I write reviews when we travel, but usually don't think to review places close to home -- but I'm making an exception to review what has become our favorite local restaurant, Vecchia Osteria. It's a homey restaurant in a suburban strip shopping center, so you'd probably expect a basic neighborhood Italian eatery, but this is definitely a cut above. Foods are consistently very well-prepared, from salads -- try the Arugula Sardegna salad, which exemplifies the simple but excellent cooking here -- to the frequently-on-the-specials-menu Branzino fish -- no fancy sauces here, just moist, light lemon, clean and simple and delicious.
There are a lot of nightly specials not on the printed menu, many of which are regulars, like grilled lamb chops or my favorite, sacchettini -- literally "little sacks", somewhat like over-sized tortellini, which are homemade pasta stuffed with fresh pear and ricotta cheese in a gorgonzola cream sauce with walnuts and topped with baby arugula. As another reviewer has noted below, the specials are usually significantly more expensive than the items on the printed menu, but we feel the prices are not unreasonable for the quality. And there's plenty to like form the printed menu, like the salad mentioned above or the Fusilli pasta: spiral pasta in a pink sauce with onions, jumbo lump crab meat, cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and a little hot pepper. Yum, and only $15. Simply, we haven't had a single dish here we haven't enjoyed, in many visits.
The staff is another highlight of Vecchia Osteria. The waiters and waitresses all hustle, but take time with you to explain anything on the menu or offer suggestions. And they're friendly and make you feel completely at home. Most times, you can catch owner-chef Pasquale Palino presiding over the kitchen, or making quick circuits around the dining rooms to greet longtime guests. (It's a family affair: his wife and two daughters also work there.)
For locals who like to eat late, one nice thing about Vecchia Osteria is that it stays busy enough to be a comfortable place to walk into for a late meal. (But at peak times, like 7:30 on Saturday night, you should call ahead for reservations, or you might face a long wait.)
A strong selling point for us is that it's a BYO; we can eat here for less than restaurants with a bar, or put our money into more expensive bottles of wine to compliment the meal. In warm weather months, the outdoor patio is THE place to eat. We always note how couples, foursomes, and larger groups come to dine and often linger over wine and conversation -- it's just got a comfortable, relaxed vibe that sets it apart from most restaurants.
While my wife and I have eaten here many times ourselves and with friends, we just had a dinner for 14 people for a milestone birthday for my father. It was a Saturday night, and the restaurant was packed, including a number of other large parties. That can spell disaster, but everything was spot on, from food to service, throughout the meal. (For large groups, you can arrange fixed price dinner menus -- from everything on the menu, including all the specials -- and they will bury your group in more food than the hungriest crowd can devour!) It was a great evening everyone enjoyed. So I just had to post this review of our little not-so-secret spot to give props for their consistent performance, time after time, for groups small and large.
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