Restaurant review: Osteria By Fabio Viviani features celebrity chef's spin on classic Italian
Celebrity Chef Fabio Viviani's new Downers Grove restaurant offers the kind of quiet atmosphere that encourages conversation. And that's good news because you will want to talk about the food at Osteria By Fabio Viviani.
Viviani might be best known for his television appearance on Bravo's hit series "Top Chef" -- where he earned the Fan Favorite title. But he's also a recurring guest on national television shows such as "Good Morning America," "The Rachael Ray Show" and others. Plus, he's behind Chicago restaurants Siena Tavern, Prime & Provisions and Mercato, as well as others stretching from San Diego to New York.
He launched Osteria By Fabio Viviani in October, and the new restaurant bills itself as a place for traditional, authentic Italian food.
Located in the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel & Conference Center Chicago-Downers Grove, Osteria features dark, eclectic decor, including room-dividing barn doors that separate the morning breakfast area from the restaurant.
The bar offers a menu of craft cocktails such as the Italian Negroni made with gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, grapefruit zest and rosemary and the Osteria Sour crafted with amaretto, bourbon, Meletti Amaro, lemon juice, egg white and bitters. My dinner companion and I were drawn more to the thorough wine list, however. The reds include many from Italy, as might be expected, but there was a good range of whites and other wines, too.
The menu exudes comfort with craftsmanship. The meats are slowly roasted, the pastas and salads made with fresh ingredients, and the entrees, while familiar, are stamped with Viviani's spin on classic flavors.
We browsed the list of intriguing appetizers, including the Braised Octopus and the Tuna Crudo, and turned to our server for a recommendation. Discovering that Chef Viviani is known for his meatballs, we had to give them a try. An appetizer portion of juicy, flavorful meatballs is served on a bed of creamy polenta with ricotta cheese. There is plenty to share for two, and it's warm and fragrant as well as flavorful -- comfort food at its best.
My friend and I decided to split a Mediterranean Field Greens salad served with balsamic dressing, and the kitchen graciously divided it, saving us from fumbling around with wayward lettuce leaves. Each of us got plenty of the roasted peppers, pickled onion, Kalamata olives, cucumbers and feta cheese. Two other tempting items on the salad menu, the Chianti Poached Pear and the Young Kale Caesar, will have to wait until another visit.
Pizzas made in a wood-fired oven include a Margherita with fresh mozzarella, hand-torn basil, olive oil and tomato sauce; Roasted Mushroom with truffle Parmesan cream, caramelized onions, mozzarella and rosemary; and the Osteria pizza with roasted ham, Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and creamy tomato sauce.
We bypassed the pizzas and ordered the Braised Lamb Shank and the Fettuccine Short Rib Sugo for our entrees.
The lamb shank was the standout here, with its I-could-eat-it-with-a-spoon texture and tender taste. This dish was served with asiago gnocchi and a Gorgonzola sauce that gave it an added pop. The flavors came together with an earthy, creamy, dreamy effect.
While the short rib portion of the fettuccine dish was flavorful and the pasta itself was perfectly al dente, the overall result was a little dry. It could have used less meat and more sauce. While the dish is no longer an option for dinner, it is offered on the lunch menu.
Dessert choices include Viviani's take on tiramisu, flourless chocolate torte, panna cotta and assorted gelato and sorbets, among other items. We opted for the Limoncello cake with berry coulis.
This confection was the perfect way to finish the meal with its light lemony chiffon-style cake, lemon cream and shavings of white chocolate. It was bright in flavor from the lemon and the tart berries, and yet airy on the tongue. We also enjoyed the salted caramel gelato. The flavor favored the caramel to start, with the salt helping to build toward a deeply toasted butter taste. Delicious.
The service was attentive, but our server could have been more knowledgeable about the menu and how dishes were prepared. I chalked this up to the fact that the restaurant hadn't been open long.
As the hotel's main restaurant, Osteria must play to a wide variety of tastes, but the menu doesn't play it safe. And that's good news for diners.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
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Osteria By Fabio Viviani
2111 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove, (630) 434-3896, osteriadownersgrove.com
Setting: Warm and eclectic
Entrees: $12 to $40
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily