Keep your stars. I’ll take free french fries.
I’ve never really embarked on a restaurant “review,” if you will. I hate phrases like “tucked away” and “unctuous” and other dribble from the world of culinary criticism. But last night I dined at Osteria Laguna, a venue serving Italian fare within convenient walking distance of Grand Central Station, and I need to talk about it.
I found the restaurant on The Infatuation, where I find most things I eat outside of my home. I was looking for a restaurant that married good food with convenience given that my dining companion made the decision to relocate to the actual goddamned suburbs and would be taking a 50 minute train ride home following our meal.
To begin, I found the ambience transportive, in a mid-90s business travel conference hotel kind of way. Dark wood chairs, unfortunate wallpaper, decor chosen from the “expected” section of the catalog. Actually if I find out those framed Italian sigil flags are real I’m going to be very upset. The inexplicable presence of a television hung over the front door of all places certainly gave me something to ponder.
The service was old school, which is to say fantastic. There were no mustache hipsters behind this bar, no no. These men are fathers. These men cannot wait to try out the new propane grills currently occupying half the real estate on their back porch. I love bartenders I don’t feel the obligation to flirt with.
I didn’t have too much time to take the space in, because not a moment after my first sip of white wine from the Piedmont region, this place started to hit the nail on the actual head. They put french fries in front of me. Free french fries. Rosemary french fries. These other restaurants are out here with their paltry dry popcorn or just like…nothing while Osteria Laguna is living in the fucking future. Get you a restaurant who gives you free french fries to enjoy while you wait for the rest of your party. I kid you not, Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” began to play as I took my first bite so if someone could give this place it’s Michelin Star now that’d be great.
Not long after french fry epiphany, I saw something move through the restaurant that I hadn’t seen before. It was a straight-outta-Moonstruck dessert cart, people. It was in the shape of a domed cake stand, as their dessert offerings where all adorably sized, but the concept was the same. I think when I first saw it my mouth actually opened of its own accord.
We chose our own table, so this is now officially the only place I want to dine, and when we ordered a bottle of Pinot Bianco, the waiter came to our table with a genuine standing ice bucket. Like one that goes on the floor next to your table as if you are of royal blood. By this point I’d already decided these people were going to cater my wedding, and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
A word on bread baskets: Stop hating them. They are wonderful, comforting, calming vessels of carbohydrate goodness that could end our suffering if we’d let them. Osteria Laguna’s bread basket, pictured here, an exemplary specimen. You know why? Options. It was full of options, each one more delicious than the next except for those skinny breadstick things that are, in my opinion, nothing more than something for children to pretend to sword fight with. I gave up carbs a month ago but I ate this bread basket like someone was paying me to.
When you dine at a place like Osteria Laguna, a certain assumption about the quality of the olive oil on the table does not go amiss. This was the good shit. My entire meal could have consisted of nothing more than free french fries, free bread, and free olive oil and I’d have been happy as a clam and I want you to know that.
But we did order real food, we began with some perfectly pleasant prosciutto and an appetizer special of fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with at least two kinds of delightfully gooey cheese. They sat atop a salad of greens and white asparagus, which I found to be the perfect accompaniment. I ordered a speck and asiago pizza because if the bread basket was any indication, these guys can make a fucking crust. I was not disappointed. I was just already so full that I couldn’t eat very much of it.
You know what you do when that happens, friends? You take your time. You sit and relax and take your time like a person who doesn’t live in New York. You chat, you order another bottle of wine, and you allow your bread-filled body to recuperate and make room for more of the good stuff. I was not rushed at Osteria Laguna, I was cherished.
To conclude, these diamonds in the dirt pile are few, too few. Some might toss around phrases like “old fashioned” or “outdated” when Osteria Laguna comes to mind. And if we were evaluating the merits of an establishment solely on paint color choice, perhaps they’d be right. But this restaurant must be viewed as the sum of its parts, an all-encompassing evaluation of an enchanting experience. Free yourself of reservations (though they take them), and open yourself up to the possibility of enjoying something that isn’t Instagrammable. Set restricted diets and any remaining plans for the evening aside. Arrive at Osteria Laguna with an open mind, an open heart, and most importantly, an open mouth. Free french fries. Goodbye.