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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

L'Osteria del Forno Still Does Things on the Right Scale

Posted By on Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 1:39 PM

The Lunatico: Not sure why it's crazy, but it's good... - JANICE C./YELP
  • Janice C./Yelp
  • The Lunatico: Not sure why it's crazy, but it's good...

Part of a series about restaurants that have been around so long they've slipped into a media black hole.

When Wally Tettamanti and Susanna Borgatti opened L'Osteria del Forno in the early 1990s, it was a curiosity. A restaurant with only an oven? An Italian place that barely served pasta? And what was this milk-braised pork the owners kept recommending we try? Still, the house-baked focaccia ― a basket of it brought to your table, warm and crisp, flecked with salt ― was a revelation to many, and the prices matched the scale of the minuscule space.

Tettamanti and Borgatti tried running a larger restaurant at 16th and Guerrero for a time, but closed it after three years. L'Osteria, like the Dude, endures.

The pictures, maps, and copper pans on the wall haven't moved in 20 years. The yellow walls are exactly the same shade. There are still the same mix of tourists and locals who regard the place as an insider's secret. Menu prices have definitely risen, but many of the same dishes that I remember eating in my early 20s are still there ― beef carpaccio, roasted peppers, baked polenta ― all served humbly, without the slightest attempt to make them look like special-occasion food.

The milk-braised pork wasn't on the menu when I went last week for lunch, but my old favorite, roasted radicchio wedges wrapped in prosciutto, was. It's a little pricey these days ($9 for three wedges) but still wonderful: The heat softens the leaves of purple chicory, bringing out an earthiness you wouldn't anticipate if you'd only encountered them raw in a salad mix. The prosciutto aids the transformation, shrinking and crisping into a meaty shell, and so does the herb-flecked mayonnaise we swabbed the radicchio through.

A salad of tuna and white beans could have used more salt and lemon, but the lunatico sandwich (salami, roasted peppers, lettuce and tomato) was just as appealing as ever, due primarily to the airy, crisp focaccia. It was a good sandwich, nothing more ― but nothing less. Which is why I've been going to L'Osteria for almost 20 years.

L'Osteria del Forno:
519 Columbus (at Stockton), 982-1124.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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