Downtown destination: Osteria Pronto is a hit 

click to enlarge osteria.jpg

There was a time when, for the most part, restaurants in hotels seemed like afterthoughts. Designed primarily for the convenience of guests, these establishments were decent enough, but were rarely destinations.

This has changed over the course of the past decade or so. Today, one of the many measures of a hotel is the quality of its restaurant. It’s also the one part of a hotel that the locals in any given city are likely to experience.

Osteria Pronto, the Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the new, blue JW Marriott Hotel downtown, is a tremendous addition to the Indianapolis dining scene. Helmed by chef Rino Baglio and designer Carl A. Bruggemeier, Osteria Pronto revivifies a favorite cuisine by packing it with flavor and freshness.

Located at the south end of the JW’s somewhat overachieving lobby, Osteria Pronto greets you with a warm bloom of Mediterranean-inspired light. The high-ceilinged room is elegant and off-white with dark accents and marble trim. It’s a convivial, roomy space, with great views of the city skyline highlighted by the constant flow of passing traffic. The effect is authoritatively urban, yet relaxed.

This feeling is carried through by the invigorating focus of Osteria’s menu, which fits comfortably on a single, albeit over-sized, sheet. We started with a traditional staple, Bruschetta ($7). Our order consisted of four bite-size slices of grilled Italian bread with tomato, basil, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil and finely shaved Parmesan cheese, served on a long white china tray, drizzled with thick Balsamic vinegar. The flavor balance of these morsels was just about ideal. Although the diced tomatoes were out of season, they were served highly chilled, which provided a certain compensation that played well with the Balsamic’s tang. Most important, the garlic really popped.

This dish was followed by a couple of salads. I ordered the Insalata Della Osteria ($6), a generous bowl of mixed greens and garlic croutons covered with finger-sized shavings of Parmesan cheese and the house vinaigrette. The lettuces were given a nice finish by the house dressing, which was creamy enough to pass for a Caesar at some places, and given added sparkle thanks to ground black pepper.

My partner really scored with the Pere E Formaggio ($7), a salad combining mixed baby greens, fresh, slightly cooked pear cubes and ground pecans with a delicate scoop of Pecorino and goat cheese dressed with Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, with a large slice of herb crostini on the side. This was a delicious winter salad with a bright array of slightly sweet, tangy and rich sensations.

The wait staff at Osteria Pronto appeared well prepared – our server was knowledgeable and attentive, but never overbearing. When he told us that several of the house recipes were handed down by Chef Baglio’s grandmother, including the Spaghetti Vecchio Mondo, a Tuscan meat ball, including veal and pork, served in tomato sauce, I took the plunge.

It should be noted that Osteria Pronto has adopted the cost conscious policy of offering whole and half-sizes for its pasta dishes. Thus, my dish was available for either $11 or $15. I opted for the whole portion, which brought a meatball the size of a lady’s fist floating in a vivid red sauce flecked with bright green herbs. The combination of meats was tender and complex to the taste; the sauce provided a subtle complement to this abundant portion.

A half portion of Gnocchi ($9/$13) constituted our other order. These handcrafted dumplings were bite-size pillows served in a sauce made from heirloom tomatoes, basil, imported buffalo mozzarella and Balsamic vinegar. The serving size of this melt-in-your-mouth blend of boldness and finesse provided plenty of satisfaction.

With its high design ambiance, marvelous attention to flavor and remarkably affordable price point for the quality on offer, Osteria Pronto has all the makings of go-to downtown destination in its own right. The place fills up at night; reservations are recommended.

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