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Jun 25, 2007 07:42 PM

Dinner at Osteria

My partner and I wrangled a reservation for a 6 p.m. dinner this past Friday at Osteria and were very satisfied overall with the whole experience. The wine list had a number of reasonably-priced bottles, and a nice selection of Italian whites--we split a bottle of dry Prosecco which accompanied the food well without being overpowering. Resisting the urge to begin our meal with one of the pizzas (thus rendering us able sample much more of the menu), we started with the yellowtail crudo, which was extremely fresh and sliced very, very thin), and the wood-grilled octopus (great flavor, but some of the larger pieces were unpleasantly gritty). The pasta special we shared was a squid-ink spaghetti with scallops, halibut, mussels and clams in a tomatoey broth, all of which was done to perfection. We were disappointed by the tricolore salad with bagna cauda (ersatz Caesar) dressing--it was seriously overdressed--but the berry crostata and particularly the polenta pudding (sorry, "budino") with olive oil gelato for dessert made up for it. The cappuccino lived up to its hype, too--piping hot, strong without being bitter, with a great crown of foam. Service was extremely attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly--our server rather sweetly stuck a candle into my dessert when she learned we were celebrating a special occasion. The only serious criticism I can offer is that someone in the kitchen seemed to have a heavy hand with the oil--the yellowtail and octopus were drizzled with a little too much, and the pasta could have done with about half of what was left at the bottom of the bowl when we finished. That issue aside, however, we are intent on dining there again as soon as we luck out and can book another reservation!

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  1. My friend and I went to Osteria right when they opened, and were lucky enough to get a seat in front of the kitchen at the service area. They must have been working out the kinks, because we ended up waiting 20 minutes to order our wine. We're not wine connoisseurs and really just needed a bottle of wine after work. So that was a little annoying. We've both been to Vetri and loved everything about the service and the food, so our expectations were really high. Once we had the wine in hand, all was forgotten, as the food was delicious, although the portions small.
    The only other issue I had was that I watched a food "runner" take something from a plate, and toss it into his mouth. I was astonished and couldn't believe my eyes! He took a second piece off the plate, but realized I was watching him and put it back on the plate. I've never worked in the food industry, but I'm guessing this is not acceptable.
    I still plan on returning to Osteria, but I hope I don't run into that same server, who knows what he might do next.

    19 Replies
    1. re: kimchilee

      OMG did you NOT report that to the management? I am certain that Mark Vetri would want to fire him on the spot if they knew.

      1. re: joluvscards

        Kimchilee, it's funny you said that--it jogged my memory as to something I'd totally forgotten! My partner and I were sitting right in front of the service window (this is where you were, too, I guess?), so she had a clear view of the guys working on the line (she was a long-time restaurateur and we've both worked in kitchens before, so we actually consider it a bonus to get a peek at this) and said, at one point, that one of the guys on the line was eating something while putting out the food. Maybe the rules are different there, but I'd always understood that to be pretty much unacceptable, especially during service and in a spot where diners could see (I think that food runner's actions are definitely beyond the pale, too). Possibly their staff meals are simply inadequate....?!

        1. re: christianne

          I dined at Osteria on Saturday night. The service was excellent (I didn't notice any staff nibblers -- yes, that is totally unacceptable). We couldn't help ourselves and did start with the margherita pizza, which lived up to its hype -- paper thin and delectable. The folks at the table next to use had the pizza with proscuitto, fontina, mozzarella and arugula, which looked devine. We also had the tricolore salad with bagna cauda dressing, which was very pedestrian. Next up was the pork milanese, which my dining companion felt was not pounded thinnly enough (as per her Rome experience). But the meat was very tender and the coating was delicious and not at all oily. The meat was topped with argula and thinnly shaved pecorino and paper thin slices of lemon -- all in all very satisfying. We also had the artichokes alla Romana, which were a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting perhaps a small platter of deep fried sunflower-like artichokes. What we got was a little bowl (like you would get a cup of soup in at a diner) with deep fried artichoke hearts. But they were tasty. We drank well, starting with their specialty negroni, which consisted of gin, lillet, pomegranate liqueur and I forget what else. We then moved on to a "quartino" a small carafe of wine that was about 2 glasses worth. Trying to decide between two reds, our server brought a taste of the Sicilian, which we quickly decided against (it was very peppery) in favor of the Sangiovese, which was quite nice for the price. Dessert was the cheese plate with a gorgonzola dolce, a sheep's milk, a pecorino romano, a parmagiano and one other, which I forget. I'm not much of a cheese expert, so I can't really say if this was a good cheese plate or not. My companion was pleased. We finished with two different grappas and espresso. All in all it was a lovely, if pricey, evening.

        2. re: joluvscards

          I didn't report it, but the interesting thing is that wasn't the end of the story. My friend forgot her credit card and went back a few days later to get it. She ran into the food-snatching server, who not only remembered her but also brought up the incident. Only his story was that when the food was dropped off at the service counter, a piece fell off the plate and he was merely returning it back to the plate. I can assure you that this is not what happened. The guilt or perhaps, the idea of losing his job crossed his mind, as he was the one who initiated the conversation with my friend.
          I wouldn't want to get someone fired, so I wouldn't report it. But I can only hope he won't do it again.

          1. re: kimchilee

            Wow perhaps we come from different universes but I would rather report it than not return. If I spied servers/runners eating off of the plates those would be my two options. The memory of someone sticking their fingers into a plate of food, eating and then delivering the remainder to a guest is too unpleasant for words.

            I would rather report it to the management than broadcast it to thousands on chowhound without managment having the opportunity to identify the individual involved. This is the kind of bad press that could cause a restaurant to go under. Then many would lose their jobs.

            1. re: joluvscards

              I agree. I would report it, and then go back and get that fabulous pizza with the sweet sausage and the egg - incredible!

              1. re: sylviag

                Osteria will not go out of business, and even though the service was questionable, I've already stated that I thought the food was amazing and that I plan on returning. These message boards are here for a reason. I'm writing to express my experience just like you have. Clearly, I'm not the only one who has had the same issue with the service-- Christianne reported nearly the same thing.
                Joluvscard-- From the tone of it, I'm guessing every post you have made has always been positive? Because otherwise, you think you might cause a restaurant to go "under"???

                1. re: kimchilee

                  No not all my reports have been positive. But.... if I posted something like this it would not be a surprise to the owner of the establishment. I would have marched over to the manager and had the courtesy and courage to let them know what was happening. In fact I usually give feedback directly, good and bad before posting.

                  I draw the line in this situation. Do you assume that managment knows this is happening. NO

                  This is different from a piece of veal that isn't pounded thinly enough. Usually the head chef knows (or should know) what kind of quality is leaving the kitchen. It is also different from a report on ambience. I'll go out on a limb and say that the managment usually knows that the music is loud or the tables are too close together.

                  I don't imagine for a minute that they give their employees tips on how to steal food off of a patrons plate.

              2. re: joluvscards

                "sticking their fingers into a plate of food, eating and then delivering the remainder to a guest" is a no-no, it is gauche, and it is wrong, especially since they were in view. That said, ALL restaurant food that is delivered to you has been handled, fingered, touched, say it however you like. It's supposed to be only touched by clean hands attached to a brain that knows about sanitation and follows protocol, but that's not always the case. Better, I think, not to worry about it so much. We all eat out, and it tends not to hurt us. Me, I'd've reported that person, but (I'm a chicken) anonymously in an e-mail or something.

              3. re: kimchilee

                As Dr. Phil says, "When you choose the behavior you choose the consequences." IMHO, you would not be getting him fired by reporting his behavior, he got himself fired by doing it. Thank you.

            2. re: kimchilee

              Can you clarify whether the runner took the food off of the plate as he was bringing it to the diner, or whether it was when he was clearing it from the table and on the way back to the kitchen? Both practices are unacceptable, but the latter practice is, unfortunately, fairly common. Not that it typically is seen by customers but it does occur fairly often. Sorry you had to see this. Ignorance is bliss, in my mind anyway, at times like this.

              1. re: Laura D.

                I agree, this is an important distinction. I don't mind so much if the servers scavenge the plates they are taking away *after* the customers are finished. With food as good as Osteria's, I can't blame them. However, taking food from a customer's plate *before* serving it to them is not only an opportunity for contamination, it's also ripping the customer off. Obviously, neither should be done in front of the customers! If this guy is dumb enough to do that in full view of the customers at the bar, he should get canned.

                1. re: Laura D.

                  If it isn't done in front of customers, what is wrong with taking food off the plate after clearing?

                  1. re: JanR

                    This will probably come out with the wrong tone in writing...

                    Other than possibly being a bit skeevy, as who knows where the mouths and hands of the diner have been before eating off of that plate, I'm not sure that there is anything wrong with a waiter eating off of a diner's plate once it has been cleared and once they are out of sight. To each his own...eating off of someone else's plate is the only way that some of us with small wallets will get to try food from chefs like Marc Vetri!

                    1. re: JanR

                      There is nothing objectionable with removing left over food after clearing. I am sure that it is done often but the two posters that mentioned this seemed to indicate that the food was taken from the line or the plate before serving it to the patron. That's very different.

                      1. re: joluvscards

                        the portions are small - anything not delivered to the diner would be sorely missed.

                        1. re: brightman

                          And I can't imagine that it would be from after the diner finished, because at those prices you need to eat all of the little you are given to get enough!

                      2. re: JanR

                        Risk of spreading Hepatitis A and other diseases.

                        That said, when I worked at Striped Bass during college, diners very often left entire scallops untouched on their plates. At $36 for a plate of 4 scallops, you'd better believe that whole, seemingly untouched scallops got gobbled up by staff members once the plates were safely behind the door of the dishroom.

                        At Rouge, people would often grab a french fry when a goodly number were left in the bowl. When you've been on your feet, working non-stop in a completely mobbed restaurant for 5, 6, 7 hours with no break in sight, you can imagine how tempted you might be to grab a delicious-looking, plump-but-crispy, perfectly seasoned pomme frite from a largely untouched pile...

                        1. re: FoieGrasFranc

                          i am actually HAPPY to hear that someone makes use of what otherwise might be a complete waste of great food!