Mr. Bugigangas and I were feeling like Italian tonight. Our Italian vacation is still a few months away, and we're impatient, so it seems like every couple of weeks we're reaching for a bottle of wine and pasta to "matar as saudades." Tonight we wanted to try someplace different, and ended up settling on Osteria Dell'Angolo. I called around 6:30pm, which isn't really recommended for a same-day reservation, but because we were eating around 8:00 pm, it wasn't a problem. When we arrived, there were perhaps three other tables in the entire restaurant. When we left, around 10:15, there was a line of people waiting at the bar area downstairs and it had been packed solid for a good hour. Brazilians like to eat late, so as a general rule, we've found it makes sense to beat the rush and go between 8:00 and 8:30 to ensure good service and no frustrations with an overwhelmed kitchen.
I felt like I remembered seeing the name somewhere, and of course, I memorized the number incorrectly, so we got out of the taxi a block too soon. The Osteria sits on the corner of Prudente de Morais, which is why the name rang a bell. I've often wondered as I passed by on the bus whether it was an actual restaurant or just a front for the lax, Brazilian wing of the Mafia. From the outside, it's slightly shabby and distressed, with a sign that probably hasn't been changed in 30 years and plants growing up and blocking the windows on the second story. Inside, it feels like Italy. White cloths cover the tables and the waiters bring you a replacement for your dropped napkin on a china plate rather than soil it with their own fingers. Exposed brick arches, ceiling beams and orchids are about the only decorations. We were seated in an upstairs table next to the window "box" which was full of the greenery I'd seen from the street.
In good machismo tradition, the wine list was handed to the male at the table, and I had to ask for menus. Pardon me, but I'm not quite to the point of submission where my husband gets to choose both my wine AND my meal for me! Wine prices seemed suprisingly reasonable and I wished I'd brought my checkbook, as they were running a special: pay with cash or check and get 15% off your bill if you buy a bottle of wine. Hope the promotion is still valid when we go next time...
I had the fish in a salt crust and creamed spinach, both of which were divine. The spinach was neither a sopping mess or a gooey green ooze, as most Rio restaurants seem to serve it, but instead was perfectly chopped, drizzled with butter, cream, garlic and a bit of seasoning, so the spinachness shone through. I savored it like it was ice cream. Seriously. The fish "ao sal grosso" was so large when it came out I nearly choked on my wine and began frantically contriving how I was going to con Mr. B. into sharing it with me. A small-child-sized platter housed a fish shaped lump of salt that the waiters proceeded to crack, chop, decapitate and eventually lay out in a beautiful filet pattern on my plate. And the flavor...oh, the flavor...in the end, I ate all but three bites because I had to try dessert and there simply WASN'T ROOM.
Mr. Bugigangas had a Caprese salad and pasta, which he proclaimed "really good." I nibbled but was much too interested in my own food to care about his, selfish me.
By the time we were halfway through our meals, the second floor was teeming with diners. We were the youngest people in the place (children excluded), but the clientele exuded that mature "I know a good thing when I eat it" vibe. Definitely not the place to see and be seen, but that is a good thing, under the circumstances. We both commented on how it felt like a "real" Italian restaurant, like Roberto's, where he ate several times a week while in Rome. The kind of kitchen that dishes out soul-satisfying fare with minimal frill or fuss. I'm a foodie and yet I totally appreciate that. We'll definitely be going back!
Paul Redfern 40, Ipanema