Following the local food scene can skew your perspective. Read enough about a new restaurant, hear enough buzz, see enough tantalizing photographs, and suddenly, what was a normal quality eatery starts to carry the immense weight of importance. The hype raises expectations as it draws in more customers, but it can also make the first experience with a restaurant oddly dissonant, like there is a difference between trying out this hotly buzzed restaurant and the actual experience of eating and socializing in said restaurant’s environment.
I find myself most wary of this disconnect when it comes to Italian restaurants. It doesn’t help that I have in-built dismissal of them. Maybe it’s leftover hard feelings from places like Olive Garden or even the “beloved” Bloomfield fixture that is Del’s on Liberty Avenue, but I always feel like I’m getting ripped off. Noodles, sauce, maybe meat, maybe some veggies. Add a crappy glass of wine and some bread. Great, now pay $30. Congratulations. You spent three times the amount of money you would have if you had made the same dish – and you could have, believe me – at home. No matter how much a place is hyped to me, if it’s an Italian restaurant, I’m unlikely to follow-up on the praise. And if I do, it’s hardly ever an experience that turns me around on Italian dining. It sounds harsh – and please, devoted consumers of Italian food, do not misunderstand me, as I do not mean to disparage the cuisine itself – but I’d rather be in the kitchen with pasta than in a restaurant or cafe. At least I know exactly where my money is going and the quality it has been spent on.
Still, my prejudice against Italian restaurants and my normal underlying hesitancy of hype did not dissuade me from visiting Osteria 2350, a fairly new restaurant in the style of a casual tavern, less upscale than the norm of the cuisine, and thereby somehow less intimidating and more promising. A quick scan of the menu online affirmed how casual the dining experience was sure to be – not a dish over $12, with most of the small plates $3 or $4 – not to mention inexpensive. This combined with the highly favorable buzz practically made up our minds for us.
Expecting a Friday night crowd, we were pleasantly surprised at how low-key the surroundings were. Behind the Right By Nature market, across the street from the Cork Factory apartments, Osteria is remarkably inconspicuous, offering an attractive environmental mix of tavern and cafeteria. The lighting is soft and golden, the tables are mix of small two-seaters and large wooden fixtures with long benches to match. There’s a counter/bar area and a little television in the corner for sporting events. We were seated in front of the dessert display case and the large chalkboard advertising what was available. A little kid played amongst our coats hanging on a coat rack. It was all very calm, very pleasant, even sedate.