I was skeptical, even though a French friend had highly recommended the place. “This little hole in the wall is GOOD?” I thought as we sat down at one of the eight little tables. But this particular lady, Françoise, had owned a restaurant in Paris, so I figured if she said “c’est bon” I'd try it.
Little did I imagine the gem I would find. No bigger or fancier than the fonda it undoubtedly replaced, this mini-trattoría and pizzeria does some of the best Italian this side of the Lido. Owner Stephan Gialleonardo hails from that bastion of great Italian cooking--the Bronx. “I learned from my grandfather, a Napolitano who worked as chef on a depression-era gambling boat,” he explains. “Those floating casinos were owned by some rather discerning eaters.” he adds. The chef, who later studied at New York’s French Culinary Institute, decided to open his own place. He and his wife Patricia Ramirez inaugurated Osteria 8 two years ago and it has been a well-kept secret amongst savvy Condechis ever since.
Raw ingredients are fresh, seasonal and, in many cases organic and local. Pasta is house-made. A smartly limited menu of regional standards includes six appetizers (e.g., fried calamares and several salads), five pastas--none of them clichés--and a risotto ‘de chef’. There are specials, such as the knockout ‘ensalada romana’, soon to appear on the regular menu by popular demand. ‘Lechuga romana’ is iceberg lettuce and I admire a chef who’s not afraid of it. Here the old steakhouse special has been given a touch of class – a perfect wedge is swathed in a light gorgonzola sauce, then accessorized with chopped tomato, red onion and bacon – a Park Avenue debutante never looked so pretty. Chef Gialleonardo takes advantage of what’s in the market: “I love this season –especially the wild mushrooms, which right now (September) are particularly good” he says, disappearing into the tiny kitchen to prepare a spectacular tagliatelle with chantarelles. The lighter-than-angel’s-wings pasta is tossed with delicate slivers of golden mushrooms and bits of guanciale (a type of unsmoked bacon), good olive oil and parmesan. Divine. A home-made sausage I sampled was just as good. “The sausage recipe was my grandfather’s,” the chef explains. “But it took a lot of experiments to get it just right”. Then arrives what is just about the prettiest pizza I’ve seen outside Fordham Road – or Naples. Patricia does the pizzas. “My wife’s a kick-ass pizza-maker”, the chef assures me. She is indeed: the tomato-based mushroom and guanciale number I order is textbook-perfect. I’m an old New Yorker: when it comes to pizza, you CAN be too rich and too thin. This one has chutzpah, but is delicate and subtle at the same time.
Desserts are rich, dairy-based affairs your nonna would fatten you up with: panna cotta, crème brulée, gelato, all done correctly.
House wine is decent and its price customer-friendly. Service is swift and efficient. Prices may seem on the steep side for such an apparently humble place ($200-300 per person), but it’s worth every peso.
Plans to open a larger space in the neighborhood are underway. But meanwhile, we’ll gladly pack into this little gem of an Italo-hole-in-the-wall. Cin cin & buona provata!
Sinaloa 252, (near Av. Veracruz) on the edge of Colonias Roma & Condesa
Open Tuesday- Saturday 1:30 - 11 p.m., Sunday until 8, closed Mondays