Osa Restaurant, the long awaited collaboration between Chef Matthew Wick, formerly of River Tavern, and restaurateurs Rich Garcia and Kevin Wirtes of Krust Pizza, is opening Thursday, August 24 in Middletown, CT.
Located at 500 Main Street, the restaurant marries Wick's love of wood-fired Italian inspired cooking with locally foraged and produced Connecticut ingredients. The vegetable heavy menu features snacks, small plates, share dishes and desserts, and while the format will remain consistent, the dishes themselves will change seasonally depending on what is available.
The opening menu features items like house baked sourdough served with whipped lardo; scallop crudo with fresh and preserved tomatoes, spicy yogurt and green coriander; charred zucchini with lovage salsa verde, horseradish gribiche and tropea onion; and house made spaghetti alla chitarra with preserved artichokes, aged cheese, smoked black pepper and scallion. Large format dishes are meant to be shared between 2-3 people and might include dishes like wood roasted mushrooms with charred spigarello, soft polenta, and yellow-eye bean and rosemary gravy; and a crispy pork shank with pork fat roasted potatoes, marinated cabbage and dill pickle savory summer jus.
While Wick admits they will use ingredients like Italian olive oils and citrus from outside the region, as “we want to cook with ingredients that we love,” he stresses that “the heart of the restaurant is highlighting the environment here in Connecticut and New England. We want to showcase what ingredients we have and those relationships.”
The wine, beer and cocktail lists are short and deliberate with many of the cocktails playing off of Wick's flavor profiles and incorporating foraged ingredients. The evergreen cocktail includes house made spruce gin with chartreuse and lemon, and the midnight Manhattan has bourbon, sweet vermouth and house made artichoke bitter. Wirtes notes that at Osa they are "going to be very keen on showcasing things that aren't the norm" and that includes introducing Connecticut to some new natural wines. Wick figures that "if we're going to be supporting organic food and all these farmers that are farming sustainably we should be supporting winemakers that are doing the same thing."
Just like at Krust, Osa’s kitchen is centered around a large wood-fired oven. Although here they also have a wood-fired grill. Garcia notes that they wanted to parallel that theme from Krust across to Osa saying he “thinks it’s a really beautiful way to cook. It’s very instinctual and primitive in a way that is really fun.”
While the two are very much their own restaurants, the parallels don’t just end with the ovens. Both spaces were designed by Jason Paradis and were built with expansive amounts of raw, unpainted wood. Osa’s 60 seat dining room features over eight thousand feet of natural wood. Garcia calls the style very similar to Wick’s style of cooking, saying “[Paradis] doesn’t manipulate things too much, he lets the products stand as they are.” The dining room's focal point is the darkly contrasting bar that includes a view of the action in the kitchen. A long communal tables runs down the middle of the room seating up to sixteen, which they hope will foster the ideals of community and hospitality.
While Wick's cooking is heavily influenced by the hospitality of Italy, so is the name of the restaurant. Seven years ago he spent time working at an ecoturismo (a land preserve with an inn that promotes their produce through tourism) in Nazzano, Italy. On this particular property there was a wild boar- named Osa. Boars are normally a nightmare to farmers, but in this case they had nursed the previously ill piglet back to health and now she was a friendly fixture on the farm, following him as he did his work. "The idea that someone cared enough to take in a creature that could potentially ruin their livelihood really resonated with me," he said, "I took it as a symbol for what I would later learn is the backbone to Italian culture and cuisine: compassion and hospitality."
Osa Restaurant is located at 500 Main Street in Middletown and can be reached at osarestaurant.com or (860) 358-9782. They will be open Wednesday-Saturday from 5 p.m.-11 p.m. during the week, and from 5 p.m.-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.