Downtown's Oswald continues to combine flavorful seasonal ingredients with appetizing presentations
This wasn't the first time my son has said goodbye to Santa Cruz. Going away to college, from my perspective, was significant, but landing a job with a promising career path and securing an apartment in San Francisco, I consider monumental.
It's a different world up there. But before he took wing, we wanted to give him a taste of some of the best his hometown has to offer.
It was eight o'clock on a weeknight, and the air at Oswald was perfumed by huge pink lilies, and punctuated by energetic conversation. Our cocktails ($9) included a tart vodka Cosmojito with mint, lime and cranberry, and the Bitter End, which also included fresh mint, plus whiskey and grapefruit juice.
For appetizers we couldn't resist the two specials. Unmolded from a ramekin, soft, bright avocado was topped with chunks of crab, a wafer of cheese that was melted and cooked until crisp, and a bit of salsa with bell pepper, red onion and lemon rind ($13). It was served with balsamic-dressed greens.
Before California bids au revoir to foie gras on July 1, I couldn't resist one more taste. The incredibly tasty grilled liver ($15) spread like butter on toasted bread with savory apricot chutney.
Each of our entrées was beautifully presented and delicious, despite the absence of co-owner Chef Damani Thomas. Tangy blue cheese butter melted into slices of tender, rare Skirt Steak ($25). The accompanying onion rings were sliced thinly, lightly battered, salty and crisp. A shared bottle of dry, peppery, Nipozzani Riserva ($44) was the perfect accompaniment.
Seared Dayboat Scallops ($25) were served with jasmine rice on a bed of spicy and creamy puréed nettles with mushrooms. The Roasted Chicken Breast ($24), boneless except for the wing drumette, sat atop sautéed escarole and pedestals of sweet potatoes. It was topped with minced anchovy butter.
Such an occasion as this deserves some sweet, 10-year tawny port ($8), and a selection of desserts. Three balls of vivid tangerine sorbet ($8) rested in a puddle of crème Anglaise.
The cheese plate ($10) included my favorite goat cheese brie with truffles, a
hard Basque sheep's milk cheese, and a softer Gouda-colored Belgian cheese, which was firm yet creamy on the tongue. Slices of green apple and sugared walnuts lent sweet-tart harmony.
The flourless Chocolate Soufflé ($10), cooked in a ramekin, was presented on a plate dusted with cocoa and powdered sugar. Made with Valrhone dark chocolate and as light as mousse, it was served with a pitcher of crème anglaise.
Lunch is now served only on Fridays, but on Wednesday nights, enjoy prix fixe specials ($29). Choose from trios of appetizers, entrées, and desserts. Recently the menu included sherry-steamed mussels with aioli, lentil fritters with beets, greens and crème fraîche, and a dessert of apricot clafouti (fresh fruit topped with batter and baked) with whipped cream.
Oswald, 121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-7427. Full bar. Serving lunch Fridays from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., and dinner Tuesday through Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Visit oswaldrestaurant.com.