Osteria Tampa occupies a beautiful space on the northern edge of Downtown Tampa’s Franklin Street. It’s large and industrial with an impressive bar and adorned with splashy paintings and the city’s glittery crowd. You could easily step outside and onto a street in New York City or Los Angeles. But the true star of this chic restaurant is celebrity chef Fabio Viviani’s refined yet rustic Italian kitchen and the comforting dishes that come from it. Fabio and his team have created a menu of classics, with a modern twist that breathes new life and surprise into each of them. Technique and expertise are required. Details cannot be overlooked. Precision must be honed. It's the best of dining in Tampa. Osteria has mastered every level, and the experience is pure Italian joy!
Viviani is only a part of an eccentric ownership team that includes professional race car driver, Jason Bell. Also in the owner's box is Rick Lalley, CFO Lou Dommer, plus operators David Anderson and Lanfranco Pescante. This is part of the same group that created Franklin Manor, the hip nightspot just down the street.
According to Anderson, "The customer experience is the focus at Osteria. We wanted to create a menu that is accessible, full of dishes locals love and perfect for every occasion. People can stop by for drinks, a casual dinner with friends or a big celebration and find menu items that fit the event."
Antipasti selections are great for sharing and the Kobe Meatball is fantastic. Weighing in at 12oz, this is definitely not your grandmother’s meatball! Kobe beef is combined with housemade ricotta and parmesan cheese and bathed in a tomato sugo. The grind on the meatball is perfect, allowing just the right texture to appreciate the beef and cheeses. The sugo is left a little chunky and is the right textural mate to the meatball. They serve it alongside a little crostino to sop up the sauce. Order extra crostino so you can enjoy every drop of the sugo! Osteria offers a beautiful antipasti board featuring several Italian meats and cheeses and is great for sharing. For something similar but on a smaller scale, my favorite is the coccoli platter, a combination of smoked prosciutto and stracchino, which is a fresh cow’s milk cheese that is creamy and mild. They come alongside a puffed, crispy-fried dough, truffled honey, and herbed oil. It’s simple, elegant, and pairs perfectly with a glass of wine or any one of the signature cocktails or classic cocktails from the bar. This platter and an Osteria Spritz blooming with Aperol, peach, and prosecco transported me back to the tiny island of Torcello off the Italian coast. Splendido!
The 12oz Kobe Meatball, served on a tomato sugo with crostino. An appetizer to share!
All pasta selections are handcrafted in-house. Squid ink fettucini makes a stunning presentation and tastes delicious. The squid ink creates a dramatic black-colored pasta that is paired with rock shrimp and cherry tomatoes in a white wine and uni butter sauce. The sweetness from the shrimp and lush sea urchin sauce is offset by the acidity of the tomato. This dish really showcases the skill of the kitchen staff. The pasta is cooked to a firm al dente and finishes cooking in the pan, tossed along with the rest of the ingredients. The softened uni butter is slipped in at the very end to add a touch of richness. It may sound simple, but the timing is critical to infuse the sauce into the pasta and get the perfect bite while not overcooking the shrimp. Osteria's timing on this as accurate as a Swiss watch and the result is perfection on a plate. If you like a floor show with dinner, order the rigatoni in a jar. Pasta with all the ingredients of a fine carbonara, plus some artichoke leaves, is packed into a big jar that gets shaken at the table. The result is a creamy masterpiece that gets big flavor from the house-smoked bacon and unexpected artichoke.
Artichoke leaves give a unique twist to the carbonara-esque Rigatoni in a Jar.
The Chianti-braised short rib is another standout among the entrée selections and pure Italian joy. A big, meaty short rib spends most of the day slowly braising in Italian red wine and herbs. Then it’s served on a bed of creamy polenta, some chopped hazelnuts, and parsley gremolata. This is Italian comfort food at its absolute finest. The short rib falls apart with the touch of a fork and is full of beefy, chianti goodness. The polenta is creamy and rich with just the right amount of salt. Put it all together and you get a soul-satisfying mouthful. Wash it all down with one of Osteria’s bold super-Tuscan reds. It will stand up to this dish and clear your palate for the next bite.
Chiati-braised short ribs served over creamy polenta at Osteria in Downtown Tampa.
For dessert, the flourless chocolate cake is served alongside salted caramel gelato and studded with house-made honeycomb candy. The candy is a nice surprise that I’ve never seen with a chocolate cake before. It works well to cut the richness and add a little sweet to the bittersweet. The white chocolate tiramisu is a delicious twist on the classic, adding white chocolate to the mascarpone along with espresso and marsala-soaked ladyfingers. At one point while eating this, I literally picked up the glass to scrape the bottom. I’m going to start bringing my own little rubber scraper with me for desserts like this!
Osteria is dolce-vita on Franklin Street and is enjoying its place as one of Tampa’s premier Italian restaurants. The scene is fresh and finesse and the food is skillfully prepared and exciting and the experience is pure Italian joy. If you haven’t tried it, make reservations today. If you have already experienced it, there is no doubt you have planned your trip back. I’m headed back in two days and can’t wait! Osteria is located at 903 North Franklin Street and open for dinner. Reserve your table online or call the restaurant directly at 813.563.5000.
All photos courtesy of the author.