Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Osteria: 'The single best all-purpose restaurant'

Gallery Image
Stemware awaiting wine at Osteria. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Gallery Image Gallery: Osteria
About the restaurant
640 N. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
215-763-0920
Rating:
Neighborhood: Art Museum - Fairmount Parking: Street parking only. Valet Thursday-Saturday, $12.
Handicap access: Wheelchair accessible.
Hours: Dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, until 11 p.m. Lunch Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Reservations: Recommended
Open Table
Prices: $$$
Payment methods:
American Express
Discover
MasterCard
Visa
Cuisine type: Italian
Meals Served:  Lunch   Dinner
Style: Since opening in 2006, Osteria has become more than simply the casual, more accessible sibling to Vetri. It’s become a showcase for talented co-owner/chef Jeff Michaud to produce inventive seasonal pastas and salumi, plus modern twists on rustic Italian cooking, from spit-roasted meats to superb wood-fired pizzas. It has also, in the process, become one of Philly’s best all-purpose restaurants, whether for a power lunch, big special event or an intimate night out over sublime antipasti with one of the area’s best Italian wine lists to wash it down.
Specialties: Pizzas – Margherita; lombarda; pannocchia; mortadella. Vegetable antipasti; house-cured salumi; warm cheese sformato; baked sardines; porchetta tonnata; cotechino; tomato tortellini; lentil tortellini in capon brodo with cotechino; beet plin; chicken liver rigatoni; corzetti with clams; robiola francobolli; candele with wild boar Bolognese; rabbit “casalinga”; suckling pig special; roasted lamb shoulder with saffron beans and minted baby artichokes; artichokes alla giudia; pine nut and caramel crostata; budino; honey panna cotta. Dinner entrees, $24-$35 (Dry-aged ribeye for two, $100.)
Alcohol: A smart list of 36 Italian wines focused on small producers and rustic flavors, almost entirely under $50 a bottle. Several wines by the glass, great Belgian and local beers, and a nice grappa selection give the cellar value and character.
Weekend noise: The room is a boisterous 82 decibels, but conversation is still possible. (Ideal is 75 decibels or less.)

When Vetri switched exclusively to tasting menus last year, its more accessible sibling, Osteria, gained an even greater focus.

This larger and more casual trattoria space had already earned a major following in the hands of partner and chef Jeff Michaud, 34, himself a James Beard award winner. It has my nod as the city's second-best Italian (after Vetri itself, where he was a former chef). And in the five years since it opened, it has come to embody the rustic spirit that predominated when Vetri first opened, from the marvelous roasted-vegetable antipasto, to the gossamer sliced prosciutto, soulfully braised rabbit, spit-roasted suckling pig, inventive seasonal pastas, and wood-fired pizzas that set the standard for our current pizza craze.

With more choices to customize a meal, it's no wonder many longtime Vetri devotees now name Osteria as their favorite. It may very well be the single best all-purpose restaurant in the city, perfect for a family event, date night, or power lunch, with a top-notch wine list to sate any Italian-vino nerd.

That one-space-fits-all virtue, though, is a liability when it comes time to shift a dinner into rarefied four-bell finesse. Michaud has it in him, but his vast and bustling restaurant wasn't quite built with that gear in mind.

More coverage
  • Craig LaBan | Osteria
  • I would come any night, though, for any number of delights I've enjoyed recently: a creamy Gorgonzola flan with late-season peaches and chanterelles; tortellini stuffed with creamy lentils in capon broth studded with cubes of cinnamon-scented cotechino sausage. An exquisite fall pasta turned the tortellini paradigm inside out, with a crimson filling of reduced tomato on the inside, and creamy burrata cheese on the plate. The chicken-liver rigatoni is more irresistible than I'd ever imagined. And crispy-edged slices of homemade mortadella, streaked with pistachio pesto and molten pads of mozzarella, were the highlight of Michaud's stretchy Neapolitan-dough pizza.

    Ever try braised lamb neck? Osteria is your best bet to find it both sublimely tender and roasted crisp, posed over saffron beans and minted baby artichokes. It's the taste of three bells at its best.

    Craig LaBan Inquirer Restaurant Critic
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