Behind the bar, a mixologist is muddling orange peel into a tall glass. Chef/owner Damani Thomas is finessing dishes in the open kitchen. Beverly and I slide into the front window banquette and enjoy the sun-filled ambience of the dining room, which feels light and relaxing in the middle of the day.
Lunch at Oswald has an entirely different vibe than the sizzle of happy hour, or the expansive, robust energy of the house dinner times. Wednesday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., lunch restores serenity to this popular downtown restaurant at the corner of Front and Soquel.
We like the trend of making additions such as chicken, seafood, or a fried egg available on entrees at smart places like Oswald. However, my eyes went immediately to the house burger and fries ($18), and Bev jumped on the lunch special—King salmon over a hash of Jimmy Nardello peppers, potatoes, shallots, and zucchini. Sparkling water made sense on a warm afternoon, although we found ourselves gazing over at two women happily consuming cocktails in midday. The last few weeks of summer can provide an excuse for indulgence, no?
We also had time to savor the current art exhibition filling the walls of Oswald. Barbara Lawrence’s rugged landscapes showcase plein air insight and savvy knife work. And then our dishes arrived. In the center of one plate, a thick wedge of salmon filet lay at a diagonal on a golden dice of vegetables, bathed in basil olive oil vinaigrette. The moist salmon was topped with slices of radish and more vinaigrette. A terrific dish for an amazing price—$20.
My burger ($18) was nothing short of huge. A thick patty of rare/medium rare beef perched on a fresh brioche bun, with cheddar cheese melting all over the top, and an underpinning of aioli, sliced late-harvest tomatoes, and a fan of dill cornichon. I laid on the catsup and worked my way through almost half of the exceptional burger, the rest to take home. Every bite was accompanied with one of the crisp, hot, salty french fries that covered more than half the plate. These were fries that mock the entire idea of restraint.
Thank you, Damani and company. I had forgotten how good this comfort classic could be. Having absolutely no room for either the chocolate mousse or the creme brulee dessert options, we sipped French press coffee and green tea as we decompressed from our totally satisfying lunch at Oswald. There will be more of these midday Oswald episodes in our future, and that’s a fact!
Oswald, 121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Closed Monday. oswaldrestaurant.com.
Mark your calendars now for the Oct. 6 Gourmet Grazing on the Green, noon to 4pm at Aptos Village Park. Your ticket admits you to the event, plus souvenir wine glass and the day of food, wine, and beer tasting. Here are a few top tastes you don’t want to miss.
Vendors and restaurants include Hula’s Island Grill, Friend in Cheeses, Ella’s at the Airport, Cafe Rio, Shadowbrook Restaurant, SunRidge Farms, Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine and lots more. To drink, consider Odonata Wine, Storrs Winery, Venus Spirits, Discretion Brewing, Bargetto Winery, Soquel Cider, and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.
A classic outdoor neighborhood event, with proceeds going to the Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group. Be there!
INFO: Early-bird tickets, $55 through Oct 5. Otherwise, $70 at the door. Tickets at sccbg.org or at New Leaf Community Markets.