, $9.25 to $15.25; salads, $6.25 to $8.95; panini, $6.75 to $8.95; pasta, $12.25 to $16.25; meat and fish, $14.95 to $25.95; pizza, $11.25 to $14.75. Contact: (323) 284-7060;