We are so excited to be featured in the July 10, 2018 edition of Creative Loafing
Preview dinner offers a taste of anticipated Tampa Italian restaurant Osteria
“Pasta doesn’t wait.”
That was celebrity chef, restaurateur and big personality Fabio Viviani, best known for his debut stint on Top Chef, instructing guests at Monday night’s invitation-only preview dinner of Osteria to help themselves to the fourth course — carbonara in a jar — as soon as it arrives on the table.
And, I mean, who were we to argue?
“There’s gonna be a Mason jar. In this case, an oversized Mason jar to share family-style,” Viviani said, explaining the dish to the backdrop of Franklin Manor’s indoor bar in downtown Tampa. “Each Mason jar will contain cooked pasta, Parmesan sauce. We’re gonna have roasted pork belly here, roasted Brussels sprouts, egg yolk, salt and pepper. Then we’re gonna shake the jar and emulsify the sauce in one delicious, creamy concoction, and then we’re gonna pour that from the jar tableside.
“Now we do it family-style. When Osteria opens, it’s gonna be a lot smaller jar in the middle — and at that point, it’s all yours.”
The buzzed-about, upscale-casual Italian bar and kitchen’s preparation of carbonara in a jar is a showpiece in itself. Yet what was even more telling about the Osteria sneak peek is how executive chef Joe Caratozzolo and his staff lovingly cooked the meal behind the scenes… around back, on the patio and inside the Franklin Manor food truck that Carriage House occupies during regular business hours.
“Let’s not forget this guys: We’re cooking out of a damn food truck,” said Viviani.
Targeting a mid-September launch, Osteria is a joint effort between Viviani and Nocturnal Group founders and Franklin Manor owners David Anderson and Lanfranco Pescante — and the chef’s first restaurant locally (he operates 16 venues nationwide, including the flagship Osteria at Los Angeles International Airport). The Tampa newcomer, ICYMI, is taking shape at 915 N. Franklin St., across the street from Franklin Manor at the bottom level of the NINE15 high-rise apartments.
Osteria isn’t ready for the public yet, hence the location of the dinner, but the 150-seat restaurant will feature 3,500 square feet of interior space with a mezzanine/private room overlooking the bar area. Plus, a 1,700-square-foot patio.
Having initially met through a mutual friend in Italy, Viviani, Pescante and Anderson go back several years. However, it wasn’t until 10 months or so ago that the trio reconnected. Here’s the lowdown: The chef was in town to do an event with his good friend, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant founder Tim McEnery, who suggested they check out Franklin Manor — which McEnery said is “crushing it,” as Viviani put it — one night. Sure enough, they did.
Unbeknownst to Viviani, Anderson and Pescante had cold-emailed him about a potential partnership, along with nine of the country’s other foremost Italian chefs.
“[Viviani’s] going through his emails, he saw Franklin Manor. Because he was here and saw it was a good venue, he thought, ‘OK, well let me at least contact these guys back and see if we can work something,’” said Anderson. “Two weeks later, we’re in Chicago, made a deal two weeks later.”
Fast forward to the present and yesterday’s preview dinner, which offered a taste of what guests can expect from their rustic, refined collaboration, starting with the drinks. We began with a pair of specialty sippers — Elderflower Mule (vodka, St-Germain, basil, watermelon juice, lime juice, Peychaud’s bitters) and Culaccino (Leblon Cachaça, Midori, Green Chartreuse, lime juice, pineapple juice, coconut water) — developed by Osteria’s two mixologists, one of them being Tampa cocktail pioneer Ro Patel.
A frozen drink is also planned to rival Franklin Manor’s popular frosé, which some of us (me, guys, it’s me) are especially excited about.
On the food side, puffed coccoli introduced the six-course spread, a dining experience that was part family-style and part sit-down. The crowd-pleasing coccoli — meaning “to cuddle” in Italian — is baked, lightly fried and plated with cold-smoked prosciutto, truffle honey, herb oil and soft stracchino cheese. It’s one anticipated staple of the bar and kitchen.
Viviani suggested popping open each nugget of bread, then stuffing it with a piece of cheese and some prosciutto to make a sandwich.
“Now, mind you, there is a little bit of honey on it, so some finger licking is allowed,” he said.
Grass-fed butter-poached lobster and avocado salad with wild arugula, honey grapefruit vinaigrette, shaved celery and fennel followed, as did an olive oil-braised octopus the chef was 70 percent happy with because it wasn’t Spanish; his philosophy is that the protein needs to come from the Mediterranean Sea.
The final course before dessert was a spin on chicken marsala with roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and chicken skin chicharrones. But a sweet ending — in the form of Fabio’s Grandma Bombolini — was worth the wait. Does it get much better than dunking what are basically mashed potato doughnuts, minus the holes, in a choice of vanilla custard, chocolate sauce or berry coulis? Nah.
According to Viviani, not everything we sampled will end up on the Osteria menu, which consists of classic recipes executed in a more modern, new-age way that doesn’t leave guests feeling stuffed; they’re still testing out dishes in trial-and-error mode. Same goes for the architectural renderings showcased on a slideshow throughout the evening — those aren’t an accurate representation of the final product, either.
Their philosophy on hospitality, though, is a sure thing.
“For us, the location in the city is not as important as the people that you team up with to do it… All we want to really do is make people happy with food and drinks,” the chef said. “That’s all we know how to do.”
Osteria is the trio’s first foray into figuring out the dynamics of their partnership, and it won’t be their last. Early on in the sneak peek, Pescante shared that he and Anderson are working on a couple of additional restaurant projects with Viviani.
“We’re not just doing this one,” said Pescante. “In fact, we’re already looking at a second and third location with him for two other amazing concepts that he has and he wants to bring to Tampa. We’re looking to kind of fit in with all the best groups.”
When asked to elaborate, Pescante told CL they’re in talks with the minds behind three major developments in Cigar City: Water Street, Midtown and the Riverwalk Place tower.
“In each one of them, they want us to put a concept, so we’re deciding which one makes sense for us,” he said.
Viviani added: “We’re gonna diverge from Italian and do a few other concepts — maybe something Spanish, something more casual, maybe a steakhouse. We’re looking at different options, and we’ll explore whatever fits best.”