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Getting the kitchen in order at Nostra Cucina
#B1-42/46 Galleria Level,
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 8522
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 12pm to 3pm; 5pm to 11pm
SO Mozza is gone. So is Osteria. So is Mario Batali's reputation as a morally upright, sausage necklace-wearing New York Italian celebrity chef who would sooner rip the ribs out of a pig than touch a woman inappropriately. But aww, gee, did they have to take away the pizza recipes as well?
The two restaurants - one being a rowdy, pizza-churning, family-oriented casual joint and the other a more elegant, leather seats and subdued soundtrack affair with grown-up food - have since been mashed into one all-purpose Italian restaurant, Nostra Cucina or "Our Kitchen". There is still pizza - but it's the equivalent of a healthy BMI individual tricked into a low-carb, yoga regime - emerging from the oven as a dough-deprived disc with nicely wood-burned mottled edges but a barely-there base that struggles to hold up even the thinnest layer of tomato puree and cheese.
There are hints of what it could have been, with its airy puffed edges and slightly yielding texture, but it still pales against our outdated memories of Mozza - when Nancy Silverton still made occasional visits and the dough was resilient, chewy, allowed to leaven properly and just plain good. We don't know what's transpired since, but these are pizzas not made with pride but an eye on market reality and a hint of resignation.
Where the menus would match the decor of each sister eatery, Nostra serves the same food regardless of where you sit. So the only way to discriminate against diners is to make you sit at the ex-Mozza side where diners are noisier and gather in groups at uncomfortably tight wooden tables and chairs.
Pull a long enough face, as we do, and challenge their initial insistence that seats on the other side have already been previously booked, and they will eventually come back to you to say that a table has been made available. Suddenly, we're happy again.
Yes, it's nicer on the other side. Even though the tables are still small, there is a perception of high-end dining even if you're just having a margherita pizza (S$27) and chicken wings (S$18). The pizza is as we mentioned, and the wings fat, broiled and oily, smothered with garlic, parsley and oil mixture. In case that still isn't enough, garlic aioli is there on the side. To its credit, portions are generous (if on the pricey side), the ingredients fresh and mostly good quality.
But the cooking is more functional than outright delicious, and going by the early crowds, very much geared to pre-theatre dinner patrons there for a bite before heading across to watch The Lion King at the MBS theatres. Given the number of times we are asked if we're going to watch the show, we're suffering a serious case of FOMO when our chargrilled octopus (S$27) arrives.
It's tepid though, as if it's been sitting in the wings before making its appearance - it's acceptably-textured and camouflaged under squid ink sauce and garlic breadcrumbs, with some fruity distraction from tomato and orange segments.
A classic linguini with clams (S$31) is full of juicy littlenecks and al dente pasta soaking up briny clam juice and flavour bombs of chilli and garlic, but deadly over-salted. Colorado Lamb Chops (S$65) are American-sized specimens well-marbled with fat and meat smothered with an over-the-top salt rub. Maybe it's to make up for the chunky bland mashed potatoes or distract from the harshly sour pickled garlic. Also, S$65 for two lamb chops makes it harder to swallow.
Burnt pie (S$15) is as it looks - an oven accident - but the deliberately charred surface yields rather pleasant cookie-like edges with a ho-hum chocolate ricotta filling paired with ice cream and huckleberry jam. The tiramisu (S$15) has more in connection with a bad cookbook than anything in Italy, with its overly aerated, thick sticky layers of mascarpone cream and thin slices of coffee liqueur-soaked sponge.
Maybe Nostra is a quick-fix solution to the sudden departure of its iconic predecessors. But rather than settle for being a solution, there's a longer runway for creating a whole new identity for itself, if it takes a harder look at the menu and makes some better, rather than easy, decisions about the food. Nostra doesn't have to be limited to just being "our kitchen". With a bit more effort, it could make American-Italian food great again.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.