Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 19 January 2011
A Restaurant Review: Osso Buco

Osso Buco
1662 Third Avenue at 93rd Street, Upper East Side, (212) 426-5422
Getting There: 6 to 96th Street; 4,5 to 86th Street


The understated red awning showcasing the words “Family Style Italian Restaurant” adorns the outside of Osso Buco, a multi-level upper east side restaurant that is as unpretentious as they come.  Part of a Manhattan mini-chain which includes two Nino’s restaurants and a former location in the west village, Osso Buco is considered the “low-end entry” of the bunch, but the tasty fare inside proves no slouch as far as Italian specialties go, and the value is second to none.

The entrance to the restaurant is somewhat cramped as the door opens directly into the bar on more crowded nights, while the host is busy seating other tables.  The well lit dining area however, gives way to an uncluttered staircase leading to the restaurant’s more intimate top floor, a nice touch for a family style eatery.  The atmosphere inside is as unassuming as the awning, as parallels of red, yellow, and black colors set as a backdrop for the restaurant’s mood.  It’s this type of quiet comfort that capably suits parties large and small, boisterous or intimate.

The menu features mostly standard Italian fare, at substandard pricing.  With salads and appetizers well below the $10 range from the “seafood salad,” ($9.95) extra virgin olive oil topping a boatload of shrimp, calamari, octopus, and scungilli, to the “vongole al forno” ($8.95) a battery of baked clams topped with breadcrumbs, garlic, and oregano, the starters set the proverbial table for what’s to come next: huge portions of shareable entrees.  After all, this is family style.

The pasta dishes are an absolute must, considering they have every traditional Italian flavor imaginable.  From the fantastic looking layered “lasagna” ($11.95) to the “rigatoni country style” ($11.95), doused in Italian sausage, peas, and broccoli and a zesty marinara sauce, to a savory “capellini al fruitti di mare” ($14.95) thin strands of angel hair tossed in redmarinara sauce with an assortment of fresh seafood.  We tasted the “penne alla caprese” ($11.95), a heaping portion of pasta topped with freshly homemade mozzarella and savory red tomato sauce.  The oversized plate made us question whether we could handle the portions at Osso Buco, but the mouth-watering traditional concoction of pasta and sauce, reinforced the necessity for doggy bags.  We refused to leave even a drop behind.

Admittedly, some of us were not veal connoisseurs and while we probably should have sampled the actual “Osso Buco” ($22.95) at Osso Buco, we failed to do so.  But we insist, that we strictly avoided it because the rest of the menu appeared so appetizing.  The seafood fare offers a terrific “sea bass marechiara” ($19.95) sautéed in a white wine, garlic tomato sauce and a “lobster scampi” (m/p) broiled with garlic and served with shrimp over linguini.  But we opted for the “chicken paesana” ($12.95), sautéed chicken breasts topped with flavorful and sweet Italian sausage and a side of fresh seasonal green vegetables.  The chicken was thin and tender, sautéed in a light salty sauce.  And the vegetables proved perfect for dousing in said broth throughout the remainder of the meal.

With a total food cost of around $25, the value here is tremendous.  The food is just splendid and the portions are ample enough that four people can leave completely satiated, without feeling like they have a bowling ball in their stomach.  The restaurant and staff are very tactful and pleasant, with quick service, and tasty food.  Osso Buco is nothing especially fancy, but every now and again in Manhattan, it’s commendable to be this simple.  And without a big production, the food sure does go a long way.

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