Osteria Natalina draws from its previous life as Spartaco to offer something new and something old. It’s set in the same location, a corner of a strip center in South Tampa. Its obscure location doesn’t keep it from being discovered — it’s a well-traveled haunt. And its short, uncomplicated menu, with English subtitles, showcases owner Spartaco Giolito’s hometown, Rimini, on the Adriatic coast.
Spartaco paired his mother’s name, Natalina, with Osteria, which means a less fancy trattoria. Pictures of Natalina in Rimini adorn the place. Mother Natalina made pasta daily during Spartaco’s childhood and still does today. His favorite spiral-shaped strozzapreti, nicknamed a “priest chocker,’’ must have the dooziest of stories about its origins.
Spartaco Giolito oversees the small dining room and his confidence epitomizes hospitality. That’s one of the reasons the small storefront stands out. He doesn’t take reservations so he sends the overflow to Bianchi’s Enoteca to bide their time with a Merlot.
The fresh bread is a good opener while you listen to Natalina’s specials. Many can be halved to serve as an appetizer. Among the menu’s starters, L’ Insalata Caprese punctuates beef steak tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. You’ll do no better than Spartaco’s tender calamari, succulent with lemon and garlic. Other choices are mussels, seafood polenta, and tuna carpaccio.
The fresh seafood dishes are a draw. A tender snapper, enhanced with anchovy, eggplant and caper-spiked tomato sauce, came with tubular pasta and a side of broccoli. A lightly breaded shrimp and scallop dish was a triumph. The puffy pockets of Lobster Ravioli abounded in a hearty pink sauce (the sauce alone was worth ordering). Two cuts of tender beef and a sausage rope headline an entree with tomato-rich pasta and broccoli, pepper and green bean medley.
It’s pretty rare for me to pass on dessert so I’ll sample the gelato, cheesecake or cannoli on my next visit.
Spartaco has found his footing in south Tampa; he opened Spartaco Trattoria and then Vino E Pasta on Gandy Blvd. After selling both, he became a culinary tour operator before opening Natalina in 2009.
My assessment is this is a great restaurant but why does he insist on the “no separate checks’’ policy? While this is a minor inconvenience, splitting checks is fairly standard at just about every other restaurant in town. It’s irritating that the owner refuses to accommodate patrons.
3215 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, FL
5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday
Way to pay: AE, V, MC, Discover
Beer and wine served
Tampa Bay Restaurant News
Chef Benito D’Azzo is cooking up a delightful four-course menu for an upcoming dinner starring the food and wine of one of my favorite destinations. Enjoy California charm when Maestro’s Restaurant features his Napa Valley Duet that pairs Seared Diver Scallops with Spinach, Creamed Leeks and Smoked Bacon, Tarragon Beurre and a Tomato Coli. Also, there’s Durham Ranch, Prime Beef Tenderloin Filet, Roasted Pearl Onions, Caramelized Chestnuts and a Brandy Reduction paired with Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Pear Clafoutis and Robert Mondavi Moscato d’Oro are sweet finales.
The Wines and Cuisine of Napa Valley is 6 p.m. Jan. 23, at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Chef Benito did great things for the Hilton Tampa Bay Beach Resort, St. Petersburg and the Market on Longboat Key before the Straz.
The cost of the dinner is $75 per person, including tax and gratuity. Reservations can be made by calling (813) 229-STAR (7827) or (800) 955-1045, or online at www.strazcenter.org. The series of dinners includes an Italian Bacchanalian Wine Dinner on March 12 and The Fine Wines and Cuisine of Spain on April 30.
Come see me Saturday when I’m judging chocolate drinks at the The Festival of Chocolate this weekend at MOSI. There is a Best Truffle, Confection, Drink and Cake Competition. For information about The Festival of Chocolate, go to the festival website.