At Osso & Kristalla, light pours through the floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the bar, providing an airy dining space that's almost reminiscent of an atrium. At the head of the restaurant, the thick slab of marble and slatted beams ascending toward the ceiling draws the eye towards the bar — where, ironically, there is no cocktail menu — just a pleasant bartender waiting to whip up your libation of choice.
It's an utterly pleasant locale to transition into evening with drinks and a bite, as my dining companion and I did on a Friday night while sipping a gin-based Moscow mule.
Like Provisions to The Pass, Osso & Kristalla is the more casual sister restaurant to the upscale dinner-service-only Potente (both opened by Houston Astros owner Jim Crane). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Osso & Kristalla is the kind of place you could drop in for a snack or drink any time of day — in the morning for a bombolone, a filled Italian doughnut, or a $5 breakfast sandwich on freshly baked bread, or in the afternoon or evening for wine and a more substantial bite.
The heartiest of bites on the menu include wood-fire-roasted chicken or steak frites served with spaghetti fries, though we opted to sample the recommended four-cheese tortellini instead. The tortellini are nearly palm-sized, the creamy blend of parmesan, ricotta, fontina and mozzarella wrapped in a delicately chewy pasta that belies the skill needed to form the silky housemade specialty. A mixture of arugula, lightly marinated vegetables and parmesan balances what might otherwise be a heavy pasta dish.
Surprisingly for a menu at a modern Italian trattoria, it was the salads that stood out — both the wispy, lemony arugula salad that topped the tortellini as well as the namesake Kristalla salad, which we added on as a side for $6. Served in a deep bowl in order to conceal the generous mound of soft ricotta under a mountain of purple kale, even the mini version has quickly risen to be one of my favorite salads in Houston. The kale is lively but not scratchy, tossed in a preserved lemon dressing that balances salt, sweet and tang. With or without salty pancetta as an accent, thin slices of apple and generous scatterings of toasted pine nuts make for an undeniably tasty and satisfying salad.
The menu is still subject to change, but when we visited, our server recommended the Quattro Formaggi pizza, a gooey mixture of mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola and pecorino with a glistening of truffle oil. Pastry chef David Berg's 100-plus-year-old starter forms the base of the pizza dough, which added a yeasty depth to the crust. The uneven char on the crusts set the pizza a cut above those found at your average Italian restaurant.
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While the menu is brief — just one page featuring a handful each of appetizers, pizzas and entrées — based on what we sampled, what few menu items Osso & Kristalla offers, it does well. The wine list is more extensive, with a heavy representation of affordable Italian wines — the grand majority hovers around $50 or less.
Bisected into a smaller bar area and a larger dining room with many tables and booths — along with an outdoor patio area — Osso & Kristalla easily caters to several different demographics within its casual dining sphere. The front bar is a relaxing spot to grab a drink and catch a game after work, with several large monitors mounted for easy sports viewing. The tables in the larger dining room can be pushed together to accommodate larger groups, with the added bonus of being able to see into the open kitchen. Casual dates or families can cozy up in one of the large booths lining the sides.
Although business was still slow by the time we left around 8 p.m., it's easy to imagine Osso & Kristalla transforming into a bustling, essential component of the downtown ecosystem, particularly given its location right next to Minute Maid Park and proximity to the Main Street bar scene, just a ten-minute walk away.