Venue Review: Osso Restaurant & Lounge
The Charlotte Observer
1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.; 704-971-0550.
HITS: Strong flavors and smart preparations, especially the “Osso” buco and simple ravioli.
MISSES: One does not sense that the diner comes first.
PRICES: Entrees $16-$33.
HOURS: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; open until 2 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday (late-night menu includes pizzas and some appetizers/antipasti).
You’ll talk about Osso’s look.
You’ll talk about the 12 huge pearlescent “bones” that seem to hold ceiling and floor apart. The orange neon. The enormous mirrors within mirrors and the suggestive photos cut up into ceiling fan blades. You’ll talk about the cowhide ottomans, and the cowhide-textured beams that span walls and ceiling. You’ll try to figure out what covers the equally pearlescent curvy chairs.
When you’ve finished discussing all that – you’ll have a strong opinion: sexy/strained/urbane/exaggerated? – you’ll get to the food.
It’s a short list of Italian fare, well-crafted for the most part, from chef Gene Briggs, who’s done strong work in Charlotte for nearly two decades, most of it at Alex Myrick’s uptown Blue. Here, he’s working for Myrick and Noah Lazes of the N.C. Music Factory. Osso is both a restaurant and a lounge, with DJs (usually starting around 10) several nights – coming up this weekend are two Haunted Castle Parties, with Smashing Pumpkin shots.
As a restaurant, it offers about a dozen entrees, plus appetizers, antipasti and pizzas. Several are standouts, notably the eponymous “Osso” buco. Osso is the Italian word for bone, and the restaurant’s name sprang from that design element.
Briggs substitutes a pork shank for the traditional veal, resulting in a different, but marvelous take, studded with cipollini onions and quartered cremini mushrooms. His ravioli also excel: Three-cheese comes with the shank, while there’s a rich seasonal pumpkin version among the pasta entrees (which, nicely, are available in two sizes).
Grouper is lovely, pan-seared and served over crespelle (small crepes) rolled around ricotta and spinach. Scallops over Anson Mills farro were perfectly cooked and a Barolo braising liquid delicious, though the accompanying short rib chunks too dry. The bibb lettuce salad with Gorgonzola dolce (a milder form of Gorgonzola) and oven-dried tomatoes is a winner, as is pistachio semifreddo served fetchingly melted over Gianduja chocolate brownie (that’s a chocolate with hazelnut).
A few dishes clanged: oily breadcrumbed eggplant “fries”; stale focaccia; a thin-crust pizza with a mushy center despite coming “from our 1600 degree oven.”
You’ll note all the parenthetical explanations above. This menu indulges not only in Italian words that aren’t commonly known, from al mattone (under brick) to bunet (a sweet terrine), it also misspells with abandon, from “ameretti” (amaretti: almond cookies) to “bucco” (buco) to “marscapone” (mascarpone: a cheese).
One assumes the use of Italian is meant to feel sophisticated, but since I overheard at least three diners asking hesitantly what things were, it’s obviously confusing the clientele.
But confusing diners isn’t the worst that can happen.
One evening, the restaurant was about half full, with five or six couples seated on the sides of the small (70 or so) dining room, and the rest at three central tables. About 10 minutes into our meal, a woman stood up, rapped on her glass and began to speak to the group, which was clearly considering the venue for an event. She addressed them for some 15 minutes, loudly and enthusiastically, completely dominating the room for everyone else as well. Our server that night was impeccable (and looked embarrassed), but for diners to lose a quarter-hour to a sales talk? Hard to excuse at this price point.
On another, very slow night, we waited 15-20 minutes for each course, and mistakes were legion, from silverware to plate removal to a missing order. Though all were dealt with quickly and graciously, servers need more training and/or support. No amount of the many flirtily named cocktails (skip the weak Ossome-tini) or wine (note the nice, wide price range on a list that’s about half Italian) will make that moot.
Osso is where The Bachelorette had her first date in Charlotte, and management, being no dummies, has made that essentially its whole online press page. It also makes much of its designer. Francois Frossard did Butter in New York and loves bony columns so much he’s made them something of a signature (see ArKadia in Miami and XVI in New York; I picture a factory molding them from thousands of My Little Ponyskins). At Osso, he’s played the modern/pearly vibe against the simplicity of reclaimed barn wood on the walls and gorgeous original hardwood floors.
Osso – as restaurant – needs more barnwood and less faux bone.