Oliver’s Osteria Scores with Culinary Craftsmanship

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New restaurants never open quietly in Laguna Beach. 

Indeed, Oliver’s Osteria (which translates to Oliver’s Tavern) has attracted accolades and critical acclaim since opening in 2018 in Laguna Canyon’s Hive district. Situated beside the Sawdust Festival and directly next to the homegrown Laguna Beach Beer Company, Oliver’s tiny osteria is poised to become the hottest reservation of 2019 -- the food shines, the cocktails are inventive (and strong), and the service delivers. EaterLA and the Orange County Register have taken note and ranked Oliver’s in their respective top local restaurants lists. So what’s all the fuss about?

Owner and Executive Chef Erik De Marchi spent the last 10 years at LA hotspot, Angelini Osteria, but sought something different in coastal Orange County. “Chef Erik wanted to go to an area that was in need of authentic, traditional cuisine from his hometown region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy,” says Antonetta Guerra of the restaurant’s communications team. “Laguna Beach was a perfect fit and he fell in love with the community.”

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The restaurant itself is small with boisterous indoor seating, bar seating, and a handful of mercifully quiet tables on the patio, separated from the parking lot by a trellised wall of fragrant jasmine. The al fresco section is covered during the rainy months and remains open year round, save for when the restaurant is closed on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas because Chef Erik wants his staff to stay at home with their families.

Charming and genuine with well-informed servers, the service is reassuring and far from frantic in the bustling joint. The food, in all of its delicious glory, reminds guests of past vacations in Italy and does not disappoint.

Changing every three to four months so Chef Erik can focus on seasonal ingredients, the menu is especially known for its pasta dishes. Depending on the day, nearly all of the pastas are made in-house, including a spectacular squid ink cappellacci (a stuffed pasta filled with seabass, parsley and leeks, topped with a lemon cream sauce). Oliver’s is one of those restaurants where diners should be sure to hear the specials before deciding on a dish. Distinctly unique offerings like a truffle cream tartuffo (a long, spaetzle-like pasta) typically only appear as a special.)

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Salads and antipasti surprise with complex flavors and textures, and include ingredients you’ve likely never had before (like the artichokes and walnuts in the timballo di carciofi that are crafted together in a way that speak to craft rather than ostentation). The same goes for desserts, like the traditional panna cotta getting an upgrade with a sweetened baked cream and berry jam. Even cocktails, like the popular Erik’s Old Fashioned and the positively divine Agave Seco (our personal favorite), are traditionally Italian at heart with fresh, local ingredients and flavor to kickstart any appetite.

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Victoria Kertz is a journalist and co-founder of Third Street Writers in Laguna Beach. She covers food and travel on Instagram at @orangecountess.

Photos by: Josie Elle Farrior.