After having now lived in Omaha for a little while, I recently set out to find the best Italian food the city has to offer (no, not Olive Garden). One spot that kept coming up in conversation was Avoli Osteria, the Dundee restaurant that has become known for serving extraordinary Italian fare in the sort of inviting, warmly lit space that makes you want to linger for hours over fabulous food and wine.
Our introduction to Avoli’s food came in the form of assorted salumi, the cured meats for which Italy is justifiably famous. The speck, lean slices of pork lightly smoked, salted, and aged, is nuanced and slightly smoky, while the calabrese is speckled with fat and redolent of cayenne pepper and paprika, and the prosciutto is everything one expects it to be—delicate, sweet, and creamy. The house-marinated eggplant should not be overlooked as it is a fantastic accompaniment to cut through the richness of the salumi.
Other antipasti included the classic Vitello Tonnato, a platter of cold, thinly sliced veal roasted to pink perfection, with olives, cherry tomatoes, and tangy capers, all blanketed in a tuna-infused aioli which was creamy and luxurious. The burrata was simple, yet beautiful in its execution—a ball of porcelain-white creamy, sweet cheese covered by a thin mozzarella shell, with a lovely salad of arugula, pickled shallots, and sweet tomato jam. And don’t get me started on the beets, all earthy and sweet, accompanied by bright, acidic pickled ramps, more of the aforementioned burrata (there is no such thing as too much cheese), crunchy almonds, and a small shower of peppery watercress. Eating your vegetables has never been so easy.
We then moved on to our first courses, determined to sample the beautiful housemade pastas (all except for the rigatoni and penne) for which Avoli has become known. Difficult to pare down, we ordered five dishes, none of which disappointed. The Tajarin all’Uovo, a deceptively simple sounding dish of hand cut egg noodles, with butter, sage, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a shaving of black truffles. The complexity of flavors was extraordinary and comforting; one of those dishes of which you simply can’t get enough. The rye mezzaluna, thin half-moons stuffed with tangy goat cheese and herbs, with a bright tomato sauce accented with salty Parmigiano-Reggiano, were bursting with flavor, as was the Spaghetti Carbonara, that seductive Roman dish of toothsome spaghetti, guanciale, egg, and black pepper. Two of my absolute favorites were the Bolognese Bianco, a pork and veal ragu accented with hazelnuts for crunch, and the Chitarra di Sepia, inky black strands of pasta with littleneck clams, sundried tomato, Calabrian chili, and basil.
Pastas devoured, we then moved on to our entrees, the first of which was the Nebraska Grilled Trout, a whole crispy-skin trout with moist, flaky meat and a bright Meyer lemon vinaigrette with a green lentil ragout. We also enjoyed the Beef Cheeks, braised until fork-tender and glazed with a dark jus, over horseradish spaetzle. Perhaps the only way to top all of this extraordinary food was with the Butterscotch Budino, a dessert for which there are almost no words to describe. Almost. Sweet and salty and creamy. Oh so creamy. A stellar ending to a stellar meal.
The Bottom Line: Unabashed flavor and beauty are at the forefront of each dish at Avoli Osteria. The kitchen doesn’t get overly fussy with the ingredients; rather, they utilize their technique to elevate the top-notch product with which they are dealing. Avoli Osteria also features a broad list full of interesting Italian wines, many of which can be had for $30 per bottle. The service, it must also be said, is on-point, relaxed and friendly, while maintaining a warm reserve.