Osso Steakhouse opened earlier this summer in a most storied location: the site of the former Vanessi’s, the venerable San Francisco restaurant high atop Nob Hill that fed generations during a time when eating out was really an occasion.
Situated at the bottom of the stately high-rise condo building, the Grammercy Towers, the restaurant is very much a throwback. It’s done up in striking Art Deco black and green, with sleek silver sconces illuminating the room. Tuxedo-attired servers carry the food to the cozy booths from the exhibition kitchen.
Osso is the latest venture by Dante Serafini, and Jennifer and Jerry Dal Bozzo, the same team behind the Franciscan Crab Restaurant, The Stinking Rose, Calzone’s Pizza Cucina and the Old Clam House, all in San Francisco. Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to sample the new menu.
We started with the octopus crostini ($15.95), which brought thinly shaved octopus slices piled high on crisp rounds of bread. The octopus was nicely tender, but the liberal amount of chili used totally obliterated it.
The Caesar salad ($9.95) was tossed with garlic croutons in a perky, tangy dressing.
Normally, I don’t go to town on a whole Dungeness crab unless it’s in season locally in the winter. But since one of Osso’s specialties is Dungeness crab year-round, I gave it a try despite it being summer.
Served whole, the two-pounder ($36.95) comes to the table dramatically in a large hot cast-iron skillet, its shell a deep burnished orange that glistens from being brushed with garlic butter. You’re supplied with a bib, crackers to dig out all the snowy flesh, and moistened wipes to clean up your hands afterward. Prepare to dive in because it will take some work to eat this dish. Unfortunately, this particular crab not only didn’t have the wonderful sweetness you expect from Dungeness, but it also had a slight off-putting ammonia taste.
Far better was the Porterhouse “Osso” Style ($69.95) with the New York and Petit Filet Mignon cooked separately. As our server explained, “Osso” means “bone” in Italian, and it’s that type of prime steak still on the bone and dry-aged for 4 to 6 weeks that the restaurant specializes in. The massive steak proved quite juicy, with a deep minerality to it.
As with most steakhouses, sides are offered separately here. Zucchini fries are one of the most popular ones. Shoestring-like thin, they’re breaded, seasoned and fried. They crisp up on the outside while remaining soft within, and are surprisingly addictive.
Desserts were still a work in progress when I was there. In fact, the manager brought us the “Anna Banana Kabob” ($8.95) to try because he wanted our opinion on it, as he was not satisfied with it. I can see why. From a presentation standpoint, it’s not much to look at. Four slices of frozen chocolate-covered bananas lined one side of the plate, while down the other side were four banana fritters. The former were tasty enough and sure to please kids, but nothing exceptional. The latter were unfortunately not crisp in the least and were more like biting into nuggets of starch.
The “Warm Lemon Tart with Mint Cream” ($8.95) did not arrive warm. But it had a lovely bright citrus flavor and the texture of a tender pudding cake.
The steaks are definitely the draw here. With time and refinement, here’s hoping the rest of the menu comes up to that meaty standard.
Another Place for Steaks in San Francisco: Alexander’s Steakhouse
And: Bourbon Steak