CHEF SERIES: Interview With Executive Chef Arturo Ottaviano, Osteria 177, Annapolis, MD

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on May 23, 2012

As you stroll down the streets of Annapolis, you notice it right away. The cobblestone streets, the Colonial style homes and intricate ironwork on fences and gates are a lovely reminder of a different time. It is not unusual to stroll through the area and come across a set up for an archaeological dig to unearth hidden treasures from this very beautiful, quaint, traditional and very conservative city. Many homes date back to the 1700’s and proudly display historic plaques in the front of their homes to highlight their ongoing contribution to the community.

The requirement to maintain exterior facades according to historical protocol is not something that is reserved only for private homes but also applies to businesses as well. Annapolis has a very strict code and approval process for any changes  that tenants may desire to make to the façade of downtown buildings. Even the desire to set up outdoor seating areas for restaurants and cafes may take months or even years to approve…and often does.

Needless to say, setting up a business in the downtown area is definitely not for the faint of heart and not only requires a belief in yourself but also the diligence to see it through.

Chef Arturo Ottaviano of Osteria 177 restaurant on Main Street was not deterred. He loved Annapolis and he was going to open his restaurant here and did so in 2006. The economy of the past several years was not kind to many restaurants in this area, yet Osteria 177 not only survived but weathered the storm with a growing and very loyal clientele.

The exterior of the restaurant is a very unassuming brick building with large windows situated on the corner of the street. Once you step into the restaurant you feel as though you have stepped into an old world dining room reminiscent of the old school restaurants in New York City, like Peter Luger’s, the ‘21’ Club and Patsy’s.

Glittering light fixtures overhead and original paintings line the dark paneled walls of the dining room and create a beautiful backdrop that enhances the European flavor of this restaurant.  If Chef Ottaviano has his way, we will also see a few tables set up outside to enrich the customer’s dining experience and take advantage of the waterfront vistas of this lovely town.

I came to conduct the interview with Chef Arturo and really did not know what to expect. I had never met him before but heard many great things about him. I wanted to be very respectful of his time because I knew that he was a one man show in the kitchen.

I walked in and was greeted by one of the waiters who quickly escorted me to Chef Ottaviano. I must say, he has one of the kindest smiles and warmest hearts I have ever encountered. During my visit, he bent over backwards to make my interview as memorable as possible, and even invited me back for an a la minute, off the menu dinner which he offered to cook for me…and I am definitely planning to take him up on that and will share the beauty of the meal with you in the near future.

What is your background and how did you get into the food business?

I was born in Molise, the south central part of Italy and raised in Verona. These are two very different areas with different dialects and very different ways of cooking. I always had a passion for food but was not influenced by my family to enter the culinary field…it was something that came from my heart, something I loved. I went to culinary school and then began to work my way up. In 1985, I had an opportunity to come to the Washington DC area to work at Tiberias restaurant in Washington DC, one of the top restaurants at the time and studied under the tutelage of two great Chefs, one French and the other German and I learned so much from both of them. It was almost unheard of to work in such a huge operation with 20 or so people in the kitchen, those places really don’t exist, but it was amazing. I went back to Italy after my internship here and could not wait to come back.

What is your food philosophy and what type of cuisine do you prefer to cook?

My philosophy is very simple. I use basic ingredients and only a handful of basic sauces and create magic out of these simple things every day. I buy the best ingredients that I can get my hands on and I try to stay organic whenever possible…it’s not always possible but if I have a choice then that’s where I go. I pay extra for quality ingredients, especially my seafood…nothing is ever frozen. It just doesn’t make sense to buy something fresh and then freeze it. My menu is traditionally Italian…not an Americanized version, but the type of traditional meal you would get if you traveled abroad. I won’t say that I won’t add some unique aspects to my traditional menu when I may come across a beautiful ingredient like fresh figs, melons, pineapple or fresh wild mushrooms from Virginia…but overall, I stay true to the tradition and purity of the food wherever possible.

Do you eat out often and do you go out for inspiration?

I do go out but not as often as I would like to because I don’t have the time anymore. I go out for 2 reasons: One is because I am curious and like to keep up with new trends that I may hear about and the other is because I simply like good food and like to know what other Chefs are doing and creating.

What is your favorite type of meal?

My favorite restaurant is Tao in New York…I just love Asian food…especially a good Asian fusion. Sushi is good on occasion too.

Do you have the opportunity to travel abroad regularly?

My time is very limited because I need to focus on the day to day activities of the restaurant and I don’t travel as much as I would like to…but I do take small mini vacations for several days here and there and head up to Philly or New York City whenever I can. The expansion and renovations I am doing both at the restaurant and at home require my attention at the moment.

What renovations are you planning for the restaurant?

We will be renovating the bar and creating a seating area where people can come after hours for a cocktail and dessert to socialize instead of having a full meal. This will be more of a VIP type of pass for our regulars and not for everyone. We have also remodeled a downstairs section for meetings and conferences to accommodate up to 25 people, and are adding all of the necessary amenities for that. We will be ready to start promoting that at the end of this year. We won’t be charging a room charge as other places do and we will have many of the same benefits that other similar venues offer, but we will offer more options and services that will set us apart from the others.

We are also planning an outdoor seating area, something very elegant and tasteful that will fit the style of our restaurant.

What are the top 5 things that you would like your patrons to know about you?

I would want them to know that I know and I love good food and I am dedicated to what I do every day. I am equally dedicated to sourcing the best products to cook with because quality is very important to me. Simplicity is also very important…let the natural beauty and flavor of the food speak to you and don’t overdo it. Finally, I want my guests to know that I do my best every day. You can’t always please everyone but I come very close…

SUMMARY of menus from Osteria 177 Restaurant, Annapolis, MD

Classic lunch menu is very affordable and includes appetizers ranging from $8.50 -$14.00 and includes an assortment of offerings which include melon and prosciutto, grilled calamari and beef carpaccio.

Salads and panini sandwiches range from $7-$14 and include vegetarian options in addition to others like their Gypsy chicken and Vesuviano with shrimp.

Pasta and mains for lunch will range in price from $14-$18 and include such delicious offering as Linguini with wild boar ragu and cheese encrusted swordfish with cherry tomato relish.

Their dinner menu is equally affordable with appetizers ranging from $9-$16. They include a beautiful vegetable terrine, clams and mussels in white wine and sushi grade tuna carpaccio.

Salads for dinner are the same as lunch but the soup option is one that is made daily, so make sure to ask your server.

Fresh pasta and mains for dinner range from $18-$49 but cover a wide range of offerings that include fresh pears and ricotta in a gorgonzola and porcini sauce, a daily risotto offering and veal chops, angus rib eyes or a beef tenderloin filet served with a cognac and green peppercorn sauce.

Desserts made in house may include crème brulee, panna cotta, chocolate mousse or an assortment of other handmade specialties.

For more information, please make sure to check out their website or make reservations directly online.

Osteria 177 Restaurant, 410-267-7700, 177 Main Street, Annapolis, MD 21401

Hours of Operation:

Lunch: Mon-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm

Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5-10pm, Fri & Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-9pm


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar scott egan May 23, 2012 at 5:07 p

Cat, great writeup…great photos too…wish I was back in DC so I could go!

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet May 24, 2012 at 8:23 p

Hi Scott! Thanks so much, we had a great time! xo

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