500 W 7th St, FW. 817-953-3271. 11am-2pm, 5-9pm Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm, 5-9pm Sat. Bar hours 4-10pm Mon-Fri, 5-10pm Sat.
For Adam Jones (Grace, Little Red Wasp in that order), the significance of the year 1961 forms a little trinity: It’s the year he was born, the year that the building that houses his new restaurant was completed, and also the year that an Italian vintner was moved to challenge the French dominance in the sparkling wine market. Although Guido Berlucchi used French grapes grown in Italy to do it, his gift was Franciacorta, a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot blanc grapes that make a perfectly balanced sparkling brut. Your server will pour you a nice-sized flute of the bubbly at the newest restaurant to hold down the bottom floor at First on Seventh (formerly known as the Bank of America Building) while you peruse 61 Osteria’s menu. Don’t like dry sparkling wine? Not to worry, the drinks menu is 24 pages long –– outpacing the actual food menu by about 21 pages –– with cocktails, a small beer list, and lots of other wine options. Jones and Staniford are known for their wine lists, but the fact that there are 10 different vodkas on the cocktail menu produced a little giggle. How many choices does one really need for a vodka martini?
Fortified by bubbles (my Franciacorta and my dining companion’s Italian soda), we launched into an appetizer of the house-made 61 Mozzarella. There are two distinct preparations of the soft cow’s milk cheese here: a sweet mozzarella dabbed with lemon zest, fennel pollen, and Texas olive oil and a savory burrata with balsamic-like saba and chives. The gooey mozzarella could have benefited from a little more of the flavors. The savory, soft burrata was dreamy, with a drizzle of the double-press vinegar and a sprinkle of zesty chives. The plate came with grilled local Icon sourdough that was unfortunately more charred than gently warmed. It was a sad use of the goodness of the local artisan bread
Brunch was a great time to visit because diners have access to both lunch fare and most of the regular menu as well. The semolina Dutch Baby came served in an adorable tiny skillet, and although the lemony sweetness was spot on, the semolina flour rendered the meal more like a dense cake than a fluffy pancake. The consistency is probably authentic, and we’ve just been spoiled by Ol’ South’s softer, squishier version. Texture aside, the slight nutmeg flavor combining with the citrus was delicious, and the potently floral Luxardo cherries and just a dribble of their syrup are the stuff foodie fantasies are made of.
The Pacific swordfish came out medium rare, although I was grateful that the outside wasn’t charred like the bread. If you want yours cooked differently, speak up as this isn’t disclaimed on the menu. The fish was fine, but the stars of the plate were the gloriously smoky eggplant puree bed and the olive-heavy spicy puttanesca sauce on the side. I prefer a red sauce with less chunks of tomato and more chunks of olives and capers, and this is one of the best versions of the pantry-staple sugo this side of Naples. Ironically, if Chef Staniford would just sell me a plateful of that eggplant and the puttanesca with some lightly grilled Icon bread, I think I’d be in heaven.
A shared side of the Hen of the Wood mushrooms combined with cauliflower was a delight. The frilly, feathery fungi lost none of their charming appearance in the lightly cooked dish. I enjoyed the slightly-softer-than-al dente cauliflower, but the woodsy, earthy mushrooms shone brighter bathed in the plate with a delightfully robust garlic aioli. If you don’t prefer cauliflower, the veg is pretty much buried under the beautiful mushrooms, so you won’t notice.
“Osteria” translates into “tavern,” apparently, but there’s very little tavern-like here. The restaurant is gorgeously brightly lit during the day, with soaring ceilings and a whole wall of windows. The tan, cream, and green furnishings provide an elegant, peaceful vibe. About a third of the front space is bar area, and there’s more seating on the patio outside, so, similar to the setup at Grace, you’ll be able to enjoy your Franciacorta and mozzarella snacks al fresco at street level if this March weather will go out like a lamb. 61 Osteria shares some genetics with Jones and Staniford’s first restaurant baby, but this third effort definitely holds its own.
Pacific swordfish $46
Franciacorta Berlucchi 61 brut $16
61 Mozzarella $26
Semolina Dutch Baby $16
Hen of the Wood mushrooms
and cauliflower $16