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Such a pretty space: Osso Restaurant & Lounge 

"Up-tempo"-styled Italian restaurant offers simple and creative twists

No one — not even the Charlotte Visitors Center — knows the exact number of Italian restaurants operating in Charlotte, since they seem to pop up overnight. With good casual eateries and upscale restaurants (and some not-so-good ones) throughout the city, Italian would appear to be Charlotte's favorite taste. But Charlotte has not had an "up-tempo"–styled Italian restaurant until Osso Restaurant & Lounge opened in the NC Music Factory last December.

By tempo, I mean both scale and music, since the Music Factory is all about the latter. The 60-seat Osso is a partnership of NCMF's entertainment impresario Noah Lazes, restaurateur Alex Myrick (who also owns Blue Restaurant), and Chef Gene Briggs (also of Blue).

Blue crab and ricotta crostini (Photo: Natrice Bullard)
  • Blue crab and ricotta crostini (Photo: Natrice Bullard)

Briggs gives a seat not only to Italian cuisine, but to local foods. He has, after all, been a player in the Charlotte culinary scene since the 1990s and was one of the original Charlotte chefs to source locally. Thus, while the menu features Italian staples, such as pastas, pizzas and grilled meats, local foods shine here, too. In fact, salads are a fine introduction to Briggs' kitchen. Here, the inherently delicate sweet, flavor of locally grown Bibb lettuce, flecked with smoky crisp bits of pancetta, is brought into focus with a sharp lemon dressing. Perfectly invigorating.

Of course, one headliner on the entrée list is an osso dish, the eponym of the restaurant. The name was inspired by renowned designer François Fossard's dynamic interior, which features gently curved thin white columns, reminiscent of bones. Myrick and Briggs named the restaurant Osso, which means bone in Italian. The current osso on the menu is a lighter (than traditional veal) pork shank paired with cheese raviolis, cipollini onions and mushrooms.

While Osso's cuisine is tethered firmly in Old World comfort food, the interior is more urban than wind-whipped farmhouse — even though the wood floors are original to the factory. Reptilian pinot-colored banquettes are wonderfully comfortable and are set across round upholstered French chairs. Between the bar and the dining room is soft seating and the focus of the dining room is a glassed wine wall. The low lighting makes everyone look fabulous.

The kitchen abounds in greens, simple pastas and creative twists. The blue crab and ricotta crostini is slathered with a chili jam while the tuna crudo (Italian sashimi) is ramped up with extra virgin olive oil and blood oranges. These starters are fun to share. Pasta dishes come in two sizes, but even the smaller size is sharable.

The house-made rendition of golden garganelli, an egg penne blended with parmesan, dressed with wild boar ragu, is a flavorful note on the pasta roster, even though, on one night, the pasta was a little overcooked.

The best of the pizzas is the delicious arugula, the perfect mix of salad and pie anointed with a farm fresh fried egg. Finally, while not adventurous, the chocolate bread pudding dessert will remind you that life exists beyond tiramisu.

Osso's prices are not shy: Entrées range from $12.99 to $32.95. Plus, the wine list has some steep markups on lesser wines. I suppose these prices are in line with the lounge part of the equation rather than the gastronomic. But Osso is more than a pretty face.

Osso Restaurant & Lounge. 1000 N.C. Music Factory Blvd., 704-971-0550. Hours: Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Wednesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Patio. www.ossocharlotte.com.

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