I often wonder why people live in Mount Adams. Now I know why I might move there -- Mangia Osteria on St. Gregory. In an age where restaurants insist on furnishing dining rooms with anything and everything imaginable, Mangia Osteria gives you the impression you are actually in a restaurant, not an auction hall (think Fridappleby's) or an art gallery (you've been there, haven't you?). The back wall of the elegant room is entirely wine racks and coolers, filled with more than 200 excellent wines. The tables are draped with white cloths and black napkins and (get this) set with silver and appointed with both a wine and water glass. There is no art for sale, just mirrors in lovely frames. There is nothing to distract from the food.
As well there shouldn't be. There is much I could say about how wonderful and attentive our server, Sam, was, or how maitre d' Jodi Donaldson, asked us how we enjoyed nearly every course. I could go on about what a brilliant marketing strategy it is to have a fine dining room next to Guido's, a bar and pizza sort of joint; one kitchen, two venues. (The pizzas looked killer.) I'll stop there.
The food's the thing here. With Sam's help we decide on two appetizers. The Tuna Tartar ($7.95) is perfect, stacked high on a bed of julienned cucumbers. The sushi-grade tuna is roughly chopped to order, seasoned with capers and shallots, surrounded by Chef Henry Warman's Chunky Tomato Gazpacho and served with crustinis. My companion loves it, and she is not as adventurous as some. For me, the quality is what makes it. Each ingredient is fresh, and I can taste every element of the dish -- a characteristic I notice in each course, and a sure sign of an accomplished chef.
We also enjoy the Lemon Ginger Scallops ($7.95). Marinated in ginger and wine (my speculation), grilled and served on, of all things, fried green tomatoes. I almost blow off the tomatoes, but they are a wonderful, crunchy companion for the soft grilled scallops. I would have enjoyed a bit more of the spicy mustard aioli that topped the dish.
We share the Mozzarella Pinwheel Salad ($6.95), a fantastic combination of house-made mozzarella filled with pesto, pine nuts, prosciutto and spinach served on field greens with a tasty balsamic vinaigrette. Red onions and plum tomatoes add acidity and texture but frankly I could eat the pinwheels alone.
I know Osso Buco ($23.95), trust me. I've made it, served it and ordered it dozens of times: Mangia Osteria has one of the best. The dish is braised and slow-roasted veal shanks, served sometimes with a red sauce but, as here, most classically with a veal stock reduction. The veal is roasted with onions and vegetables which some places strain out, but here they are lovingly left to add that extra level of flavor.
This dish has so many taste layers it's difficult to describe them all. Mushrooms sautéed before are added in the end, still a little al dente; a hint of rosemary accents the bouquet garni; I sense a kick of lemon from zest perhaps or maybe a splash of Lemoncillo. All this in a shiny veal sauce that would make the angels cry. We eat every sauce-soaked gnocchi we can find. The bone in the shank is small, and a cocktail fork is barely able to make it in; however, I stealthily flip the meat, and there it is -- the marrow. I wish for a demitasse spoon to get every bit of it, spread on the foccachio and ... indescribable. Perfect.
Wait, there's more. The Wild Mushroom and Crawfish Ravioli ($15.95) is not lost next to the exquisite Osso Buco. Again, with the levels of flavor from the wild mushroom mix in the light raviolis to the Verdicchio wine cream sauce, there is so much to taste. Some might find the crawfish a little strong in flavor, but such is its nature. There are both shiitakes and oyster mushrooms and a hint of rosemary from the sprig that garnishes the dish. Sublime balance is so difficult, and Chef Warman shines in that skill.
I think the Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with Orange ($6) might be too dry until I let it melt in my mouth. The aftertaste is glorious, with a strong hint of orange and a crunch from biscotti. It's a fine way to end our meal here.
The owners, Dave and Jodi Donaldson, and Chef Warman have blended their skills to create a great restaurant. There are too many non-Italian dishes for this to be called an Italian restaurant, but at its heart is the soul of an Italian grandfather, Guido Otto Narcisi, on Jodi's side.
Go! Mangia, mangia! ©
Go: 1111 St. Gregory St., Mount Adams
Hours: 5-10 p. m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Payment: Major Credit Cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads and Vegetable Napoleon, fish options
Accessibility: Handicap accessible; no parking