I don't know how to praise a food establishment without feeling like I am putting another one down or neglecting someone. I don't do Top Lists or Favorites for this reason, nor do I make posts like this often. The last time I did was back in April of 2019 when I made an Instagram post about CorkScrew BBQ, and I still feel bad about it sometimes.
So when I experienced Ostia for the first time, I felt a little guilty with how much I enjoyed it. Though chef-owner Travis McShane is a Houston native, he made a career outside the great state of Texas. Enjoying his restaurant so much made me feel like I wasn't loving my other local "kids" enough... or as much. For a lot of you, this will be the first time reading something like this that I wrote and I ask that you understand that by complementing Ostia, it does not mean I don't love your restaurant too! I'm just trying something new :)
Ostia's RESY description reads: Ostia is a “New American” restaurant with Mediterranean and Italian undertones. To us, that means a fun menu that is ever-changing, eclectic, and honest. Made up of a la carte meats, pastas, seasonal salads, diverse sides, while focusing on the philosophies of farm to table, seasonality & simplicity. Our efforts will be focused on sourcing local and sustainable food while being a neighborhood restaurant.
I really think this is underselling it.
When my wife told me we were going to Ostia for my birthday, I honestly didn't know much about the restaurant. I did the typical Instagram search, browsed a few photos, read that the restaurant's design (done by Jon de la Cruz) was "handsome", and then put it out of my mind. I honestly had not put this restaurant on my radar for some reason even though it had been highlighted by Texas Monthly in their "Best New Restaurants of 2021".
So come birthday day I put on my Sunday best (which is a collard shirt and dress pants for me), and we drove into, what I'm going to call, the Montrose area. They have a parking lot (THANK GOD!) within quick walking distance of the restaurant, so one of my pet peeves of dinning in Montrose was instantly eliminated. So off to a GREAT start. The weather just happened to be perfect so the walk was actually a nice bonus.
My wife and I were greeted at the host stand and promptly taken to our table.
Now... I have to explain what dining out with me is like. When my wife and I were first dating, she honestly did not enjoy eating out with me. I was constantly scanning the room, watching the kitchen, observing the wait staff, checking the flow of reservations... it's like having restaurant ADD with me. I have been a part of the restaurant world since I was 15, so I am always looking at how one establishment does something and how it works. On our first few dates I would be critical of the restaurant, pointing out the errors or mistakes. But one time while I was eating with my father (who also had to endure my ADD) he simply commented, "It's easy to see what is wrong. What is harder is seeing what is working and putting it into action. The best operators and establishments will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction without you ever noticing why."
So when we were walking through the restaurant to our table in the air conditioned outdoor terrace, I all but snapped my neck watching the "casually-chic dining space" (as Ostia puts it on their website). So now that you are familiar with my restaurant ADD you'll understand why my wife was almost upset that she didn't pick a table closer to the action. There are tables where you can see the chefs in action, there is an area where you could watch the fresh pasta and pastries being made, and there was patio seating area where you could observe the entire establishment from a distance but still feel part of the cozy environment.
But tonight, I'd be turning off my ADD. Our table sat me perfectly where my view and my sole focus would be centered on the most incredible woman, someone who I had not been out on a date with like this in a long time due to COVID, and the person who wanted to make my birthday special by taking me out to somewhere she thought I would really enjoy! My view was on her.
... and, just over her left shoulder the patio seating area, the valet parking, and the corner of the main dining room when the clouds blocked the sun light just right...
But back to the dinner! (My writing is like my mind, all over the place! Sorry.)
I ordered a cocktail, and my wife and I proceeded to debate over the menu. Our waitress told us that the menu changed quite frequently and I had see on Eric Sandler's (Houston Culture Map) Instagram Story saying that the roasted chicken was a MUST. So I quickly scanned for the dish, praying it was still on the menu. Fortunately it was, and our server assured me it was the same preparation that I had seen before. My wife had been craving a good Bolognese recently, due to a few less than phenomenal versions we had consumed, and so she insisted that we get that as well. Add an appetizer of octopus and a side of crispy potatoes, and we were off!
I won't go into every detail for each dish (as this blog post is already really long!), but I will touch on some very key notes!
The octopus was charred and expertly cooked, with the purée and oil pairing wonderfully! My wife and I both looked at each other after our first bite with an expression that read "we are defiantly in for something special tonight".
When my roasted chicken dish arrived, I smiled at the simplicity of it.
I have a conversation with Chef Ara of Harlem Road Texas BBQ all the time about roasted chicken. Roasting a chicken is not hard. Just look at the poor, shriveled carcasses that continue to die their long 8 hour death under the hateful glare of a greasy heat lamp at any grocery store that sell for $5 for a whole chicken.
GREAT roasted chicken is very difficult! It is actually a measure that a lot of great chefs measure their cooks on. If you can't roast a chicken right, can you really cook anything well?!
This chicken lived up to all the hype, crispy skin, moist meat, and fantastic flavor throughout.
I reluctantly shared my chicken with my wife only so I could try her pasta dish.
I honestly wonder how often Texans truly eat pasta that is prepared and cooked perfectly. I remember serving a mushroom risotto on my food truck, and in turn inevitably have someone come back and say that their "pasta" was under cooked.
So... there's two glaring things wrong with that statement...
One... IT'S NOT PASTA!*
and two... It's cooked perfectly!
So when a chef goes through the trouble to make fresh pasta, I was scared that they might over cook it so as not to have the heated conversations I used to from the inside of my scorching hot food truck. But after my first bite, my fears were gone. Al dente!!! A true al dente! This dish had won me over already and I hadn't even really experienced the sauce yet... Al dente...
I honestly need to be on a call list for when they change the menu to include a Carbonara dish so I can get my cravings fix, much like my wife did that night!
I'm not going to gloss over how good the crispy potatoes were, but I feel like I've lost at least half of you by now, so I'm going to wrap this whole thing up real quick.
I have spent significantly more money and not had this good a meal.
I have attended VIP events and not had this great of service.
I have sat in restaurants around the world and not had this kind of ambiance.
I have practiced making cocktails till my recycling bin looks like I own a bar, only to come up short to what I drank that night!
Very rarely can you find an establishment that does all these things right...
... and I barely noticed how they did it!
I seriously cannot wait to return to this restaurant. I have a few more on my list to try first but I plan on coming back and allowing my restaurant ADD to run wild!
Ostia, located at 2032 Dunlavy Street, is currently open for dinner 5 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Lunch is currently served Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
All pictures are my own, taken from my iPhone.
*for anyone still confused on this matter, you use Arborio rice to make risotto. Please know that I love you and that you are a better person now that you know this!