Chef Chris Watson parts ways with Ovvio Osteria

Concerned that the owners of Ovvio Osteria are more interested in making a quick return on their investment than in maintaining the standards with which the Italian restaurant opened last summer, opening chef Chris Watson says he’s leaving the Merrifield property this Sunday.

MERRIFEILD, VA - AUGUST 29, 2013: Chef Chris Watson in the dining room of his new italian restaurant in Merrifeild, VA. (Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg/For the Wahington Post)
Chef Chris Watson is departing Ovvio Osteria in Merrifield. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg/For the Wahington Post)

A review in the Washington Post in September praised Ovvio Osteria for, among other details, its house-baked breads, winey pork cheeks on polenta, warm setting and sophisticated desserts by pastry chef Jennifer Short. Watson says the DSF Group, the Boston-based real estate investment firm that owns the restaurant, began asking him to make cuts in staff and menu selections the day after the two-star critique ran.

“We can’t do that if we want to maintain the same quality,” he says he told the principals.

Josh Solomon, president and chief investment officer of DSF, denies telling the chef to let employees go and says he was simply listening to suggestions from customers. “Based on feedback from guests,” he says, “we needed to make some tweaks,” the biggest of which is making Ovvio “a neighborhood restaurant and less of a destination.” Read: lower prices and more home-style Italian cooking.

Solomon says the osteria will continue to bake its own bread and make its own pasta after Watson's departure, contrary to what the outgoing chef forecasts. Cosmetic changes will include brighter lighting and a TV in the bar.

Giovanni Carlo, the former chef of Panache in Tysons Corner, is taking over the kitchen. The Italian native served as sous chef under Roberto Donna at the late Galileo for seven years. Look for lasagna and chicken Parmesan, among other comforts, on his forthcoming menu.

Watson, who left the DSF-owned Brabo restaurant in Alexandria to helm Ovvio, says he’s unsure of his next move, beyond some consulting gigs. “I didn’t think I’d be in this position,” the chef says. His wish is more certain: “I’d like to do another restaurant.”

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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