Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Osteria Nino: A Touch Of Rome In Burlington

Love at first bite?

My first experience at this new restaurant began with a dish of Meatballs that thoroughly impressed me, being tender and flavorful, a delicious melange of taste and texture. First impressions make a significant difference, and the meatballs well set the stage for the rest of the culinary delights at this restaurant.

Curiously, I've heard almost nothing about this restaurant from my food loving friends. I don't know anyone else who has dined here. Despite being open for about seven weeks, it seems to have remained under the radar but it's time to spread the word, to give some deserved attention to Osteria Nino., a new Roman-inspired restaurant in Burlington.

Burlington has become a suburban mecca for restaurants, and plenty of new spots have opened during the last few years, with more to come in the near future. Though you'll find plenty of chain restaurants there, you'll also find a number of independents as well, such as Osteria Nino. This new restaurant, which opened on May 9, is located in the new 3rd Avenue Burlington complex, which is also home to Wegmans, The Bancroft, Kings, Tony C's, and others. It's easy to get to Osteria Nino and there is plenty of available free parking.

Nino is open for lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is medium-sized, with a bar, dining room and outside patio (pictured above). It has a casual and comfortable ambiance, and would be good for a date, a family gathering or a group of friends after work. I've dined there six times so far, mostly for lunch though I have had dinner there once as well as attended one of their wine tasting events.

Outside, they even have a pizza oven. You can enjoy a pie on the outside patio.

The Executive Chef at Nino is Walace Benica, who is an Italian citizen though he grew up in Brazil. He came to Boston in 2002, starting his culinary career, and has worked in restaurants including Papa Razzi, Prince Pizza and Tuscan Kitchen. Their Culinary Director is Chris Boswell. who has an impressive resume, including have worked at Chez Panisse.  In addition, he spent 8 years in Rome, helping to found the Rome Sustainable Food Project and even became its chef for three years. He spends about one week a month working at Nino.

The General Manager is Sam Alberts, who also spent time working and cooking in Rome, eventually becoming part of the  Rome Sustainable Food Project.  Back in the U.S., Sam has worked at Italian restaurants in New York and Boston. I've spent some time chatting with Sam about Osteria Nino and found him to be personable and passionate, as well as very knowledgeable in Italian wines.

There is a glassed-in room which would be fine for a small group, though they do sit diners in there during lunch too..

Pull up a chair in front of the pizza ovens and watch the action as you drink and dine.

You might want to start your visit to Nino with a drink. They have a fully stocked bar, as well as a menu of Italian inspired cocktails ($10-$12), from an Aperol Spritz to a Jack Rose. There are also weekly specials, such as the Smoke n' Berries ($12), pictured above, which is made from Mezcal, strawberries, and house made sour mix. I enjoyed its smoky fruit flavors, finding it refreshing and perfect for the summer. On their menu,you'll also find 10 Vermouths, 5 Grappas, and 15 Amaro.

There are eight beers on draft, all by New England producers, and plenty of other choices available by the bottle, including many other local, artisan favorites. Peroni, a popular Italian beer, is only $4, their least expensive beet on the list.

To be true to their Italian focus, their wine list contains only Italian wines, and as I've said multiple times before, I respect restaurants willing to restrict their wine lists in such a fashion. Sam mentioned that there hasn't been much push back from their customers about their wine list, noting that their servers are well trained to handle common customer objections, and to lead them to wines which should appeal to their preferences. Italian wine is so diverse, there certainly are wines that will please any palate.

There are about 16 wines available by the glass, from $7-$19, and over 90 wines by the bottle, with plenty under $50. There is a nice diversity on the list, from Lambrusco to Franciacorta, Chardonnay to Arneis, Primitivo to Dolcetto. Mark-ups on some of the wines can be about three times retail so seek out the more unusual wines as those are generally the better values. Sam Alberts told me that two of the best values on the list include the Pigato Maje ($44), a white made from Vermentino, and the Lamezia Rosso Statti ($38), a blend of Greco Nero, Gaglioppo and Nerello Cappuccio.

The cuisine at Nino is inspired by Rome, and they want to replicate those flavor profiles, through simple preparations that use local ingredients. The menu may not contain some common dishes you find at other Italian-American restaurants but that shouldn't stop you from trying the interesting dishes you find here. There is something which will appeal to any preferences and it is also worth some experimentation, expanding your palate to try some new dishes. Some of the  most popular items on their menu include Meatballs, Chicken Saltimbocca, Cavatelli Amatriciana, Fried Squash Blossoms, and Eggplant Alla Parmigiana.

The Lunch Menu has Salads & Soups, Panini & Plates, Pasta, Mozzarella, Pizza, and Sides, with most items priced from $8-$13, making it very affordable. The Dinner Menu has Snacks, Salads & Small Plates, Large, Pasta, and Sides, and most items are also priced from $8-$13 except for the Large dishes which range from $18-$35, with a couple outliers. Every day, about 5-6 items on the menus will change, dependent on seasonality and availability. Every time I've eaten here, I've had to think about what to choose, as several dishes appealed to me.  As I've dined here six times, I've been able to sample many different dishes.

Sourcing is very important to them, and they never order more than two day's supply of any item. Most everything they source is local, and they firmly believe that local usually tastes better, For example, they order some bread from the Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord and other bread from LaVallee's Bakery in Waltham. All of their meat is from Massachusetts farms, and one of their primary suppliers is Andy Carbone, who raises grass fed cattle. Carbone winters his animals twice, unless many others who only do it once. As such. the cattle are about 26-28 months old when they are slaughtered, which means the meat is likely to taste better. They also use two different seafood purveyors, including Sea To Table and North Coast Seafoods, purchasing fish from the waters off New England and New York. This is the type of sourcing that appeals to me, and should appeal to you as well.

Nino makes their own Focaccia, which is usually served warm, and has a nice consistency, perfect for dipping in sauce. The only issue is that not all the servers bring it automatically, so you might need to ask for some. That is something the restaurant needs to work on.

I've tried a couple of their salads and found both to contain very fresh ingredients, and knowing much of the produce is local makes a difference too. Above is the Nicoise Salad, with tuna from Montauk, which presents a colorful dish, with fresh, clean flavors and plenty of tender tuna.

 he Greek Salad ($9) has cucumbers, tomatoes, farro, and mint yogurt. Again, fresh and clean flavors, with the added nuttiness of the farro. Both of these were good-sized salads, a nice summery treat while you dine on the patio.

They make their Mozzarella in-house, and the basic dish comes with tomatoes ($8). You can also add Argulua or Prosciutto, The mozzarella is firm yet creamy, with a subtle dressing. Another bright , summery dish for patio dining.

One of the Sides is the Fried Polenta ($3), crispy triangles with a creamy, corn center. You could even dip them in a sauce. An excellent blend of textures, they were consistent both times I ordered them.

The Fried Squash Blossom ($3) is stuffed with ricotta, and has proven to be very popular. With a clean, crunchy batter, leading to the creamy center, this can be a decadent treat.

The first dish I enjoyed from Nino was their 6 Hour Meatball ($10), made from pork, beef, and grana. The meatballs were tender and flavorful, a delicious melange of taste and texture. Forget those tough and dry meatballs you might find elsewhere, these are going to please. On a subsequent visit, the meatballs were still as delicious as the first time I enjoyed them. My highest recommendation.

There are usually four different Pizzas ($10-$12) on their menu. They make their own pizza dough, looking to create a pizza somewhere between a Neapolitan and Roman. As a weekday special in their Bar, from 4pm-7pm, you can get a Pizza for only $2 if you purchase a drink. That is an excellent deal. I enjoyed the Potato, Pesto & Guanciale Pizza, which plenty of thinly sliced potatos, salty and tender guanciale and a pleasing pesto sauce. The crust was on the thinner side, which I prefer, and had a good consistency to it. And their wood fired ovens put just the right amount of char on the crust.

Even the simple Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Pizza ($10) will satisfy, especially with its intriguing cheese taste. Order a pizza as an appetizer and share slices with the rest of your group.

The Pasta! These are dishes which truly shine, from their perfectly cooked pasta to the intriguing and tasty blend of ingredients.The Cacio e Pepe ($12), which is only house-made guitar string pasta, pecorino cheese, and black pepper, is the essence of simplicity but impresses with its taste and texture. The creaminess of the cheese, with mild black pepper accents, doesn't conceal the taste of the pasta. This is a famous Roman dish, and Osteria Nino does justice to that tradition.

Another of my favorite pasta dishes is their Fettucine Al Ragu ($12), a traditional southern beef and pork ragu with tomato and grana. A heartier dish, it may not be on the menu for long with summer here, but grab it if you see it on the menu. The ragu bursts with flavor, pleasing any carnivore, and the pasta is the canvas for this meat masterpiece. I've also enjoyed this dish a couple times, and it was consistently excellent. My highest recommendation.

They have two different Lasagnas ($13-$15), one with meat and one without, and the photo above is the Meat Lasagna. It will remind you much of the ragu, combined with ricotta and thin sheets of pasta. The pasta was tender, slicing easily with even just a fork, without being mushy. The flavors were well balanced, and you receive an ample portion.  Another excellent option.

The Short Rib Ravioli ($12), with tomato confit, marjoram, and grana is another hearty meal you might not find on their summer menus, but it shows the potential of their ravioli dishes. The pasta is just the right thickness and tenderness, and contain a flavorful pocket of meat, spices and other ingredients.

As a lunch entree, the Fried Meatloaf ($13), with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce, continues the line of hearty dishes. The meatloaf was tender and moist, with a crispy coating, and though I'm not usually a meatloaf fan, I enjoyed this.

Of the various sandwiches available, I tried the Meatball Sub ($13), which is topped with provolone,and the bread is from the Nashoba Brook Bakery. The bread has been toasted, has a great texture, and the savory meatballs really please. A great choice for a sandwich, and it comes with house-made potato chips.

For dessert, there are a number of Italian specialties, from granita to house-made gelato. Of course, there is Tiramisu ($7), an ample dish of creamy layers, with a nice balance of flavors, where the alcohol does not overwhelm. Chocolate and coffee elements please the palate.

Every Tuesday evening, from 5pm-7pm, the restaurant holds a Wine Tasting in the bar area. For $20,you get to sample three wines and enjoy some appetizers. Each week has a different wine theme and you can check their Facebook page to see the next event. Sam leads the tasting, bringing his extensive knowledge of Italian wines.

I attended their "A Taste of Tuscany", where we sampled the 2012 Valdipiatta Rosso di Montepulciano, 2011 Campi Nuovi Montecucco and 2012 Sesta di Sopra Rosso di Montalcino. Though I liked all three wines, my favorite was clearly the third wine, which impressed with its complexity and depth of flavor. There was plenty of tasty snacks to accompany the wine, and I think these events are a great way to expand your experience and knowledge of Italian wines. I'm sure I'll be stopping by at future events.

Overall, the restaurant scores very high marks from me. I like their philosophy on sourcing, cuisine, and their drinks program, The quality and taste of their food is high, and I believe it's reasonably priced too. It has a fun, casual ambiance and should appeal to a broad range of people. My only quibble at this time is there have been a few, minor service issues, such as failing to offer foccacia. However, as they are still a relatively new restaurant, such minor issues are likely to shake out in the near future. I should give some kudos to Makenize, who has been my server several times, and I've found her to be an enthusiastic and conscientious server.  

I heartily recommend that you check out Osteria Nino and enjoy their pizza to pasta with a glass of Italian wine or an Italian-inspired cocktail. Sit on the patio or grab a seat in front of the pizza ovens. I'm sure you'll enjoy the experience. For now, it's more of a hidden treasure but the word will get out soon enough. Maybe I will see you there as I plan on dining there regularly.

1 comment:

Patti Pendexter said...

Thank you for reviewing this restaurant. I've driven by but didn't know it was serving typical Roman food. I just got back from Rome and there are some very special dishes significant to Rome. One of those dishes that I so want to eat again (plan to make it myself also) is Cacio e Pepe. So glad to see it on the menu.