A night in Italy

Dining review
Osteria Rossa interior partial
Photo by Bryan Esler

By Ira Craaven

Located just north of Monument Park at the intersection of Fulton Street and Division Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids is Osteria Rossa, winner of Grand Rapids Magazine’s Best New Restaurant in 2015 and a Restaurant of the Year recipient in 2016.

The restaurant can be hard for motorists to find, especially with all of the distractions the geographical center of downtown Grand Rapids offers, but guests who do make their way to this Italian eatery will be rewarded with a wonderful experience.

Osteria Rossa offers an elegant atmosphere that is suited for date night but also great for after-work cocktails.

The restaurant also features a tiny patio area overlooking the park; we were hoping to dine outside on our first visit, but the unseasonably hot weather forced us to move inside.

We started our night with a couple of cocktails, Water Lily ($12) and Bourbon Buck ($10). The Water Lily was concocted with Long Road Distillers’ MICHIGIN, crème de violette, Cointreau, lemon and simple syrup. This martini, while a bit on the strong side, was light with floral notes. The Bourbon Buck, featuring Four Roses bourbon, strawberry-rhubarb simple syrup, lemon, bitters and ginger beer, was well-proportioned and refreshing — a perfect drink for a hot day.

Osteria Rossa scallops
Scallops. Photo by Bryan Esler

For appetizers, our party of four chose the beef and pork meatballs ($13), which were wood-roasted with polenta, Osteria’s tomato sauce, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Sicilian olive oil. Tender and hearty, our only complaint was we had to split three meatballs between the four of us.

For entrées, we tried the Pappardelle Tuscano ($21), the Rigatoni Bolognese ($22), the scallops ($25) and the Duck Romano ($24). The Pappardelle featured wide flat pasta, wood-fired pork belly, Apicius spice, Castelvetrano olives and Pecorino Tuscano. The olives were a nice, salty touch, and the pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

However, the Duck Romano, with roasted duck breast, confit of duck, Roman artichokes, summer squash and wood-fired pepper sauce, was the table favorite. The meat was tender, the skin added a flavorful, slight crunch and the pepper sauce gave the dish a gradual heat that wasn’t overpowering.

The Rigatoni Bolognese, with tube pasta, braised pork ragu, San Marzano tomatoes, pine nuts, spring peas, basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, was a perfect example of a home-cooked Italian meal. The peas were a nice addition to this fantastic dish.

Lastly, the scallops came with a healthy mix of roasted potatoes and carrots served with Marcona almond pesto and baby kale that had a bit of crunch and was a fitting and flavorful complement to the dish. Scallops can be a tricky dish to prepare — undercooked and they’re stringy; overcooked and they resemble small hockey pucks. Ours came out right in the sweet spot, coated with a zesty mix of seasonings that allowed for a seared exterior while keeping the inside soft and pliable.

Osteria Rossa pappardelle Tuscano
Pappardelle Tuscano. Photo by Bryan Esler

Surprisingly, we were able to save room for dessert, and we ordered the tiramisu ($8) and the seasonal strawberry gelato ($5). The tiramisu, with coffee and Kahlua-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone, chocolate espresso sauce and chocolate truffle, wasn’t the best one we’ve had, but the mascarpone cheese added a welcomed fluffiness.

The sweet, strawberry gelato was a creamy and scrumptious treat that had us begging for more.

On our second visit, we started with a glass of 2016 Grand Traverse pinot noir rosé ($11) and Aqua Fresco ($10). The rosé was crisp and not overly sweet, but the winner of the evening was the Aqua Fresco, which was a refreshing and light cocktail with a strong cucumber flavor.

For appetizers, we decided to build our own charcuterie board, selecting the Calabrese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and marinated olives to complement the Field & Fire bread ($10). Osteria Rossa offers three build-your-own charcuterie options: 3 for $10, 6 for $19 or 9 for $26. The star of this board was the Calabrese, a mildly chili-spiced salami from Calabria, but overall the salty flavors of all three selections made for a terrific start to our meal. We also tried the buratta ($13), which consists of stuffed mozzarella, Sicilian olive oil, summer squash “noodles,” borttarga, saffron-tomato sauce atop toasted focaccia. We especially enjoyed the focaccia with this dish – an Italian staple.

For entrées, we tried the Agnolotti del Plin ($21), a cheese and polenta stuffed pasta with yellow beans, mixed mushrooms, porcini broth, truffles and snap peas; the chicken Vesuvio ($22), a wood-fired chicken breast with Vesuvio potatoes, spring peas, lemon, garlic and Vesuvio sauce; and the Casarecce Puglia ($15, small portion). Not a fan of seafood, my dining companion swapped the langoustine in the Casarecce Puglia for chicken. The dish also included pasta nero, asparagus, tomatoes, pesto, sea water, saffron and Parmigiano-Reggiano. She said the pasta nero still offered a seafood flavor, but that the chicken substitute tasted delicious in the dish and paired well with the veggies.

Osteria Rossa duck Romano
Duck Romano. Photo by Bryan Esler

In addition to the food, the service throughout the night was impeccable. Our server was attentive and accommodating. We had a terrific dining experience and already are discussing a return visit. GR

Osteria Rossa
16 Monroe Center NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Phone: (616) 988-9350

Dining ratings:

Food: **** 
Service: ****
Beverages: ****
Atmosphere: ***
Price:  $$

Must try:
Duck Romano

Not so much:

Guide to ratings:

**** Exceptional
*** Above Average
** Satisfactory
* Poor

¢ Inexpensive (under $10)
$ Moderate ($10-$20)
$$ Expensive (Over $20)

(Prices based on average entrée.)

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