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From bagels to bolognese

Ostentatious-less Osteria 832 easy on the pocket and palate

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Chewy bagels and leashed dogs -- the ghosts of Sundays past -- float through my mind as I walk toward the brick patio, blooming with baby blue Pelligrino umbrellas. When I asked friends if they had been to Osteria 832, no one knew the name until I mentioned it's the place in the former North Highland Bagel location. Then glazed eyes lit and widened with recognition, unleashing exuberant praise of the pasta and pizza.

Relaxed Aggression: The decor is sparse yet succinct at this oasis named after small pasta cafes found in Italy. The copper-colored aura crescendos with a wall painting titled "Relaxed Aggression." This fab Pollack-wannabe perfectly captures, in abstract colors and motion, the rumbling atmosphere of harried servers darting back and forth with petite tumblers of reasonably priced wine and eager customers crowding the bar.

Thirty minutes or less: Start the meal with the insulata mista ($4), a feathery salad of baby greens and sliced fennel, sparkling in a bright fruity olive oil-based vinaigrette. If you want to pace yourself for the coming gorge fest, order a basket of the fluffy focaccia ($2). Ask for a side of olive oil to anoint the squishy slabs of bread.

The quality of the pizza flickers in and out. On one visit, the Prosciutto and Fungi ($9) is thin and bubbly; barely moistened with tomato juice, fresh cheeses and smooth stretchy slices of prosciutto strategically placed between wilted cremini mushrooms. Each bite is a reflection of salt and earth. At another eat, the Margherita ($7) was overcooked and stiff, a lifeless skeleton of dough whose only saving grace was an intense tomato flavor.

Please pass the pasta: If you order the pasta, be prepared for two things: your plate arriving five minutes after the pizzas and other people's forks prodding out your pasta goodies. The Bolognese ($8), a classic tomato and meat sauce served with ribbed rigatoni, whistles with a syrupy red wine note behind each gulp of dark meatiness. The boscaiola ($8) is downright celebratory; bulbous shells hide plump English peas, niblets of pancetta and cremini mushrooms all melding together in a swirl of spunky cream.

So far the sandwiches, served only at lunch, are a letdown. I ordered the salame sandwich ($5) with caponata (chunks of roasted eggplant and tomatoes), field greens and provolone. The sandwich ingredients are nicely paired but there isn't enough salame to compete with the intense herb and salt flavors of the focaccia.

If you can still stand after this feasting, check out the single seasonal dessert option. On my jaunts, it was the blueberry turnover ($5). The same dough featured in the pizza provides the pouch of purple juice and sharp berries. Fresh whipped cream makes it light enough to crowd the last inch of stomach space. If you are greedy, skip dessert and order a second pizza. Who needs bagels when there is cold pizza in the fridge for breakfast?

foodanddrink@creativeloafing.com

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