Oswald Santa Cruz Restaurant Review

Review of Oswald Restaurant in Santa Cruz

Oswald is a great little place, with exceptional food, but interestingly, it’s located in a seriously unglamorous part of Santa Cruz. It’s kind of a food fortress – there is absolutely no interaction with the outside word in this place—no garden, no sign, no nothing except concrete, cinderblock and glass. You sort of eat in a bunker. The restaurant is physically located at the corner of Soquel Avenue and Front Street, an area of parking lots, lots of traffic, and not a lot of green. Interestingly, the kitchen is behind a big plate/bulletproof glass window that looks out on Front Street, so passersby can see exactly what’s going on in the kitchen. Which is quite a lot.

Because, inside, this is an elegant, very professional bunker, with a carefully-selected beautifully-executed menu, great service, and some interesting, innovative twists on the menu. This is expertly-prepared high-end food, in a noisy, busy place – not good for children, and not good if you’re interested in some kind of mellow, Santa Cruz experience. Oswald could be in Manhattan, or downtown San Francisco. Great food, though.

The Location

Address: 121 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Phone: (831) 423-7427

The Hours

Open for dinner every day but Monday, from 17:30 with no closing time. Also open for lunch Fridays only, from 11:30 until 14:30.

The Ambiance

Elegant, dramatic and crowed. It’s a fairly small place, with, I would guess, twenty tables. There is absolutely no fabric anywhere, so sound ricochets and it’s really loud when it’s full. The lighting is, as I said, dramatic – spotlight floral arrangements, contemporary art on the walls, and so on. All in all, kind of a high-end face place.

The Service

Very good. There was a minor delay in seating us, I think because we made our reservation with OpenTable. However, once we going, everything was fine.

The Price

Expensive. $118 for two people, including drinks, a shared dessert and coffee.

The Food

Elegant, expertly prepared and innovative. This is not a fun place – this is a place for serious cooking, and serious eating.

For starters, we began, of course, with salads. The Butter Lettuce salad was nicely done – after a while, unless you’re getting it in a deli, there isn’t a lot to say about a regular old run-of-the-mill green salad. Lettuce with beets, olives, pickled onions & grana (which is an arty term for grated cheese). It was good.

The other salad, however, was fascinating. It was abalone – a shellfish that’s native to Northern California waters, that’s very difficult to harvest, and that’s highly regulated. I have had abalone exactly once in my life, after a group of people I was camping with outside of Mendocino. Harvesting them requires diving to the bottom of an ocean cove, and prying them loose with a special flat abalone knife. In other words, they’re delicious, but very hard to get.

Oswald’s abalone salad features a couple of deep-fried pieces of abalone, along with bacon, apple and watercress. It was wonderful, and really interesting because the bacon and the abalone today create a really salty, savory flavor. This was beautifully balanced by the apple, and the watercress, with the ultimate result being a kind of savory salad. Really nice work.

My entrée was brisket, that staple of Jewish cooks everywhere on earth. It was wonderfully done – incredibly rich and tender, as all brisket should be, served up with green beans and polenta. The whole thing is pretty heavily sauced, which totally works, and creates a wonderful deep, rich dish. The outcome is the very best kind of hot mess, and really highly recommended, especially if you’re really hungry, a little cold, or just doubt the fundamental meaning of existence.

Beth’s entrée was the sautéed halibut, which was also great – light and flavorful, served with corn chowder and pesto, which are really good contrasts to the gentle flavors of the halibut.

Dessert was, of course, coffee, along with a really nice, elegant little lemon bread pudding, served in an oversized ramekin. The mint garnish and the powdered sugar made it a nice visual, and this was the exact opposite of the usual sweetened gloppy mess. The coffee arrived in individual French presses, which is also nice – it guarantees a really good cup of coffee.

All in all, Oswald is a great place. The wine list is extensive, the menu is limited but really expertly done, and there’s genuine creativity at work. One of the best places in Santa Cruz in general, and downtown in particular.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Oswald, Santa Cruz
Author Rating
Published On: Saturday, January 25th, 2014