I love Italian food. I’ve wandered through Italy trying gnocchi in Verona, cannolis in Sicily, black ink pasta in Venice and consider myself somewhat of a “cibo Italiano” connoisseur. Last night I had an opportunity to check out the new Amalfi Coast inspired restaurant at the Mirage called Osteria Costa and what a night! I’m not a food reviewer, but it was such an amazing experience, I need to tell you about the evening.
The restaurant is an open air concept with several seating options. You can snuggle up to the pizza oven counter, drink Campari at the bar and watch Italian soccer teams or have a casual table with full service and a wine list. We met the resident sommelier who was literally an encyclopedia about Italian wineries, grape types, regions and anything else one might want to know about fermented fruit. Everything is cooked in the open, so you can smell the aged Parmesan and the balsamic vinegar as soon as you arrive.
We had a choice of ordering family style or letting the restaurant bring us “small portions” paired with various wines. Which would you pick? I always trust a good restaurant’s opinions over my own so the choice was easy. The Negronis arrived with a slice of orange peel and the obligatory giant ice cube. Sparking Italian water and bread with olive oil were placed on the table. I had my eye on the carpaccio and asked about it. “Oh, you’ll definitely be getting some of that” Chris said with a twinkle in his eye. What happened in the next ten minutes was a food blur. At least four people came by to drop off various dishes until our table was filled with every single appetizer the restaurant offered. Homemade burrata cheese with tomatoes served on a sprig of vine, giant meatballs in a thick tomato gravy with creamy ricotta, cheese filled focaccia, fritto misto, and the best beef carpaccio I can recall in a long time (maybe ever). As the waitress tried to pry the plate of the last bits of beef and arugula from my hands, I was told only to eat a few bites of each dish. “There’s a LOT MORE coming.” We soon discovered she was not kidding.
Next came a flurry of pasta dishes. There was a delectable linguine with clam and lemon butter, a hearty rigatoni, fettuccini with a ragu’ that tasted like pot roast on steroids, plus less common but equally delicious dishes such as fusilli, casarecce, and agnolotti. The pastas are literally made as you order them- they have some magical machine in the restaurant that takes wheat, eggs and durum flour and transforms the ingredients into various shapes that go directly into the boiling water. It’s not your supermarket boxed pasta. This is the good stuff that tastes even better than what I’ve had in Italy. There was only one problem. We had already been served over a dozen dishes and we were getting full. You can’t help but eat that last clam or bite into one more of those cheesy agnolottis, but even Adam Richman from Man vs Food would have had issues.
We literally ran out of room. The table was full and so was my stomach. Dishes had to be taken away to make room for pizza: wood oven cooked pie with Italian salame and slathered with cheeses and Calabrian chiles. The pizza was amazing, but I was so full it was hard to eat more than a few bites. Each course had been accompanied by wine. There was a Tuscan Chianti, a Nebbiolo, and a Super Tuscan wine from Piemonte. Try as I may, I had a table full of partially filled wine glasses and Italian beer and little chance of drinking more than a few sips of each. I wanted to take the pizza home but I was traveling and there was no “home” to take it. The cheese and salame were so good, I forced a few more bites before it was removed.
I assumed that a waiter would be bringing by a dessert tray in a few moments, but I was wrong. We hadn’t received the main courses yet! Seriously? A giant chicken Parmesan smothered in red sauce and cheese was placed in the center of the table. Next to it, an entire fish. The presentation was beautiful. Costa uses special custom made Italian style plates with olive shaped painted splotches fired into the ceramic to give even the dishes personality. I was only able to manage a few bites and started to feel like one of those stereotypical Italian film characters whose mama is feeding him her homemade recipes and telling him he needs to eat more to be a strong boy. The staff could tell I’d done my best and they whisked the plates away and asked me if i was ready for dessert. I was curious. I won’t lie. I have an insatiable sweet tooth and in spite of the fact I was completely full, I knew I couldn’t leave without at least one bite of tiramisu. Fortunately they waited a few moments before bringing the piece d’ resistance. Or should I say pieces?
Rather than a dessert tray as one might expect, the waiters brought a plate heaped with 5 different cakes; and yet even more was coming. A bright spumoni gelato produced with the colors of the Italian flag and a bowl of tiramisu with “Costa” spelled out in cocoa powder on the top completed the collection. It was half of the table filled with Italian delights that I’m fairly sure covered every dessert on the menu.
The restaurant’s theme is based on cuisine that you’d find on the Amalfi coast and no meal in this part of Italy is complete without a shot of chilled limoncello. Americans typically love or hate this citrus elixir. Some love the lemony robust taste, others compare it to drinking lemon pledge. Costa creates their own limoncello, blending the liqueur with grapefruit, berries and other flavors to make a drink more palatable for Americans. I thought they might bring one, but they brought 4 different flavored shots. The berry flavored one was especially nice. The manager told me that they are constantly experimenting with different tastes, taking the traditional and mixing it with something unexpected.
Our table had turned into a bit of a spectacle with the casual diners looking at the infinite number of courses that we had been served and probably wondering if we were famous or just REALLY REALLY liked food. The food was amazing, the pasta the freshest I’ve ever had and the limoncello would have even made my Italian grandma happy. That is if I actually had an Italian grandma.