Osteria Marco is one of many Denver-area restaurants operated by restaurateur Frank Bonanno. Mr. Bonanno is a pretty big deal in the Denver dining scene, although we haven't visited any of his establishments since a disappointing dinner at Mizuna about a year ago.
But we'd heard nothing but good things about Osteria Marco, his lower-priced and casual Italian restaurant on Larimer. We were looking to have an early dinner ahead of a show at Comedy Works's downtown location, and figured Osteria Marco was worth a try.
Located below ground level and dimly lit, the dining room at Osteria Marco felt like an expansive wine cellar. We met up with another couple and, at our request, we were seated in a high-backed booth near the bar-area televisions. The staff was very nice in accommodating us so that Mr. Oyster could watch the NCAA Final Four out of the corner of his eye, allowing him to continue his yearly, late-March ritual of suddenly becoming an avid college basketball fan.
The drink menu at Osteria Marco, as expected, offered a zillion wines. However, we were also pleasantly surprised to see a selection of great Colorado beers on tap, including my pick for the night, an Odell IPA.
Food-wise, we started off with a meat and cheese assortment ($24 including burrata), with burrata added as an "upgrade" for $5.
|Meat and cheese plate with burrata|
The plate was filled with three different cured meats, three cheeses (burrata is the big white dome on the left), blackberry jam, bread, and fried wonton-like strips.
The cured meats were all excellent, but the cheeses were the real star of the show. Each had a slightly different texture. The burrata had a firm shell and a rich, cottage cheese-like center. The blackberry jam was a perfect accompaniment to it. I would have preferred more bread and none of the wonton strips on the plate.
Mr. Oyster and I also split an order of the Arancini ($7).
My first taste of arancini came at Linger last year in the form of their bolognese-filled, Crispy Risotto Arancini. These were more plain, like the croquettes that abound everywhere in Europe. They contained the requisite fried risotto outer shell, and a gooey cheese center. I preferred Linger's version, but my dining companions liked these at Osteria Marco much more.
The arancini were served with roasted garlic aioli (at left in photo above), which I actually didn't even try, as the arancini were rich enough on their own.
We also split the Braised Rabbit ($20), which arrived in a carrot broth and was prepared with with shitake mushrooms, kale, and carrots.
For $20, this was a seriously cheap rabbit entree. And it was fantastic. The delicate rabbit was served with the vegetables mentioned above, all perfectly prepared, and a rich carrot broth. I loved the chewiness of the mushrooms with the crunchy carrots and the tender rabbit and kale. The dish did have some small bones in it, however, which I was not expecting and found annoying work around.
The friends we ate with ordered the Fig and Crispy Prosciutto Pizza ($14) and the Artisan Pizza ($12).
For relatively cheap, these were giant, flavorful pizzas. I especially loved the sweet and savory combination of the fig and prosciutto. I'm not sure that these pizzas were quite as good as those at Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria, but they were also a little cheaper.
Unfortunately, our meal ended there - we ran out of time for dessert as our Comedy Works show was about to start.
Osteria Marco offered some very, very tasty Italian staples at surprisingly low prices. We're looking forward to heading back for more antipasti and pizza, as well as the desserts we missed during this trip. Frank Bonanno certainly redeemed himself in our eyes with this visit to Osteria Marco.
Pros: Great food, great beer selection, cheap
Cons: Bones in rabbit dish, similarly good pizza at other places