Osteria wasn’t a particularly well-kept secret in the local restaurant community. The collaboration between homegrown culinary hero Jonathon Stranger and celebrity chef Fabio Viviani is big doings, joining Stranger’s other concepts En Croute and St. Mark’s Chop Room in Nichols Hills.
Taking over a former Starbucks location (and serving better coffee, in my opinion), Osteria is a gorgeous space with moody lighting and a menu of Italian dishes that are at once familiar and forward thinking.
“YOU MEAN IT AIN’T JUST LIKE THE OLIVE GARDEN HAR HAR HAR”
Ugh. I hate that my brain even came up with that. No, it’s not just like Olive Garden. For one thing, Osteria makes its own pasta, which drastically ups the quality of the food. It’s also a scratch kitchen, which means your food wasn’t previously frozen.
My reverence for Stranger’s culinary prowess is well documented by this point. Dude knows how to cook and in Viviani, he’s found a kindred spirit.
There will be a full review in the months ahead, once I’ve had the chance to fully explore the menu and the staff has its feet under it, but in the meantime, here are a few dishes I heartily recommend:
I don’t know nothing bout no coccoli, but the coccoli platter ($19) was an immediate hit at my table. You get some kind fried dough ball that’s soft and airy and lightly sweet paired with a slice of smoked prosciutto ham, a dollop of stracchino cheese and a drizzle of truffled honey and oil.
This is one of those times I’m grateful for a packed dining room, because I worry that, left to my own devices, I would rub that cheese all over my body. Everything about this was chewy and pillowy and sweet and herbaceous and lovely.
To say I was surprised by the smoked mozzarella in carrozza ($16) would be a wild understatement.
Fried mozzarella is something I usually associate with “fun” restaurants where servers squat down beside the table and make weird dad jokes at you. Here you get large triangles of crusty fried cheesy happiness with a bit arugula and, most importantly, heirloom tomato jam.
How good is the tomato jam? I put some on a spoon, turned around and made Nathan Poppe, editor of Curbside Chronicle, eat some.
“What is this?” he asked. It’s pure joy, my friend. Pure. Joy.
It’s sweet and savory and tart and I wish it came out of water fountains at the park.
The wagyu meatball ($19) is a ridiculous thing. It’s a giant meatball with a traditional tomato sugo sauce and you eat it. You. You eat it. Eat it now. It’s juicy and wonderful and you put it in your mouth and enjoy it.
For a carbonara-style dish with a real flair for the dramatic, the rigatoni in a jar ($25) is a must. The server brings out a big jar, wraps it up in cloth and shakes it to mix the parmesan cream, bacon, Brussels sprouts, egg yolk and pepper into a sauce that coats the fresh rigatoni before pouring it into your bowl.
I was actually more into the spaghetti cacio e pepe ($17) that my friend Phillip got and didn’t love. I think he wanted more of a carbonara, but I thought this was the ideal cacio. The sauce was thick with romano and pepper that clung desperately to the fresh spaghetti. My only problem is I wanted so much more. But given my druthers, I’d eat cacio e pepe until I end up like the guy in “Se7en.”
My friend Karlie got gnocchi with basil pesto ($19) and they were tiny pillows of wonder with an herby basil pesto that I adored and lots of crunchy pine nuts to boot. I would have eaten more, but Karlie knew she had a good thing and wasn’t about to let me go wild on those gnocchi.
Get gelato. That’s it. Order gelato and you’ll be happy. It’s good.
That’s it for now. Not that anyone was afraid Osteria was going to be bad, but you can confidently go in and order just about anything and enjoy yourself. Prices are in the upper scale, but so is the food.
Oh, and get a reservation. I get the feeling this place is going to be busy.