Well, we finally made it to Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock, Vermont. A notoriously difficult to book restaurant with a reputation for great food. Lucky for us, some persistent friends managed to reserve a table and invited us along. If you are a foodie a visit to Osteria is a must on your trip to the Upper Valley, however you should call ahead and make reservations first and then book your stay at The Carriage House at Dutton Hill!
Osteria is the realization of what many people dream about – a small chef-owned restaurant with one seating – dream jobs for owners Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber. They have the perfect arrangement – a two person operation that allows them to grow the food, cook it and serve it – in a small, bright, well-appointed upstairs room. Deirdre greets guests, explains the menu and, upon request, expertly chooses among the Italian wines they serve to match each dish. At the same time, Caleb cooks – the restaurant is where his talents are showcased –and he often brings out the food and speaks with the guests. They were trained in small kitchens across Italy and serve “farm style” food in that tradition. For example, they learned to make a thin crust pizza in Chianti from the owners of a small local eatery called Osteria del Circolo Ricreativo. Believers in the slow food movement, they have always worked with local farm partners, but they have also developed a restaurant garden that grows Italian varieties of lettuces, vegetables and herbs specifically for their menu. Together they began La Garagista Farm and Winery in 1999. The winery, where Deirdre reigns, opened its doors in 2010.
The menu is really just a launching point – it changes often and there are so many specials available that it quickly becomes difficult to choose what to order. We opted to start our meal with a Prosecco suggested by Deirdre. It was light and airy while maintaining a dry – not sweet – flavor. Three of us ordered from the prefix menu which allowed us to try a variety of items. One of the specials was similar to a calzone stuffed with prosciutto, olive oil and some herbs, but it appeared more like a quesadilla because of the thinness of the pizza crust. It was crunchy and delicious. The salumi – a plate of house cured meats was another great choice. One of our party tried the special risotto that consisted of a native blend of mushroom called a Pheasant Back because it has a feathered appearance. The mushrooms had a robust, meaty flavor and the other ingredient cheese added a silkiness and warmth to the risotto.
There were two pastas offered for the next course. I had the special pasta and it was cooked al dente. It was a beautiful consistency – a bit chewy but not crunchy – I’ve never had pasta cooked quite like this and I can’t wait to try and replicate it. The pasta with carrots and cacio cheese was especially flavorful. Caleb explained that the carrots were a surprise find in the garden. They had evaded picking last fall and wintered in the garden which gave them an intensely bright sweet flavor.
For the next course, I had cenci – two small beef cutlets sautéed in lemon and olive oil with potatoes and greens. The beef was good although not spectacular. The olive oil was obvious but the lemon difficult to note. The potatoes and greens were both tasty compliments. Another at our table had the calamari special and very much enjoyed it. The big score was the pizza – a sausage pizza with red sauce and cheese on very thin crust. It looked enormous but was easily devoured by one person! It was so tasty – the sausage was out of this world and the pizza had the perfect amount of – well, grease, on it. It is well worth visiting Osteria just to get a pizza or two and a couple glasses of wine. Oh, that reminds me – the wine pairings with each of our orders was perfect. They were all Italian wines that I had never heard of before – a region for which I lack more than a few weeks experience – but they were rich and bold when desired, light and pinot like when not and/ or mineral-ly dry and white. The desserts were OK, but it is best to stick with the fruit based over the chocolate. The apricot pie was particularly good and tasted sort of like a kuchen which I attribute to the possibility of there being ricotta in it.
At Osteria the dining experience is central – no one is trying to push you out of the restaurant to turn the table. I believe there is only one sitting a night and there are about 22 seats in the house. Deirdre gracefully waits on each customer. Osteria Paine e Salute is absolutely a must have epicurean experience. I can’t wait for the next time I can get reservations.