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Feb 16, 2008 07:28 AM

Osteria - Amazing Valentine's Dinner

This will be a long one, but a dinner like this deserves it. My fiance and I made Valentine's Day reservations for Osteria back in January, right before the Philly Mag article came out naming Osteria #1. I don't put much stake in those rankings, but it was encouraging nonetheless. After our Valentine's Day dinner, I can definitely confirm that the ranking was deserved. Because there was so much on the menu we wanted to try, we decided to split 5 courses.

The first course was one of the evening's specials. It was a big chunk of house made buffala mozzarella served with crostini toasted in the wood burning oven and topped with sauteed swiss chard. The mozzarella was quite good and paired well with the bitterness of the swiss chard. The crostini gave a nice hint of smokiness, as well.

Our second course was the lombarda pizza that was simply phenomenal. The pizza has a great crsipy, thin crust and was topped with a hint of red sauce, bitto cheese, house made sausage, and a fried egg in the middle. We didn't want to stuff ourselves, so we had half wrapped up for lunch the next day. It was just as good on day two.

Our third, and favorite course, was the candele pasta with wild boar bolognese. This dish had a great, unique flavor and certainly highlighted the kitchen's ability to use simple preparations with high quality ingredients to make a stellar dish. The bolognese had a great, thick texture that adhered to the long tubes of tender pasta very well. We will definitely be ordering this one again.

The fourth course was their version of cassoulet, house made black pepper sauage and braised pork ribs served over a bed of creamy polenta and cabbage. The braised pork fell right off the bone. The dish was great, and I think we would have enjoyed it even more if we weren't starting to get full by this point.

For dessert, we had the chocolate and goat cheese "fritelle" served with a side of tangerine curd for dipping. These were served warm and almost had the consistency of beignets. The goat cheese and chocolate combo worked really well and even though I don't normally like mixing fruit and chocolate, the tangerine curd added some nice flavor.

If we hadn't ordered drinks, our bill would have been less than $100 before taxes and tip, and we certainly didn't go home hungry. However, we did have drinks, which pushed the bill significantly higher. I started off with a martini and my fiance had a wine spritzer that was their take on sangria, which was quite good. I believe it had a base of red wine, with club soda and blood orange juice. We also took advantage of the well versed sommelier who helped us decode the wine list consisting entirely of Italian wines. He steered us toward the big, bold wines we prefer and suggested a wide range of bottles priced from $34 to $160. We settled on the one that he stated was his favorite for $100, which is quite pricey, but was great. I also need to mention our server, Paul, who was very engaging and attentive. It's always great to have a server who is truly excited about the food the the kitchen is creating. He definitely made the meal that much more enjoyable.

In closing, I have to say that the meal was definitely worth the price and that this experience has cemented Osteria as one of our favorites and as a place we will definitely be frequenting more often in the future. I know this was a long one, but some meals deserve this treatment!

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  1. I absolutely cannot wait to try this restaurant. I make my own pancetta, bacon and sausage and love it when a restaurant goes the extra step to make wonderful food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mombaker247

      The housemade mozzarella and suasages were excellent. Next time I plan on trying the salumi platter of their house cured meats.

      1. re: Decker

        I have had the salumi platter and it was great. The only one that came close was one I had at Lupa in NYC years ago. The lombarda pizza is also amazing.

    2. The place is good - not that good. What really kills me is how they went away from their initial wine list, which had a handful of decent selection for $30-45 range. my guess is you can get that $100 bottle at the lcb for low to mid $20's. My last visit (2 weeks ago), I got a $60 super tuscan, which was fair at the very beat. This sells for $14.50. I never get out of that resaurant for under $100 per person. In the end, it's steep for what they deliver

      11 Replies
      1. re: Piko

        i am going for my birthday dinner this sunday (this is assuming the S.O. actually made reservations!) and the wine news is discouraging! generally speaking (i'm spoiled by BYOs) i will not pay anything over $40 a bottle. is there anything decent under this? because i'm certainly no wine snob; i can just as happily plow through dinner with a couple heinekens. :)

        also, any advice on vegetarian or seafood dishes to order (or things that might be able to be vegetarianized with a pretty please)?

        1. re: rabidog

          Unless they've changed their wine list significantly in the past couple of months, there are at least two bottles of red under $40 on it. I usually ignore the whites, but I'd imagine they have a couple at the same price points. Unfortunately, Karina the Awesome Sommelier isn't there anymore, but I'm sure whoever is taking care of the wine service can recommend a bottle. I'm not sure what Piko is on about, 400% or 500% markups on wine are pretty normal in the city. The general rule is that whatever they're charging for a glass is probably what the entire bottle costs in the store.

          1. re: Buckethead

            is that typical here? i have obviously been spoiled by the BYOs. i can't remember the last time i ordered a bottle at a non-company function. i would much rather drink my $20 bottle of wine at home before dinner, i think! :)

          2. re: rabidog

            Rabidog, there were a few bottles under $40, but you can always go by the glass, or, like you said, skip it all together and get a couple Heinekens! Also, there are plenty of vegetarian and seafood options and I am sure they would be willing to accommodate any "special" requests.

            1. re: rabidog

              OK, ate there last night, reporting back. my overall opinions are: absolutely gorgeous space, accommodating albeit slightly awkward (perhaps because new?) staff, would have rather eaten at modo mio.

              i have really been striking out with italian food lately. just went to villa di roma and sovalo, disliked both of those as well. bah! anyway, on to osteria... we got there a few minutes before our 8pm reservation, so we were happy to sit at the bar. after hearing what i wanted, bartender recommended a horrid wine that was the exact opposite of what i wanted, but i would have felt bad sending something back before dinner even started, and we'd only ordered one glass each, so we just drank it and made a note of its name so not to order it with dinner. we were seated promptly according to our reservation.... at the worst table in the house. it was in the back room, right by the doorway, RIGHT on top of the couple next to us, and i just felt like i was *on display* to the rest of the restaurant. they should seriously just remove that table, or make it a big table for 4. it needs to go. i was not about to order a massive meal and lots of plates and worry about flinging sauce on my neighbors. the hostess you could tell felt bad about the table; asked if everything was OK, and i said we'd like to move. originally they were unable to accommodate, but when another table finished up we were able to smoothly snag that table, before water or wine arrived. the hostess later admitted she hated putting people at that other awful table, so beware! it's probably really the only bad seat in the house. the restaurant, both the main dining room and the atrium out back (nice if you like things tropical, like me, it was hot in there!) are gorgeously decorated and we felt very comfortable in the space.

              we borrowed another chow poster's idea and opted to order 6 courses, splitting them all. i didn't like the way they presented them, perhaps i should have been more specific on timings. when i state we are ordering 6 dishes and splitting them all, i am used to them showing up one at a time. in this case, our pizza came first, followed by two antipastis, followed by the pasta and the main course at the same time, followed by dessert. so four groupings of food - which made it a much shorter meal than i was expecting. the margarita pizza i really enjoyed - though i didn't like the look of the cheese (looked cheap), it was pretty tasty. my partner thought the sauce was way too salty - which is probably why i liked it as much as i did. truth be told - i did think this pizza was really good, and i've done quite a bit of pizza exploration in philly, but the best pizza i've had here is from... bertucci's. yep, i said it.
              second course(s)... we had the smoked swordfish + blood orange + fennel salad. okay, so the night before i had basically the same thing minus fish at sovalo (and i really don't like sovalo at all, save for that salad) and sovalo's version without fish blew this away. this dish was too fishy for me. and i usually love fish! not citrus-y enough. after this came fried mozzarella (their term for it is a heck of a lot fancier). not enough dipping marinara, but the cheese was pretty good. super fried. for some reason we agreed it tasted like really buttery pancakes. their mozz has a really subtle flavor. i don't know what kind they use but it's not mozz-y enough for me. it is sorta smoky. i know, i am picky.
              next up was a squash ravioli - too sweet and heavy in my book, but at least a small portion of it - so this was OK. four bites each. really intense - really sweet. had i ordered a regular first + second course dinner i probably would have been disappointed but mixed in with everything else it was good.
              with the raviolis came the cod dish - the best thing we had, we both agreed (and the two of us like food for totally different reasons, but for some reason we agreed on our opinions here). cod was well-cooked, fresh, lightly seasoned in a light buttery sauce - yummy. very small portion for $28, but still, for a special occasion, this was okay, and it was yummy.
              dessert was weird - i don't know where we went wrong. we wondered if we even got what we ordered... the desserts weren't well-described. what we got was a glorified poundcake cupcake with citrusy fruits and dressing. in my opinion pound cake and citrus do not mix. it was small, and didn't really flow, not decadent at all.
              a note on wine - the sommelier with really cool glasses - he was great. just as soon as i picked up that wine list, he came swooping in asking if we had any thoughts or needed help. yes, i did... i don't drink much italian wine! he asked what i like (sauvignon blancs with 'bite') and prescribed the perfect bottle of wine... even moreso because it was the cheapest bottle at $34. i really enjoyed the wine and it went great with all the stuff we ordered, except for dessert. (courses came so fast we were still drinking wine when dessert came!!) service was prompt and friendly but i would guess the server is new. which is fine by me, just an observation.
              all in all, a nice one-time treat but i probably won't be a regular; i was pretty 'on the fence' about everything.

              1. re: rabidog

                Wow--just goes to show how subjective a restaurant experience can be. My husband and I loved the pizza, didn't find the cheese to look cheap, but simply like the fresh mozzarella it is. Squash ravioli has been sweet wherever I've had it. Without the sweetness, the filling would have no flavor at all. And we liked the "pound cake" dessert (actually, the cake looked more like a baba) so much that after I finished mine and my husband finished his chocolate dessert, we ordered another of the cake & citrus desserts and shared it. I think the cake was actually more of a sponge than a pound cake. Not that dinner was perfect--we had an order of the fried artichokes which were too salty.

                I disagree with Philadelphia Magazine that Osteria is the best restaurant in the city--I'd give it to Amada--but we find Osteria to be in the top five. Again, that's a subjective assessment.

                1. re: Elaine

                  man, i couldn't pick my favorite restaurant if my last meal depended on it!!! and i'd spend the rest of the night if i were to list places in the running! amada would be one for sure though. :)

                  re: the moz on the pizza - we had the plain ole' margherita (my favorite kind) but the cheese was a darker/more yellow off-white than any other fresh moz i've ever eaten or cooked with. and sorta "waxier" looking with oil beads on the surface. yes, i inspected my moz very closely. :) is this what you found on your visit?

                  i know that reviews are mixed on this restaurant... my general philosophy (though i wish i had the $$$ to actually support it) is that unless something horrific occurs, i'll try a place at least twice before i write it off. it's possible it was the chef's day off. i ate at zot on superbowl sunday, and overheard the bartender saying that EVERYone was off, and they had the busboys running the kitchen. this was disappointing, because the chef's other restaurant, mannequin pis, was my neighbor in my hometown, olney, maryland, and i was looking really forward to see what he was up to here in phila. so anyway, i'll probably be back at least once more, but not for a long while - because financially i can't keep up with all the places i want to try out! i have a bookmarks folder of all the places "on my list" and i'm continually adding to it.

                  1. re: rabidog

                    Yep, I know what you mean. Different restaurants for different reasons, different dishes. But hey, isn't that what Chowhounding is all about?

                    We didn't notice anything peculiar about the cheese, but if they make their own, I don't doubt that it looks a bit different from one batch to the next and am not surprised about the beads on the surface.

                    Our restaurant philosophy is the same as yours. Given the game of musical chefs and staff in the city (all cities, I'm sure), we try to give places we weren't wild about another chance, tho like you, our finances limit doing so quickly. But maybe that's a good thing, no?

                    BTW, I really think that aside from Osteria's pizza, Bertucci's has the best in the city. It's certainly the closest to the pizza we had in Italy. Given the choice between the pizza and their piping hot rolls with some butter, tho, I'd be hard pressed to choose!

                    1. re: rabidog

                      Uh oh...I had better add a disclaimer about the pizza: I have never had Tacconelli's, but we live in hope!

                      1. re: Elaine

                        hate to say it - but i prefer bertucci's to tacconelli's. tacc's is another one to give a second chance to, though, if i ever get 24-hour advance notice on my pizza cravings, that is...
                        ah, bertucci's rolls, don't get me started...

              2. re: Piko

                I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on the food, as the meal was one of the better I have had in the past 12 months. With regard to the wine, I found the same bottle at Canal's in New Jersey for $48.99 and at a couple of internet retailers for around $46. I can't say that I'm happy about paying such a markup, but that's to be expected these days. Also, for a special occasion, I'm willing to splurge but I would bot normally order such a pricey bottle.

              3. Sorry, to disagree. I too was very excited to read all of the reviews not only posted here, but other sources as well. My meal (Sunday 2/10) was mediocre at best. We arrived for our 5:00 p.m. reservation and were seated promptly. Our waitress came to take our order and it was impossible not to notice her filty apron in the still daylight hours. Our sommelier was one of the most timid men that I had ever met and did not make any suggestions and instead asked only if we had any questions. It should be noted that the wine list (which was covered in cork) had been scrawled all over in pen. When my wine arrived, there was at least 10 cork floaters in it. Let me tell you that I have never ever returned a meal or wine back to the kitchen, this was a 1st for me. On a positive note, my appetizer special of pumpkin tortelli was amazing and very memorable. 2 glasses of wine, 2 appetizers (fried mozzarella/tortelli), 1 pizza, 1 fish special and $120 later we emerged both commenting that while we were glad to have tried Osterio, it does not live up to the hype and there were many other restaurants that we would like to try in the City, before we would return here. Very surprising.