Something tells me Osteria Costa will enjoy a longer run than the Southern-inspired restaurant it replaced in MGM National Harbor, Marcus, named for celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.
Let’s look at what’s right so far: Unlike its predecessor, the Italian newcomer, a spinoff of a same-named establishment in Las Vegas, wisely refrains from tackling three meals a day, plus room service. Instead, Osteria Costa puts all its energy into a single block of time, that being dinner, Wednesday through Saturday. Better still, the menu, by executive chef Beau Williams, 43, offers entertainment for the discerning diner while remaining approachable for the meat-and-potatoes set. Anticipate grilled branzino, a Florentine-style steak and pastas both familiar and novel — something for most everyone, as you might expect of a casino resort. Williams brings to the project experience acquired at the admired Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica and multiple restaurants within Bellagio Las Vegas.
Shades of blue surface in the glassware, the salt and pepper shakers, banquettes and elsewhere, a subtle nod to the Amalfi Coast that serves as culinary inspiration. The kitchen follows through with some pleasing fish and seafood. Striped from the grill, the branzino, edged in a glistening herb puree, is splayed open to accommodate a carpet of shaved fennel and zippy pepperoncini. The entree would taste at home in some starry establishment in downtown Washington. Same for the Flintstone-esque breaded veal chop, its richness and heft countered with peppery arugula. Ditto the lovely, mostly ricotta cheesecake, shot through with lemon zest and dolloped with whipped cream. Not the shrimp spaghetti, though, whose assets of mint and chilies are masked by what smacks of a stick of melted butter in the olive oil pooled around the pasta.
Osteria Costa’s pizzas aren’t apt to make anyone’s listicle. Even so, they’re good enough for any leftovers to be packed up. There’s welcome tang in the tomato sauce and brightness from basil on the margherita, and just the right tug between heat and sweet on the chewy pizza paved with saucer-size slices of salami, Calabrian chiles and a drizzle of honey.
The downside? A stolid high-rise lasagna whose layers include tepid cheese and servers who seem to think interrupting diners’ every other bite is a good thing. It’s not. The wait staff have enthusiasm going for them, if not the ability to assess whether customers want their conversations repeatedly put on pause. “How is it?” is tossed around as much as “fake news.”
The nearly 200-seat restaurant, whose foyer is outfitted with pizza paddles on the wall and a Vespa on the floor, spreads its tables across a front “patio” and a rustic dining room with a bar and a view of the open kitchen. Sit outside the entrance if you like the idea of dinner and a show. On my most recent visit, the perch was sweetened by Mariah Carey declaring “All I Want for Christmas Is You” while an army of set decorators in hard hats erected giant frosted trees and arranged Christmas ornaments the size of igloos.
MGM revels in the season. Osteria Costa contributes to the merriment.
101 MGM National Ave., National Harbor. 301- 971-6010. mgmnationalharbor.com/en/restaurants/osteria-costa.html . Entrees, $22 to $46.