Several weeks ago I was a judge at Taste of Laguna and came across Chef Erik di Marchi, chef/owner of Oliver’s Osteria. It was the first time I’d heard of the restaurant, and we were impressed by the offerings that evening. Fast forward several weeks later, and here we were for an early dinner.
Oliver’s Osteria is tucked away in the Laguna Canyon in a center flanked by Laguna Beach Beer Company, and Kitchen. There is a small cozy outside patio that is rather intimate. The restaurant (named after Chef Erik’s son) has been open for about a year, and many of the dishes on the menu pays homage to his hometown of Imola, located in the Bologna region of Italy.
Our evening began with house-made foccacia served with a ramekin of diced tomatoes, to create your own bruschetta. It was fresh and bright, a perfect amuse bouche to start our evening with.
I’m an octopus fiend and Polipo Alla Griglia ($24) was absolutely on my radar. The baby octopus was exquisitely, perfectly tender, while still possessing the chew I like. Accompaniments included fingerling potatoes, watercress, olives and caramelized onions. A very generous portion for a starter, so I recommend sharing this!
When I saw Timballo Di Carciofi ($20) on the menu, I was immediately intrigued by the raw baby artichokes because I’ve never eaten artichokes raw before — or I don’t remember if I did. The thinly shaved artichokes and fennel were presented compiled, dotted with fava beans and walnuts, then topped with shaved parmesan. A drizzle of olive oil and lemon completed. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The textures and fresh flavors of this dish were spectacular, and reminded me food I had eaten in Italy.
Pumpkin Soup ($14), a seasonal item is a must order! Not only was the presentation stunning, but the soup itself was sublime. There’s no cream, relying on the natural flavors of the pumpkin to shine through. Clean, hearty and comforting, this dish was the epitome of the fall season.
Whenever I visit an Italian restaurant for the first time, I will try my best to order pasta, especially if it’s made in-house. Gnocchi Viola ($24) a homemade purple potato gnocchi, was absolutely stunning! The pillowy morsels were incredibly tender, but firm enough that they don’t fall apart when you bite into them. The gorgonzola cheese sauce was simply perfect — the right consistency to envelop the gnocchi, but never overwhelming on the palate. The addition of radicchio brought a welcoming hint of bitterness, balancing the richness of the whole dish.
Rigatoni Cacio E Pepe ($20) was a different variation of a classic dish using short tube pasta instead of linguine at its base. There’s just enough parmesan and pecorino cheeses to season the pasta, but never overpowering. A simple, yet very satisfying pasta.
I’m not a fan of desserts, and especially not Tiramisu ($12) because I don’t care for the texture of the lady fingers. Here, a house-made cookie is substituted for lady fingers, resulting in one of the best tiramisus I have ever experienced. It’s like eating puffy clouds, so airy and not at all sweet — another pet peeve I have with most desserts served in the US. My dining companion was surprised I polished off half the tiramisu, and I will order it again on my next visit.
I know Laguna wants to keep Oliver’s Osteria a secret, but it won’t be a secret for long. This is simply the best Italian food I’ve eaten outside of Italy, and I’ve eaten Italian food the world over! The menu is thoughtful, creative, and I felt the love and passion in every bite. Do remember that menu changes regularly, so some of the items may not be available when you visit. I can’t wait to return again, very soon!
853 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA 92651