After a week of previews with friends and family services, Osteria Mazzantini has officially opened. Developed by Mockingbird Bistro chef/owner John Sheely in tribute to his mother's Italian heritage, Mazzantini is an upscale casual restaurant along the lines of Ciao Bello and Coppa Ristorante.
Inside the attractive room located at the new BBVA Compass Plaza on Post Oak Boulevard, Edison bulbs glow over comfortable chairs that prove perfect for a long, relaxed meal. Out front, the expansive patio should be a happy hour hotspot once the weather begins to cool. For now, the bar takes up a sizable portion of the restaurant, and there are already $5 happy hour specials nightly from 5 until 7 p.m.
Along with CultureMap's Marcy de Luna and six other friends, I had the opportunity to taste multiple dishes from all four courses on the menu. While things weren't perfect, the restaurant shows a lot of polish for being brand new with real potential to equal the acclaim its competitors earn.
While things weren't perfect, the restaurant shows a lot of polish for being brand new with real potential to equal the acclaim its competitors earn.
Among the antipasti, the standouts included crispy, well-seasoned chicken livers and sweetbreads in the fritto misto ($18) and fegatini toscano ($14) that featured rich, almost creamy chicken and duck liver mousse topped with a sweet balsamic jelly to balance out the flavors. House cured salumi provided a generous portion and wide variety but is kind of pricey at $21. The crust of the prosciutto and arugula pizza could have been slightly crispier for me, but the flavorful topping was spot on.
House-made pastas in the primi section still need a few tweaks. The bucatini all carbonara ($18) arrived lukewarm, without any of the eggy richness that's such an essential component of the dish. However, the pork, veal and spinach filled cappelletti ($19) in a well-balanced tomato cream sauce was one of night's standout dishes.
The kitchen, lead by Sheely and executive chef Paul Lewis, really shone on the three Secundi. Our group struggled to remember enjoying any lamb dish as much as the sliced, medium-rare tenderloin ($42). Fork-tender Osso Bucco ($34) arrived with a creamy, al-dente risotto. The massive pork porterhouse ($36) came with braised red cabbage and could easily feed two if paired with a couple of antipasti.
We were rapidly losing steam but found the motivation to order a couple of desserts. Zeppole arrived with a sweet crust and delightfully soft interior that is a good reminder of why seemingly every culture has its own version of fried dough.
All in, eight people feasted and drank for less than $100 per person including tax and the restaurant's 20% gratuity for parties of six or more. While the room was fairly quiet, we left convinced that won't be the case for long. Once people start to discover Osteria Mazzantini, expect it to take its place alongside Houston's other outstanding Italian options.