osteria di valerio & al

Despite living a few blocks from Osteria for two years (and routinely returning to the area since moving), and always on a personal quest for really good Italian food and willing to try just about anything, I’ve never made it to Osteria. There’s no good answer as to why. I’ve never heard anything negative about the tiny restaurant, or for the matter, raves. I suppose I’ve always been curious. Even though I’ve literally walked past Osteria as it sits quietly below street level hundreds of times, I’ve never made it in until this past weekend on behalf of Metromix.

As I’ve said before, I’m a ridiculously hard critic of Italian food. I’m not a chef and I’ve never spent a day in Italy (sigh). But I’m 100% Italian (actually, half Sicilian/half Italian) and I have a grandma and mom that know their way around a kitchen and made daily scratch Italian dishes for as long as I can remember and beat this notion of authenticity into us on a daily basis. Anyone who grew up like this and never knew you could actually buy marinara sauce, gets to play critic.  

For me, the best Italian I’ve had so far is at Michalangelo’s(though I still miss Battuto). But that’s not to say others don’t offer great dishes: bucatini all’ amatriciana @ Baricelli; Rocco’s famous little meatballs, among others)

And now, I’d add Osteria to the list. Was it the most amazing Italian food I’ve had? No. But it was good, surprisingly good – especially the marinara sauce that accompanied the mussels. I used the hot, crusty bread to soak up as much as I could. Very good sauce. And my osso buco was enjoyable, too. Perhaps not as tender as I would have hoped for, but a good dish nonetheless. And the pastas we sampled – quite satisfying, albeit not waist friendly (just too bad the pastas aren’t made in-house – all pasta comes from Gallucci’s, which kinda seems like cheating).

The other drawback for me was the space itself. While I really liked the overall vibe – borderline cool sitting below St. Clair and the overall intimate/cozy feeling inside (great for a date night), the space itself needs a good freshening up. Not a major overhaul, but a few updates would go a long way.

You can read the full review here. In short, I liked it and wish I made it in sooner. I can definitely see us heading back soon, especially on a cold, snowy night (which will be here before we know it). In fact, I think on our next visit I’m going to bypass the menu and let the chef put together a tasting for us. As our server shared as soon as we sat down, they are here to feed you. If you’ll let them, they will make an adventure out of it and put together a tasting for you based on what you’re craving and how hungry you are. Word of advice – go hungry. In fact, I left there feeling the same way I used to after a dinner at my grandma’s house where her only purpose in life was to feed you. Those are the meals when it was nice to wear maternity pants.

8 Comments

  1. Posted October 15, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    There was an episode of Top Chef Masters when Oprah’s chef used ice cream that he purchased. The judges gave him grief for it but they gave the guy who used store bought pasta a pass. Many of the best Italian restaurants use some store bought pasta. Here in Cleveland, very few of our Italian restaurants could legitimately claim to be working at that level. In that case, opting to make all pasta in house is about more than philosophy. In these cases, the end result would simply be better with competently cooked, store bought products. I’d rather taste flavorful food then see “house made” printed on my menu.

  2. Michelle V
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Of course it’s okay to cut some corners, I certainly do when I cook at home. But there is a big difference when the pasta is made in house daily. Did you ever eat at Battuto? Amazing pasta. Can you have a good plate of food with store bought pasta – sure. But my preference is to see house-made on the menu. And I think there are more restaurants making pasta then you realize.

  3. DW
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Have you made it to any Italian places on the west side? We really like la campagna in westlake and Stino in Rocky River always gets great reviews. I was just wondering your take on them.

  4. Michelle V
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    DW: I haven’t, but someone just mentioned La Campagna to me – at least I think that was the place, not 100% sure. I’m always up for discovering new places regardless of location – do you like them? Should I visit?

  5. DW
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I think you’d really like La Campagna. It’s a tiny place that is completely family owned and operated by an Italian family. They don’t have menus, rather one of the waitresses (sisters) has a little pad of paper with the entrees of the day, what ever the kitchen felt like making. The couple times I’ve been there they had 5-10 choices. If there is something specific you’d like to have, just call and let them know if advance and they will accommodate. I would be very suprised if their pasta, and everything else, is not homemade.

    The restaurant itself is in a strip mall, next to a dry cleaner. From the outside you can hardly tell it’s a restaurant. Inside they sell a lot of “Italian stuff.” Dried pastas, wine, gift baskets, etc. It feels crowded and cluttered, kind of like home.

    Here’s a link to their blog: http://tastytomato.blogspot.com/

    Reservations are highly recommended. They also sell at some of the NUFM’s.

  6. Posted October 16, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    DW – it sounds great, we will definitely check it out. Thanks for suggesting it.

  7. HS
    Posted October 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    As one who is not italian, but lived in Italy’s bona fide food capital (Bologna!), I’d say Osteria is decent, but not worth it, given it’s expense. Or, I guess the reverse – it’s probably comparable or slightly cheaper that some of the higher end places downtown, but I didn’t find the food so good as to warrant those prices (and yes, I’d agree if maybe all the pasta was fresh daily, etc. then the price would make more sense).
    Re: la campagna – the food is more southern italian, so i cant necessarily speak to it’s authenticity, but it’s very delicious and imperfect, in a wonderful way – it feels very much like food that has been cooked with much love, and not necessarily with a “foodie’s” expectations in mind. Michael, the chef’s owner, can often be found at Shaker Sq. farmers market, which is where I met him. He and the La Campagna team have started a prepared foods tent there!

  8. Michelle V
    Posted October 16, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    HS – agree, do think it’s a little overpriced. But I did enjoy our meal. Best Italian? No – but does the trick. Very excited to try La Campagna!

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