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Cucciolo Osteria: A must-try for Durham residents and Duke students alike

A short walk from East Campus, straight down West Main Street, lies Cucciolo Osteria, an upscale, yet friendly restaurant, offering “modern Italian Cuisine with a twist.” Brought to Durham by cousins Jimmy (a Duke alum!) and Julian Kim, Cucciolo Osteria is the sister restaurant to their inaugural location in Seoul, South Korea. Best known for their rotating selection of pasta dishes and their curated wine and cocktail offerings, they’ve made a solid impact on the Durham restaurant scene since opening in 2018. 

I arrived at Cucciolo Osteria with a few friends for our 8:00 p.m. reservation. We were quickly seated by the hostess at a table tucked into a corner with soft overhead lighting and a cozy ambiance. There’s a mix of low and high-top seating in addition to a bar, with room for a variety of group sizes. They have a white marble bar running through the restaurant with industrial decorations to compliment the red brick walls.. 

We started with the absolutely incredible Basil Tomato Bruschetta. The toasted bread was drenched in olive oil, but still had a solid crunch. Over the toast, a thick layer of house-made ricotta was evenly spread. The creaminess of the ricotta was the perfect compliment to the consequent layer of roasted tomatoes, which brought in a bolder flavor to the starter. Each order comes with two slices, so for larger groups I would recommend ordering a few for the table. If bruschetta isn’t your thing, the Prosciutto Di San Daniele and the Burrata are also highly recommended. 

After our starters, we moved on to one of Cucciolo Osteria’s bigger draws — their short, but delicious assortment of primis. These five different pasta dishes each offer a unique combination of flavors. For my first time at Cucciolo Osteria, I tried the Linguine Alla Amatriciana, a lovely mix of guanciale, cherry tomatoes, and pecorino, with stronger flavors stemming from the garlic and red pepper in the dish. The sauce was definitely the primary focus of the course and provided a rich accompaniment to the linguine. My second time, I tried the Spicy Vodka Tomato Cream Rigatoni and it was so good. This dish was lighter than the first and the ricotta was a delightful offset to the sauce, adding a variety of flavors and textures to the course. 

The portions were generous and l felt full after both. While I elected to have the pasta as my primary meal, Cucciolo Osteria also offers a small selection of entrees. The Butter Chicken and the Beef Tagliata were both favorites of my friends and would be a wonderful addition to those looking for another course after following their pasta. 

For those who are over 21, Cucciolo Osteria offers a wide selection of wines to compliment your meal. With some available by the glass and an extensive collection available by the bottle, they have everything from French Rosé to Italian Reds. In addition to the variety of wine, they also have a number of creative cocktails. The Magician, which is cabernet floated on top of Lunazul Reposado Tequila, with a bit of citrus and the Vieux Carre, a mix of Bullet Rye Whisky, cognac, vermouth, benefictine, and bitters are both popular options. For those who enjoy Empress Gin, the Empress Sidecar and Sage Advice would also be great choices. 

Cucciolo Osteria’s dessert menu is short, but sweet, offering three different confectioneries and a selection of gelato to finish off your meal. The Tiramisu is incredibly rich, with intense espresso soaked layers offset with creamy mascarpone and coated in cocoa powder. The Panna Cotta is a simple, but satisfying dessert. It’s very light, with the distinct gelatinous cream complemented with a drizzle of berry sauce and topped with strawberries. Both served as a refreshing end to the meal and a marked difference from the flavor profiles of our previous courses. 

Cucciolo Osteria is  a wonderful choice for anyone looking for a nicer dinner with friends or a night out. The atmosphere was friendly, with dim lighting and constant chatter in the background, but never noise that overpowered the conversation at our table. The service was wonderful and the food was absolutely incredible. Their curated menu was never overwhelming and offered a lovely mix of options for our dinner. Cucciolo Osteria is a favorite of many Duke students for a reason and for those who have yet to try it out, it’s definitely one to add to the list. 

Cucciolo Osteria is open from 5-9 on Sunday through Thursday and 5-10 on Saturday and Sunday. They are closed on Tuesdays. For more information about Cucciolo Osteria, you can check out their website, Instagram, and menu

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