First Bite

Ostia Makes a Bid to Be Your New Favorite Neighborhood Spot

Houston native Travis McShane's first big solo swing feels pretty good so far.

By Timothy Malcolm October 7, 2020

Half chicken at Ostia.

Image: Jenn Duncan

For about 15 years, New Yorkers and tourists alike made damn sure to visit Barbuto, celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman's neighborhood restaurant that blended Italian cuisine with new American approaches. While they were there, one dish stood above the rest: roast chicken with salsa verde. It's the item most associated with the chef and his restaurant, the one that'll stick in great American cookbooks for years to come.

Travis McShane, a Houston native who spent more than a decade working under Waxman—including a stint as executive chef at Barbuto—is now back home with his first restaurant Ostia. Like Barbuto, Ostia specializes in a combination of homestyle Italian and interpretive, modern American. Naturally, since all that mentorship rubbed off, there's roast chicken with salsa verde on the menu.

Specifically it's roast half-chicken with lemon and salsa verde, and it's perfectly cooked so that the meat stays succulent and the skin retains exceptional crispiness. If you're going to Ostia for the first time, you'll want to order the chicken.

Then you'll probably want to visit a second time, then a third time, and maybe a fourth time. In fact McShane said that at the end of his first full week, people had already returned a few times.

Ostia is that kind of easygoing neighborhood restaurant—although it's parked on the busy Dunlavy Street in the Hyde Park area near Montrose, it's tucked away from the road. Its expansive patio oozes a calming California vibe with planters, open umbrellas, and copper lanterns, and it's the place to be during this time of year. Pushed in a bit more is the greenhouse room, and back further is the main dining room, which is bound to bustle on weekend nights. An open kitchen showcases a Nobile stone deck oven that, when you walk in, will invade your senses. 

Seating at a patio you'll want to visit.

Image: Alex Montoya

You might see yourself coming that second time for some pasta—maybe the stout gnocchi with sweet corn and Parmesan shavings—after a refreshing cauliflower, raisin, and pistachio salad. The third time it'll be redfish with cannellini beans, and during the fourth, you'll celebrate with a couple of friends over the big-as-a-brick, but easy to devour, pork chop Milanese. Pair it with some green beans dressed in hazelnut vinaigrette and nicely browned potato wedges with aioli. 

To help slice through the menu quicker, Ostia has a family-style dinner option that I'd wholly recommend if you're with another three people. It's $60 per person and includes three entrées, plus two pastas, two salads, two starters, and two sides. 

Cocktails are essentially riffs on classics. La Palmita is an intriguing mezcal and gin concoction with a basil punch, and with cinnamon and fig, the rum-based Autunno is the kind of fall sipper perfect for a cool night on the patio. A moderately sized wine list puts a premium on Italian and French wines, while new-world selections are almost entirely from Napa Valley. The price range is strong, though—a bottle of $60 Syrah among friends sounds great. 

Ostia's menu will change a lot depending on both what's available and in season and the chef's whims, so maybe you'll have to go repeatedly as a matter of course. That kind of adventure should only make this restaurant more attractive, though early on, it already seems to be finding its footing as the place to be ... again and again.

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