Oliver’s Osteria continues to impress with authentic dishes and charming ambiance.
By Sharon Stello
From homemade pasta to perfectly grilled steaks, seafood and traditional dishes like chicken Marsala, Oliver’s Osteria offers a taste of Italy tucked away in Laguna Canyon. And locals aren’t the only ones taking notice: After being open for only three years, the restaurant was named this past fall to Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list of eateries that offer a great value (where you can order two courses and a dessert or glass of wine for about $40).
But the value extends far beyond the affordable cost. Diners feel whisked away to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, which inspires the menu and is where owner and Executive Chef Erik De Marchi grew up, often cooking alongside his grandmother. The small bistro features white tablecloths and photos of pasta being made and wine being poured, as well as a romantic patio, which is surrounded by a vine-draped trellis and decked with white lights; an extended patio beneath a tent greatly expands the seating.
This is a place to linger and enjoy. To start the evening, choose a cocktail like La Bella Vita or the Cosmoncello, which blends vodka and limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur, plus fresh lemon and pomegranate juice. Sip while the chef whips up an appetizer like the fried zucchini blossoms filled with ricotta cheese and aromatized with fresh herbs and lemon. Offered as a special item until it was recently added to the menu, the dish comes served on a bed of tomato puree, providing a delightful bite while pondering your next course.
For a pasta option, diners would be remiss not to order the gnocchi with asparagus and bone marrow in a simple but delicious sauce of butter and Parmesan cheese. The delicate gnocchi—small potato dumplings—are light and pillowy while the bone marrow seemingly melts into the sauce and fresh asparagus brightens each bite. It’s a sad moment indeed when this plate is empty.
When it comes time for the entree, choose the grilled lamb chops. This satisfying dish hits several flavor notes with rosemary and garlic seasoning the meat and a mint pesto sauce for dipping, as well as roasted potatoes and broccolini.
The knowledgeable servers are ready and willing to recommend wines to accompany each course, such a vermentino from the Antinori winery in Italy to pair with the gnocchi or a sought-after Amarone red wine with the lamb. The restaurant also plans to host a Tuscany Wine Dinner at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 for $80 per person; seating is limited and reservations are recommended.
Oliver’s Osteria updates its menu seasonally and also offers weekend brunch with bombolini (an Italian doughnut-style pastry filled with chocolate and custard) as well as a traditional frittata and fresh crepes filled with Nutella and mascarpone.
At dinner, the meal should end with something sweet as well. And, at an authentic Italian restaurant, one must try the tiramisu, which features layers of espresso-soaked cake and mascarpone cream for a tempting treat that’s hard to resist. Several other options abound for both dinner and dessert, so there’s always an excuse to come back.
853 Laguna Canyon Road
5-9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday;
noon to 2 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday