Osianna masters the art of healthy food—it tastes as good as it looks
When this reviewer went out to dine at Osianna, she was not in the best of moods. But once inside, the grumpiness lasted all of five minutes. This is a restaurant of light and air and happiness. It is modeled on a Greek taverna, a rustic eatery that serves great local fish, crisp salads, and cheese and lemon-spiked appetizers. To eat here is a culinary antidepressant. It seems impossible to not surrender to Osianna’s charms.
While taverna dining is nothing new in Greece, it is in Fairfield County. Not counting our state’s many diners with the ubiquitous column of souvlakis and such, fine and finessed Greek food is finally catching on, and it is arriving at a perfect time. We have been told for years that a Mediterranean diet is the best way to keep healthy. The formula is to go light on meat, heavy on fresh fish, eat lots of vegetables and forego butter for high-quality olive oil. At Osianna, everything “good for you” also tastes delicious.
The waitstaff at Osianna actually seems to enjoy interacting with patrons. Genuine smiles and attentive service (even on a crowded Saturday night) were in evidence. All meals begin with a loaf of warm sesame-crusted bread delivered daily from a bakery in New York City. We have long believed that if the first thing that is offered to you at a restaurant is awful bread, an awful meal will soon follow. Flipping this rule of thumb upside down, Osianna’s gorgeous loaf let us know we were in for a great meal.
The dinner menu is neatly divided into four categories: small plates, salads, entrées and sides. If you are a “grazer” who likes to try a bit of everything, a wonderful meal can be made up of only small plates. The grilled Portuguese octopus was masterfully cooked. Manageable pieces were sided by rocket, red onion and lemon oil. The shrimp saganaki comes in a small crockery dish of shrimp bubbling with feta cheese and tomatoes, good despite the shrimp not being as snapping crisp as we had hoped. The Basque-style mussels were beautifully prepared: black and briny shellfish smartly paired with chorizo, caper berries, white beans, and garlic. Likewise we swooned for the baby eggplant, cut in half, the size of a deck of cards, stuffed with caramelized onions and mild white kasseri cheese. There are about twenty small plate options listed in all, some unusual, like kale, olive and bean crostini, or Sicilian rice balls served with kalamata olive aioli. If you prefer a more minimalist dish, the roasted red beets with a slather of olive oil are a good bet, and if you like to try a little of everything, we highly recommend the generous platter of Mediterranean spreads that lets you sample garlic-spiked tzatziki, ktipti made with hot peppers and feta cheese, melitzanosalata, an eggplant “caviar” with rolled grapeleaves, grilled pita, and Moroccan olives. It is a feast that even the handsome health guru Dr. Oz would approve of.
Any patron tired of run-of-the-mill salad menus will brighten considerably with a choice of rocket and romaine greens to which are added grapes, pistachio nuts, gorgonzola, and cranberries tossed in a shallot vinaigrette. We applauded the shredded cabbage salad, bright with carrots, red peppers, and parsley. Give us a loaf of the great sesame bread and a big salad, and we consider ourselves well fed.
A knock-your-socks-off entrée was the bouillabaise, a huge cauldron of shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, calamari, and seasonal fish served with garlic crostini. Chitarra with winter vegetables features bitter greens, chickpeas, brussels sprouts and extra-virgin olive oil.
Any dish with fish is a sure bet. The grilled sea bass comes whole, sided simply with sautéed baby spinach. Grilled Alaskan arctic char is matched with bitter greens and “beluga” lentils. As with fish, Greeks can do no wrong when cooking lamb. Baby lamb chops are set next to a bed of arugala gilded with carmelized onions, pistachios, fennel, potatoes, and string beans. If you want to go “old school,” order the pork souvlaki with Greek fries and tzatziki sauce, very garlicky but worth it.
If we found anything to fault dining here, it was the room tone on a busy night. It is a loud, steady hum of people having a good time. One of my dining companions that evening has a whispery voice, and I found it hard to hear her. And as long as I am voicing petty gripes, the desserts do not live up to the rest of the menu. They are the regular pedestrian Greek desserts, and they are served on the most stupendously outsized dishes imaginable. Picture a small jet plane on a long, vast runway and that is what the baklava looks like on its white platter.
The menu changes seasonally, and there is a huge number of dishes to choose from, including gluten-free, vegetarian, and rather sinful ones like the Barolo braised beef with mascarpone polenta. The kitchen seems anxious to please, so we assume that special requests would be honored.