An old favorite reopens with a fresh new look and the same great food
Photograph by Bob Capazzo
There are few sounds happier than a bustling restaurant at dinnertime. We heard this sound from the vestibule of Osteria Applausi where we were greeted by the hostess. Behind the glass door, which we were soon ushered through, were convivial diners enthusiastic about both their conversation and the food on the plates. That’s probably because they were thrilled to have this popular sixteen-year-old restaurant back in action in Old Greenwich after two months of renovations. Though the menu still contains many of matriarch Maria Marchetti’s signature recipes, there are plenty of new dishes that are sure to become house favorites.
The new décor is a combination of cozy wood paneling and city-chic exposed brick. The bar area is bigger than before and is a nice spot to have a drink while waiting for a table. Our table was close to the tables on either side, a plus if you want to see what someone else is eating, a minus if you need elbow room and privacy. But for such a crowded dining room the service was attentive. Before more than five minutes passed, we had a glass of wine and a menu in hand. As is traditional in authentic Italian restaurants, the menu is segmented: antipasti, la pasta, zuppe, and so forth. There is much to choose from, yet the selections seem well edited.
We began with I Gamberoni Grigliati con Fagioli Bianchi: two large heads-still-on prawns split down the middle with a nice complement of white bean salad alongside. The prawns were a decent size but didn’t yield much more than a mouthful of meat. A bit more generously portioned was the I Calamari alla Griglia: a chunky pile of grilled squid, tentacles and bodies served separately on the same plate. The squid was marinated with fresh thyme and balsamic-spiked vinaigrette, and it very much pleased the squid fancier at the table. As fashion dictates these days, a salad of red beets is on the menu, as is the classic Caesar and a layered mozzarella, tomato and basil salad. A more inventive salad is called a Fantasia, and it comprised fresh fennel with sections of grapefruit and shrimp. The salads are served nicely chilled and provide an interlude between the heavier dishes.
Intrigued, we tried one of the four pastas that are made in-house. The Gli Agnolotti all’Argosta are large ravioli with a lobster and crab filling. The pasta was wonderful and made with a light and expert hand by Maria herself, and the seafood that filled these large rectangles of dough was a creamy blend of oceanic flavors. From the La Spaghetteria portion of the menu we ordered the most calorifically lethal dish on any Italian menu: Spaghetti Alla Carbonara. Girded for an onslaught of creamy bliss we were shocked when what was presented to us was a very refined version, light on the eggy cheesy sauce we have come to expect. If your waistline is of importance to you, this is a good version. If you want to savor the divine indulgence that this dish demands, you might be disappointed.
Because of the tables proximity to one another, we had a good view of our fellow diners’ entrees, which made our selection easier. Short of sticking a fork in a stranger’s food, we could see and smell perfectly, so we knew what we wanted. The most expensive dish on the menu is also the best: L’ossobuco con Risotto. This slow-braised veal shank is accompanied with saffron risotto and a small silver spoon stuck in the shank bone to scoop out the marrow. Anyone who has prepared osso bucco knows what a labor of love it is; it takes a long time to make but is well worth the effort. And anyone who has ever made osso bucco (or any other braised meat for that matter) also knows that it is better the next day. Because this was a large portion we were fortunate to have superb leftovers. Another guest at our table ordered the halibut special, a perfectly fresh tile of fish, simply prepared and sided with grilled cherry tomatoes. It is a sign of culinary refinement that Osteria Applausi serves simple dishes. A beautifully roasted organic chicken was perfect, as was a lovely rainbow trout served with little more than a spritz of lemon and a dusting of fresh herbs.
The desserts are adequate. The best of the bunch is a tartufo, a lovely ball of hazelnut gelato dusted with cocoa powder. Although the menu described caramelized hazelnuts, we tasted none. There is a good tiramisù, and a sporcamusi alla crema, which is Chantilly cream sandwiched between layers of flakey pastry, a mild yet hearty treat.
The convivial nature here is contagious. Who could not grow happy among such a fun crowd and delicious food? This is a place to see and be seen and to have a great meal.