Dining Reviews

Afternoon Delights at Oswald

Chef Damani Thomas of OswaldWeekend lunches at Oswald, and other essentials

Yes! Another expanded option in the new year—weekend lunches at Oswald. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you can grab a table at the corner of Soquel and Front streets and consider a tantalizing menu that includes fried chicken and waffles, marinated portobello mushroom sandwiches, pan-fried flank steak, burgers, and choice salads. Rita and I checked it out last week and pampered ourselves with two of the daily specials. No way could we resist ordering a glorified, grown-up, enlightened quattro formaggi version of mac n’ cheese, which arrived—served by chef Damani Thomas himself—with a lavish green salad of mixed market greens ($12). The piping-hot melted cheese tossed with pasta (or is it vice versa?) was rich and comforting. Crunchy on top, thanks to a toasted gratinée of cheese and bread crumbs. Our other lunch special involved crisp grilled shrimp piled onto an aioli-slathered brioche bun and topped with pickled beets and arugula ($10). A pile of sensuous french fries came with the plump, delicious sandwich, french fries that make you happy you have taste buds—and a gym membership.

Even after a satisfying lunch we couldn’t resist a sophisticated version of chocolate pot de crème for dessert ($8). Here was a creamy concoction of dark chocolate, barely sweet, dense, and filled with the primal mystery of chocolate. We ignored the rounded plume of unsweetened whipped cream on top, but we both coveted the extra chocolate enchantment of an accompanying chocolate cookie studded with chocolate chips. This single, irresistible dessert makes Oswald a Fort Knox of chocolate in my book. And at lunchtime, no less? It felt like some forbidden intimacy in broad daylight. An idea whose time has come. Have some to celebrate the New Year! Oswald, 121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Open for lunch Fri-Sun, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner Tues-Sun from 5:30 p.m.. oswaldrestaurant.com.

Things I Can’t Live Without

Here are the must-have items in my kitchen, ones that will transition with confidence directly from 2015 into 2016. Hot mango chutney—for chicken and pork. Organic chicken broth—for braising, splashing into pasta sauce, and forming the base of wintery lentil stews. Tamarind paste—a crucial secret ingredient in stews, soups, black beans, and vinaigrette. Worcestershire sauce—another key element that adds depth and body to sauces and stews. Capers—for salads, eggs and chicken. White balsamic vinegar—our go-to vinegar for almost all salads. I once told my environmental ethics students that an environmental crisis at my house was running out of white balsamic vinegar. Only some of them were amused. Fernet-Branca—my preferred after-dinner liquor. Nothing compares with the haunting bitter orange and herbal mystery of this prized Italian bitters. Biscotti for a little touch of sweet after dinner. I loved the fat almond and apricot biscotti from Companion, and also the finger-sized almond and orange ones from Iveta. Nettle tea—our bedtime beverage. If it was good enough for Buddhist sage and holy man Milarepa, it’s good enough for us.

Entree of the Week

Seared sea scallops with parsnip purée and a dazzling slaw of Brussels sprouts, studded with thin slices of grapefruit and tangerine. Curls of flash-fried parsnip topped this beautiful dish ($30), which was also surrounded with a reduction vinaigrette—sensational flavors, from Mark Denham and company at Soif. Seriously, these were huge, tumescent scallops served golden crisp, with intelligent and extraterrestrially wonderful accompanying flavors. And if you simply want a glass of the gossamer Verus Furmint white wine from Slovenia ($9) then don’t forget those addictive ham and fontina inflected arancini balls ($8).

LET’S DO LUNCH Chef Damani Thomas of Oswald with a tantalizing plate of his chicken and waffles. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER

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