Meals I've Eaten, Issues I've Seen & Operations Advice


Madison Restaurant Week Day 3- Osteria Papavero

Day 3 of Restaurant Week was a gloomy, misty one so I was happy to join my friend Phillip for lunch at one of my favorite Madison restaurants, Osteria Papavero.  I don’t throw around the “favorite restaurant” phrase with abandon, but I do get asked the question a lot.  The answer depends on a few factors, but Osteria Papavero is always on the top of my special occasion list.  The quality of the food and quaintness of the space keep bringing me back. I have been to Osteria at least threes times in the past five years of Restaurant Week and the food never disappoints…unfortunately, this time, there was some disappointment.

OP 1We started with a Farro and Pesto Salad and Wild Mushroom Soup for appetizers.  Farro is a grain similar to barley.  It was cooked to a slighty chewy al dente that pushes back just a touch when you eat it.  This is as it should be.  The farro was tossed with high quality, flavorful olive oil and pesto that was so bright it made me think of summer.OP2  The portion was so generous that I might have been full eating just that for lunch.  Delicious. I will be trying to recreate this at home!  The Wild Mushroom soup was refreshingly in a tomato base instead of a congealed white flavorless base. There were several types of mushrooms, still nicely firm, and it was complimented with olive oil and parmesan. Hearty, rice and earthy.  A great start.

OP4For entrees we chose the Pizza of the day (Pizza con Salame Piccante) and one of the Pasta’s of the Day.  The pizza had a thick crust with a flavorful tomato sauce, a spicy house made salami and a good balance of cheese. It was a bit heavy on crust however.

The pasta, one of three offered, was a mix of mostly “broken pasta” and brown lentils with a sprinkle ofOP3 parmesan and herbs.  The light sauce that accompanied it was relatively flavorless and, thus, so was the whole dish.  The “broken pasta” seemed to essentially be three to four types of different pasta scraps…rotini, pappardelle, lingini, maybe another?  All types were overcooked.  The idea of trying to get different shapes, sizes and thicknesses of pasta to a perfect al dente when you are trying to cook them all together seems difficult, but I’m not certain how it was made.  My big question was not about the lack of flavor, but about the decision to serve guests broken scraps of pasta? I’m all for saving money in a restaurant and utilizing every bit of food you can to hold down food costs. I preach it all the time to my clients, but I think this dish went too far.  Old bread turned in bread pudding- disguised. Cake scraps turned into cake pops- cute and no one realizes that’s how their made. Hell old red wine turned into Sangria even tastes good with fruit juice added, but this literally felt like being served a plate of broken potato chip crumbs and no french onion dip.  Restaurant Week should be the week restaurants showcase what they do well.  Seems obvious right?  Pretty consistently I find they are so focused on food costs and making it easy on themselves that they fail to make an impression on what could be return customers.  This is the time to wow them and assure they are coming back.

OP6Osteria knows how to wow with their Budino (butterscotch pudding) for sure! It has a cult following in town like no other dessert I know and for good reason…some have tried to replicate it, but no one comes close to it’s rich & velvety glory.  Paired with one of there well-made and generous sized cappuccinos and you’ll want to while away the afternoon. We also had the Tortino al Limone e Ricotta. A warm lemon and ricotta cake served with a vibrant berry compote and smooth lemon curd. I’m not sure the cake was meant to be served warm, but I thought it really elevated the dish.  The cake was moist and not too sweet, which allowed for the tartness of the lemon curd and berries to shine. Op5

My experience with Osteria tells me the broken pasta dish is an outlier and I’ll certainly be back again to test that hypothesis!





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