Osteria Marco

I think Osteria Marco is the best Italian restaurant in Denver. Imagine walking down a wide stairwell into what is presumably a basement dining area, only to find yourself in the middle of a true, Italian osteria. It looks like a polished wine cellar, intentional but humble.

The wine list is spectacular, especially if you know Italian wines. If not, hopefully the server can point you in the right direction (this has been, honestly, a bit hit or miss). Immediately, without hesitation, order the house made burrata. Even if this is the only item you eat all night, it will be well worth it. I have yet to find a burrata that can compare and I have tried many. The burrata is accompanied by ciabatta from the grill. If you’re with a group, a good addition is a separate order of the grilled ciabatta, which comes with a mix of pesto, tomatoes, balsamic, and parmesan.

Really, any one dish on the menu is worth trying, but I prefer the pizzas. And not just because I love pizza. The real stars of OM are the ingredients, and on the pizzas you can taste them all. The meatballs, the salami, the prosciutto, cheeses, and oils… they all stand out. Here’s a pro tip: soak up some of the hot olive oil that will be on your table with your pizza crust.

Osteria Marco is unique. You feel comfortable, casual, sitting with friends or family and enjoying good food and good wine. But you also walk away sure that you just had one of the best meals available downtown.

I suggest: Burrata, Grilled Ciabatta Bread, Pizza Carne. For wine, go rogue: an Aglianaco del sud.

Osteria Marco1453 Larimer Street, Denver, CO 80202


Acqua al 2

The thing about Italian food is that when it’s good, it is so good. I’ve been hearing about Acqua al 2 for months and I’ve walked by it twice a day, every day since July. Finally, I found an occasion (and the funds – thanks, Dad) to make a reservation.

Walking in, I was surprised. The seating area is large and that is something that normally goes against all of my principles when it comes to eating Italian. All of the back-end alley restaurants and family-owned trattorias that I frequented in Italy had limited seating. Never mind. First impressions aren’t always to be trusted.

The second I saw the unsalted bread placed on the table I knew we were in for a treat. Only a proper Florentine restaurant would serve unsalted bread to Americans.

We were seated with a clear view of the kitchen, which I love. We could see the meat searing on the grill and the pasta coming straight out of the pan. We started with the salad sampler. Arugula lightly dressed in olive oil (the good stuff) and balsamic, tossed with cherry tomatoes and walnuts. Melt in your mouth mozzarella bufala accompanied by tomatoes. Finally, a shaved fennel salad. I have never been a fan of fennel, but this, tossed with pine nuts and radish, was by far my favorite.

The pasta sampler arrived next. Five small plates were more than enough and were an excellent representation of the menu. First, we shared fusilli in a creamy spinach sauce. Next, a penne in a creamy red sauce with roasted red pepper. My favorite was the farfalle with porcini mushrooms in a delicious, buttery sauce. It was rich, it was exquisite and the tasting portion was just right. The gnocchi were like pillows; smothered in a mascarpone sauce with radish, which, at first odd, was a perfect juxtaposition. Finally, a longer fusilli in a spicy tomato sauce. The pasta was cooked truly al dente; done the right way, it had a bite and did not disappear on contact.

How could we possibly also have the steak? Oh, right, because there is always room for steak. We opted for the tasting platter again. A New York strip, so simple with hints of peppercorn and dijon mustard. A filet mignon, which I heard is the house favorite, in a blueberry reduction sauce. I loved the filet heavily drizzled in a balsamic reduction. It was crispy and sweet and melted in your mouth.

I didn’t mention the wines. Go red. Always, go red. Super Tuscans pair perfectly.

I suggest: Insalata Finocchio, Topini al Radicchio Rosso, Filetto al Balsamico

Acqua al 2, 212 7th Street SE, Washington, DC, 20003