Restaurant Review - Osteria del Figo

"Oooh, Figo, is sooo good," chirps a young lady swinging a basketful of luxury kibbles when she overhears me mention the pasta spot. I'm picking up cakes at Star Provisions and at the mention of the word "Figo," I'm suddenly surrounded by well-heeled shoppers gushing about their favorite dishes. Indeed, word about Figo and its Westside sister Osteria del Figo has spread like a virus, leading to weekend nights that resemble a barely controlled looting scene.

Service with a snarl: On a recent Saturday night, a line of diners spills out of Osteria del Figo's lobby into the parking lot. A light drizzle deters no one. The restaurant's interior is a sort of Pottery-Barn-does-Italian with ochre-sponged walls and rustic wooden chairs and tables. First-time visitors trudge ahead, expecting to submit names to a waiting list. Instead, guests are stared down by a sullen cashier. There are no signs that explain the restaurant's order-at-the-counter and seat-yourself arrangements.

When a preceding couple marches away without their pepper-grinder-cum-table-marker, things get ugly. After much eye-rolling and muttering, the cashier dispatches a waitress after the couple and then directs her scorn at us, tapping pen to order pad. She glares intently while we rush to make an alternate selection when informed the kitchen has run out of lasagna.

The service staff seems to be composed exclusively of young women, the majority of whom go about their tasks with a joylessness that might lead one to believe they have been sold into indentured pastahood. While they aren't exactly rude, they certainly aren't welcoming.

Safe and sort of sound: This nebulous attitude extends to the food at Osteria del Figo as well. Appetizers, such as the fried calamari ($7) and the Caprese salad of tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil ($6), have nothing wrong with them but are no different than what one could find in any number of eateries. Lentil soup ($4) is essentially tomato sauce with lentils in it. Not bad if you like Prego.

Diners choose pastas ($4 to $5 for ravioli and $3 for items such as penne and tagliatelle) and sauces, all of which are $3. While I appreciate the opportunity to mix and match, the tomato and pancetta Amatriciana sauce's intense pork smokiness renders it too overwhelming for anything other than plain pasta. A linguine special with crab meatballs in pink brandy sauce ($10) was neither bad nor good, tasting of little more than tomatoes, cream and salt. However, the lasagna ($7) on another visit was so mushy that layers of pasta, cheese and meat sauce were completely indistinct.

Desserts are satisfying though. The panna cotta ($4), usually a dense custard of heavy cream and here a cone of Cool Whip-like whipped cream with a berry sauce, was a lovely end to the meal.

During the second visit, charming proprietors Sandro Romagnoli and Mirko de Giacomantonio greeted guests, which they should do as frequently as possible. Their concern for diners' enjoyment seems genuine. Osteria del Figo's food is safe and sanitized, which appeals to a crowd whose main concerns with dining out are budget and simplicity. It may be hard to have a bad meal at Osteria del Figo, but it's equally difficult to have a great one there, too.