Osteria 166


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Citrus Beet Salad

For our 4 year wedding anniversary, we decided to finally visit Osteria 166 for dinner. My wife had never been, and I’ve only had lunches there. It has been on our radar, so it was great to finally get in there for a meal.

We went in with the expectation of a classic Italian red sauce joint with some elevated dishes. I knew that it was a pretty close family management team and that Chef Jeff Cooke was dialed in on the local and seasonal food movement. We wanted to go out for our anniversary, share some comforting dishes and a bottle of wine, relax and not feel rushed, and just enjoy each other.

I’m not always right, but my selection for this evening hit the nail on the head, so when we got home, I decided to open another bottle of wine and write this all down before I forgot about it.

The restaurant is right on the corner of Franklin and Mohawk St., across from the convention center. It was pretty full for a Thursday night when we walked in, but we had reservations and were seated immediately. The ambiance was very warm and relaxed. The volume of the place were not loud, but lively and active, the way a good Italian restaurant should be.

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House cured charcuterie board with toast, hummus, and olives.

Our server came over to greet us with a tear off bag of bread and a dish of dipping oil with cheese and hot peppers sprinkled in it. What a great way to say hello. The bread was warm and soft with a great crust and the oil and cheese were heaven. We couldn’t help tearing hunks off and mopping up the spiced oil while she introduced the menu. We selected a bottle of Chianti, and got back at the bread while we read the menu.

Speaking of the Chianti… lets talk about the wine menu. We like wine, but we don’t know a ton about wine. I think a lot of people are like this, and that tends to intimidate a lot of folks from looking at a wine list and ordering a bottle of wine. “What if I spend $90 and I hate it?” Osteria has a pretty decent run of about 30 wines under $30. The chianti we had was $28 and it was great. This is a high point for this restaurant. It goes out of its way to be accessible to everyone.

Osteria 166 has a really nice daily menu with a lot of traditional Italian classics, as well as sandwiches, pizzas, soups, and salad. They also offer a pretty extensive specials menu. This makes this restaurant very accessible for virtually everyone, as its impossible to not find something appealing.

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Massive Meatball with ricotta and marinara

At this point, it sounds like every other “red sauce” Italian place in Western NY – but Osteria has a trump card.  There is a tremendous amount of skill in that kitchen – starting with Chef Cooke,  so I’ll use the overused word elevated again to describe what sets this place apart.

Chef Cooke has managed to maintain the integrity of the family’s old recipes while showcasing local purveyors and seasonal foods, and bringing another level to traditional family based Italian cuisine. He excels at subtlety, which I think requires a lot of security in ones self as well as maturity in the role of a chef. It is somewhat easy to punch someone in the face with Italian food. So many places dump a pile of cheese over some overcooked pasta, throw it in the broiler, and bam. Parm City. That’s not happening here. I don’t cook a lot of Italian food, but I find it to be one of those cuisines where its is extremely difficult to engage in subtlety and restraint. It is easy to be heavy handed because you’re dealing with such rich and wholesome flavors and textures. Pastas, Beans, Meats, Cheeses…  respect is due to the cook who has all of these resources at hand, and yet plates a beautiful burrata cheese on a simple piece of toast with a few gorgeous basil leaves serving as boats for fresh cherry tomatoes… all dressed with a little balsamic and oil.

So lets talk about Burratta Cheese.

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House pulled Burrata with tomatoes, oil, basil, and balsamic

The first time we had Burratta cheese was at a restaurant called Kampa Park in Prague.It was served in much the same fashion. Cheese, some greens or a bit of fruit, and a drizzle of oil and balsamic with a pinch of crunchy salt. Having this dish today brought us back to that awesome trip. It was so nice and clean.

Chef sent out a plate of charcuterie to get us started.. Three house cured meats, presented simply on a board with some olives, a bit of bread, and some home made hummus. I haven’t been to Italy yet, but when I go, that is the experience I want. A bottle of wine, some meats, some cheeses… maybe wrapped up in a cloth napkin. The meats were simple and well executed. I’ve cured some meats in my time, and its one of those cases of “less is more.”  Something savored and enjoyed in small bits, spread on bread, or eaten with fruit or olives. The three we were given were cut ultra thin, and were a bit salty – which is how I think charcuterie should be seasoned. I believe that charcuterie should almost be a condiment. The olives on the charcuterie plate were excellent. I have to assume they were house cured or at least house marinated.

Lets get into the entrees.


Carbonara with bucatini

I got the carbonara, and Summer ordered the Veal Parm. We weren’t messing around with our entrees. We were going all the way. carbonara is one of my favorite Italian dishes, and I order it whenever I see it. The server we had was great, and she gave the requisite “this has a raw egg with it” warning. I joked and said “I’ll take extra eggs.” Wouldn’t you know it – an egg yolk sidecar showed up with my dish. So my pasta had 2 egg yolks with it. The carbonara was made with house cured pancetta, and was velvety and creamy with the right bit of black pepper. I loved the use of bucatini noodles for this, as I think a thicker and heartier noodle is required to stand up to the egg and cheese sauce, lest the pasta get lost. I believe Chef Cooke breaks some traditional rules with his carbonara, but he made me a believer.  I ordered a meatball on the side because I love the meatballs here, and it came out topped with some ricotta and sitting in a pool of marinara.


Classic veal parm

The simplicity of the marinara sauce lets the food shine. I had it with my meatball and my wife had it with her veal Parm. I think a sauce like marinara should be an accessory to a meal, not a glue. I once again appreciated the restraint at making this simple tomato sauce clean and fresh, so that the flavors of the meatball, and the veal could come through. The veal was hammered thin, fried crisp, tender, and not greasy.

We finished up with a dessert plate that the chef sent out for our anniversary. Simple berries with cream, a lemon ricotta cheesecake, and a house made charlie chaplin. I thought we were stuffed, but we managed to find room for a few bites of each. I really liked the cheesecake. My wife doesn’t usually eat cheesecake but she enjoyed it as well. The ricotta and lemon is a classic pairing, and the texture was more rustic, which I appreciated vs. a regular silky cheesecake. The charlie chaplin was great. This is one of my dad’s favorites and it makes me want to bring him in there just for a pasta fagioli, meatballs, and charlie chaplin.


Happy Anniversary to us!

The service was fantastic. Attentive and knowledgeable without being overbearing. The menu is large, so it helps to have a server that can help diners navigate it and zone in on some favorites. I appreciate guidance without someone being in my face. We were checked on multiple times, from the chef, our server, the front of house manager, and even the owner Nick Pitillo came by our table. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in how our experience was going. I want that in an Italian restaurant. I loved it.

I feel like this is where you can meet an old friend from high school, share a few bottles of wine, and feel completely comfortable. As we walked out, a band was setting up outside and had we not needed to get home I would have happily sat on the patio, gotten another bottle of wine, and just hung out a bit longer. The warmth of the place makes it somewhere you want to hang out for awhile. The breadth of the menu made us want to come back soon and try something else. Maybe a pizza next time. Maybe a sandwich for lunch.

If there was one phrase  that could have come out of the chef’s mouth that didn’t it was “what took you guys so long” and he would be correct. I’m sorry it took us so long to come in, and we won’t let it happen again. Until then, we’ll send lots of friends…

I’m also very excited that they will be opening up soon in Ellicottville. You can read more about that here: http://buffalo.com/2015/08/12/featured/osteria-166-spreads-wings-to-ellicottville/

Osteria 166 is open every day but Sunday. They can be found at www.osteriabuffalo.com

Here is what BuffaloEats had to say about it: http://www.buffaloeats.org/2013/07/01/osteria-166/







Marble and Rye opens


Pinzimoni – Seasonal vegetables with green goddess tonnato

Marble and Rye opened this week on Genesee Street as the newest addition to the “Restaurant Row” downtown that now includes Seabar, Toutant, “Dog e Style (sp?),” Washington Market, and the omnipresent Eddy Brady’s, with Marcos right around the corner.  It is owned by Christian Willmott and Michael Dimmer of The Black Market Food Truck, and puts an emphasis on thoughtful cocktails and seasonal, local ingredients.

With all of the restaurants opening in the past couple years, we’ve manage to hit either the pre-open or opening week for just about all of them. It is our hobby. Its what we do. Visiting a restaurant (or any business) when it first opens requires some understanding while the kitchen adjusts, the wait staff gets used to the flow, and the bar dials in their program, so we go in with a very open and observational mind.

The development of Marble and Rye has been interesting to watch. Somewhat overshadowed in our world by the launch of our friend Chef James Robert’s much anticipated restaurant Toutant, they’ve been quietly and diligently cranking along right around the corner at building out this 75 seat establishment. The project really started to grow legs and get interesting to me when some of the top young talent from around Western NY began jumping ship from some of the more established chefs and restaurants and signing on to the Marble and Rye team. Both the kitchen team and front of the house teams read like a who’s who of the next generation of food in Buffalo – fitting, as the owners themselves are young, energized, and have jumped in with both feet into their restaurant.

And I think that is great. Because that is how this great food momentum we have in Western NY keeps going and growing. As we sat there, I joked that we were among the older patrons in the restaurant with most of the diners of the millennial generation, be-speckled with lush beards (why doesn’t my beard grow like that damnnit?) and a refined palate for craft beers, whiskey, and locally sourced food.

Anyway, on to the visit. We got there 45 minutes early and grabbed a drink at the bar. It was nice to see familiar faces there, and we opened up with a Bourbon and Tea for Summer and a drink called “The Coaster” for me. The Bourbon and Tea was delicious. A little on the sweet side, but as I mentioned earlier, this is where the restaurant dials in their program. The bar staff checked on us, and wanted feedback on everything, which I appreciate. I am a big fan of mezcal, which is Tequila’s smokey, unemployed cousin, and I can always appreciate the rare bar that keeps it and has the courage to put a cocktail on the menu. The Coaster is a great gateway cocktail to mezcal, with the right bit of sweet and dry to balance off that smoke and punch. I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different, with a little push behind it. They also make their own soda mixers, and they had lemon-lime and watermelon sodas on tap.

We sat for dinner, and started off with a couple of appetizers. There is a pickled onion ring with garlic aioli dish that was great. The red onions had a light pickle for some bite on them, and they were hand battered and fried. They were light and crispy and reminded me of every good thing I ever had fried at Crystal Beach. They even smelled like that. That aioli was so good and garlicy that I wanted to finger sweep the inside of the bowl. I want to rename this dish “not on the first date” because there is no way anyone not established in a solid relationship would get a good night kiss after eating this – but that stands true for all good and tasty food. I will order these every time I go here.

The other appetizer was a departure for the norm. I love the hype a lot of places get (see: Burger in a few paragraphs) but there is usually a lot of skill behind the door that gets lost and doesn’t have the opportunity to come front and center. So I try to seek out the dish or two that may not seem very exciting at first, but offers some sort of peek into where the kitchen wants to go, and what they really want to show you, given the opportunity. We ordered the “Pinzimoni” which was simply labeled as “daily farm selection; green goddess Tonnato.” – translation – raw veggies and dip.

For starters, the plate was beautiful. The photo at the top does not do it justice.  Just absolutely stunning in color and depth. The vegetables were presented in a very simple fashion, either completely raw or with a light pickle, and I believe dressed with a bit of good olive oil and some salt. Each one was cut to give the best mouth of texture, and was just a bite. Its the type of dish that makes you appreciate being in the dead center of our really short summer, driving in with the windows open, and recognizing the huge abundance with have at this very moment, that will be gone in a few weeks. I spend an awful lot of time and money at local farmers markets, and I put in a lot of effort trying to figure out what the hell to do with some of these veggies I buy. I appreciate the lesson in restraint and took that home with me.

Also – their green goddess tonnatto (dressing? dip?) ? I’d eat a lot more veggies if I had a huge jar of that laying around.

On to entrees…

We knew we would want the burger. Just like you get Fried Chicken at Toutant, and a Pork Chop at The Black Sheep… this is the place that has been setting us up for “THE burger.” Instagram and Facebook have been blowing up with photos of this burger. So we got the burger. I did not take a photo of the burger. Unless you’ve given up social media this month -you’ve already seen it.

We were pleased with the burger. The effort of house ground meat shines through this burger and is what sets it apart. The sesame bun has a nice chew to it, and held up to the juiciness of a medium rare patty. I like medium rare burgers, but I don’t often trust the kitchen, because most of the time it comes out almost completely raw and sopping through the bun, or hammered to well done. Not the case here. I asked our server how confident she was in their medium rare and she was 100% on-board with the kitchen. It was cooked as ordered, a perfect medium rare. The sauce was present without being overwhelming and the whole package went together really well. We chose to add a sous vide egg to the whole deal and that was a pro-move and highly recommended, as mopping up egg yolk with bread is one of my favorite food experiences ever. The accompanying fries were European frites style, so thick cut, hot, soft, and salty. As I dipped fries in the errant smears of egg yolk from our burger drippins, I dreamed of a place that served egg yolk as a dip for french fries… then realized that this is probably why Belgians use mayo instead of ketchup.


Carbonara with peas and mushrooms

Our other entree was the Carbonara. This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. Simple and rustic, it stands up really well with homemade pasta. Their carbonara was a pretty traditional egg yolk prep, with the addition of peas (peak season right now) and some delicious smoky mushrooms. The pasta was well cooked and was coated with the velvety sauce. The dish felt a little heavy handed on the salt, but as I said, just small twitches that get worked out and dialed in as a restaurant opens. I liked the dish a lot, appreciate the vegetarian approach as I would never knowingly order a vegetarian dish – and would order it again.

We didn’t think we would stay for dessert. We were full, and beignets around the corner beckoned us, but the Butter Block macaroons filled with Marble and Rye goodness and bourbon apple pie made us hang out. The apple pie is a single serving crumb top, finished with goat cheese. It was a good pie. The goat cheese was a nice compliment to the apples. My dad always put a slice of cheese in his apple pie, and I forgot all about how much I liked that as well. I wanted a lighter representation of goat cheese, as it felt a little texturally heavy, but the flavor was great. Can it be whipped? Or maybe goat cheese ice cream? Could just be because I was so full from dinner already.  I could crush this on its own, but after a big meal it was a lot of delicious goodness. I look forward to eating this in the fall when its chilly out, with a hot coffee and a little sidecar of bourbon.

Those macaroons though… I believe Dan Borelli is the genius behind this assembly. We got the “number 2” which had toasted marshmallow ice cream with a spiced strawberry jam. I could see us driving there just for these and following the seasons as they change up. The Macaroon was huge, with a delicious flavor on its own and a great chew to it. The ice cream was delicious. Not too sweet – which was surprising for a marshmallow ice cream, and it held up in the 80 degree heat for all 2 minutes it lasted on our table. The spiced jam was a great addition to meld the flavors together and balance off the sugar and cream. We took the liberty of telling all of the tables around us to make sure they ordered it. GET THE MACAROON


Macaroon Number 2 – Butter Block Macaroon with marshmallow ice cream and spiced strawberry jam

The service was good. I say this because, as I mentioned above – there are always systems to be figured out and bugs to be worked on – and to a diner you’re most likely to see this in the front of the house because its right in front of you. But I really didn’t see any evidence of this.  You wouldn’t know that they opened last week. Our server knew the menu inside and out, was able to make suggestions and answer my odd questions I always come up with. I wanted wine but didn’t feel like a big cab, which is what I usually get – and asked for something “the opposite” of a big cab. She brought me Leonard Oaks Reisling – and it was perfect and very much the opposite. Thanks for tolerating my indecision. Christian, one of the owners, was working front of house, bouncing around from table to table, and checking in with the kitchen and wait staff constantly. His presence was known and gave the entire dining room the air of efficiency and confidence.

We ran into Donnie and Alli from Buffalo Eats, and ended up meeting for a cocktail around the corner after our meals. I mentioned how young I noticed the crowd to be – not just at Marble and Rye, but at a lot of restaurants we’ve been to lately. I’m only 38, but when I was in my 20’s, I loved food, but going out to a nicer restaurant was something that only happened every couple months. This seems like a regular occurrence for this next generation. Donnie made a good point that this generation is all about the experience, not possessions, and have no problem dropping some coin on a good meal and a great bottle of wine. I have to concur. And I’m kind of jealous of these people in their 20’s, because it took me a long time to learn that lesson of experience over possession.

We’ve recently seen a glut of new restaurants opening up as the latest round of local chefs have stepped up and hung their shingle. Chefs that have 20+ years in the business that built it up over time. Its pretty remarkable to see a well run establishment come out of such a great group of young talent. This is exactly what Western NY needs to continue the growth and momentum we’ve seen over the past few years of food. Congrats to everyone at the Marble and Rye, and best of luck.