Italy meets American steakhouse at Osteria Posto, a new restaurant from Joe Cassinelli, chef-owner of Davis Square, Somerville, hotspots Posto pizzeria, The Painted Burro, and Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar. The executive chef is Robert Fathman, whose 30-plus-year Boston cooking career spans Grill 23 & Bar, The Federalist, Red Lion Inn, Azure at the Lenox Hotel, Legal Harborside, and Les Zygomates.
Strictly speaking, Osteria Posto isn’t an “osteria” as Italians define it — an informal, affordable tavern serving food and wine. Located in a high-tech industrial park, just off Route 128 in Waltham, this chic restaurant — blond wood, chocolate leather banquettes, giant lampshade chandeliers, and windowed wine wall — is a suburban outpost of upscale downtown dining that seemingly exists primarily to feed the neighboring companies and business travel hotels that surround it. “We get a lot of expense accounts,” confides our server. Translation: Weeknights are busy, weekends, less so.
Whether the boss is paying or it’s on our own dime, we all expect pricy restaurants — particularly steakhouses — to deliver the cuisine and service to justify the cost. Osteria Posto, which opened in November, can improve on both counts.
The lengthy menu features both Italian and chophouse fare. You can order a delectably authentic bowl of stewed trippa (tripe), served up as you might find it at a real osteria in Rome, in spicy tomato sauce with a spoonful of grated Pecorino on top. Or you can order a classic beef tartare of minced beef, Savora mustard, anchovies, capers, and roasted red pepper, garnished with grated, cured egg yolk. The yolk contributes unnecessary saltiness to an already excessively salty tartare.
Fried Point Judith calamari are underdone so we send them back. Second time around, the calamari are golden brown, cooked through, and excellent dipped into tart lemon aioli. Plump lamb meatballs sit in spicy smoked tomato sauce, enlivened with a hearty hit of mint. A swirl of melted goat cheese deftly cuts the acidity.
Celery fans will swoon over a salad that features slivered celery hearts, celery leaves, frisee lettuce, and shaved Parmesan, tossed in lightly truffled vinaigrette and presented on a bed of celery-root puree. It’s a refreshing, palate-cleansing salute to a vegetable too often relegated to tuna sandwiches and Buffalo wings. Beet carpaccio of sliced red, rainbow, and golden beets, strewn with crumbled Gorgonzola picante, chopped pickled watermelon, and pistachios and drizzled with vincotto (a balsamic-like red wine reduction) is almost too pretty to eat. Don’t let that stop you.
Appetizer portions are large enough for several people to comfortably share.
In a restaurant where main courses average in the low $30s and steakhouse options climb into the $40s, house-made pasta provides a delicious refuge for diners on a budget. Our favorite is the agnolotti dal plin — pillowy, Piedmontese ravioli bursting with creamy Parmesan polenta, in a pool of peppery goat Bolognese. Lobster mousseline-filled tortellini in emerald green spring-pea brodo is dolloped with Parmesan crema and decorated with chive sprigs. It’s luxuriously rich and seasonally celebratory.
Both the slow-cooked beef short rib and braised pork shank fall to pieces at the touch of a fork. The beef is in a deep, dark Barolo wine sauce you’d enthusiastically spoon up . . . if you had a spoon. Sautéed kale, seared cipollini onions, and pureed butternut squash make complementary companions. The pork, braised in white wine and chicken stock, is juicy; it comes with more of that sautéed kale, some of the creamy Parmesan polenta from the agnolotti, and a sweet mostarda chutney of apricots, cranberries, and raisins.
Some believe the best way to judge a kitchen’s proficiency is by its roast chicken. Regrettably, Osteria Posto’s chicken goes awry. The skin is limp, the breast is dry, and promised rosemary chicken jus is a thick demi-glace, not jus. We love a Tuscan seafood stew of halibut, head-on shrimp, baby octopus, mussels, and squid poached in zesty tomato-chile broth with olives. It’s beautiful, basic, briny, and brimming with fish.
Steakhouse proteins are served solo; sides are a la carte. We happily devour an 8-ounce cap steak (a.k.a. coulotte steak or sirloin strip), a cut known for its buttery tenderness. Brushed with a glistening glaze of caramelized shallots, marrow, and vincotto, it is exceptionally tasty. Lemon-stuffed, whole branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) is roasted until its meaty flesh flakes easily off the bone. Roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and bacon are savory-sweet. Roasted heirloom carrots, sprinkled with an Egyptian spice blend made from crushed hazelnuts called dukkah, aren’t worth the $11 dollar price tag.
Ask sommelier Joe Fisketti to guide you through the extensive wine list with bottles from Italy and around the world. Fisketti recommends a 2013 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba, whose subtle cherry fruit is great with the braised meats, steak, and everything tomato sauce. A crisp and aromatic 2014 Le Monde Friulano (a Northern Italian varietal not dissimilar to Gruner Veltliner) is cellared too cold. Once it opens up, it pairs wonderfully with the seafood and chicken.
Desserts are hit or miss. We like the chocolate delice — sort of a dense, chocolate flan gussied up with pulverized sea salt caramel, whipped cream, raspberries, and blackberries. A parfait of coconut panna cotta layered with mango gelee and passion fruit syrup is insufferably sweet. The apple crostata would have been truly awesome, had it been served warm.
Service at Osteria Posto is a work in progress. Be prepared to pour your own wine and watch water glasses go unfilled and napkins go unfolded should you leave the table. Bread is taken away when your appetizer plates are cleared. There are no butter knives. Servers are parsimonious handing out spoons. Tables aren’t always wiped clean between courses. And don’t ask about the specifics of what it is you’re eating — the wait staff is foggy about the details of the admittedly complex menu.
Memo to management: Decide what background music you want to play and stick with it. Mixing your employees’ playlists can be problematic. Is four decades of pop hits (Marvin Gaye to Adele) the musical statement you really want to make?
99 Third Ave., Waltham, 781-622-1500, www.osteriaposto.com All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $12-$19. Entrees $21-$48. Desserts $8-$11.
Hours Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat 5-10 p.m., Sun 5-9 p.m.
Noise level Loud
What to order Trippa, celeriac salad, agnolotti dal plin, braised pork shank, Tuscan seafood stew, cap steak.
Mat Schaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.