Just over a year ago, I went out on a photo mission for the Boston Globe with specific requests for images of places, wineries and restaurants in the Sonoma wine country. OSO was on the short list, so I called the restaurant to let them know what the plan was and schedule the most suitable time for me to do this given the tight deadline. The photos needed to include a view of the restaurant, and of at least one of the two dishes the BG had specified.
The time agreed was the slower moment right after the lunch hour, and the staff was very helpful and kind. The chef prepared one of their popular dishes: Grilled Bread with Burrata, Broccolini and Romanesco Sauce ($10) (image further down), and when I was done, I got to take that home with me. A few hours later, hopeful pups at my side, I sat out on the porch and discovered just how delicious that was, even cooled, inevitably smooshed, and eaten with fingers out of the take-out box.
I have since been back to OSO several times, alone and with friends, the most recent of which about three weeks ago (what! already three weeks!). It was an impromptu thing. I was on my way home from Marin, and while trying to figure out what food to pick up and where, I decided I really, really wanted some of OSO’s Deviled Eggs with Dungeness Crab ($10) (images at top of the post and further down), and that I was not going to get them to go, but stop and eat on site, which is always more enjoyable. Actually, I find myself craving those eggs just about every week. They are THAT good!
OSO Restaurant is the creative love child of Chef David Bush, who, aside from his high school years, has spent his life here in California. Starting from the bottom by washing dishes in a pizzeria, Chef David has taken his passion all the way to the top by first attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then working his way through several kitchens of the City by the Bay, then winning awards during his six years as the Executive Chef at St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa.
You will find OSO nestled in one of the 19th-century buildings right on the main Plaza in Sonoma. If you are driving into town via Broadway (avenue), turn right when you reach the Plaza and it will be right there, third building from the corner. If your parking angel is a miracle worker, you might even get a spot right in front.
As you enter, the decor will make you feel like you are stepping into a trendy big-city restaurant. Once inside, you will receive a warm welcome, and find a “small plate” (not that small) menu which, both in selection and style, is a fine-tuned blend of cuisines and flavors. Fresh, local and seasonal ingredients find their way into dishes that are grounded in American cuisine, but also laced with Mediterranean and South American flavors in an eclectic way that is very much Chef David’s own.
Indeed, in the image above is that oh-so-good Grilled Bread with Broccolini, Burrata & Romanesco Sauce I ate out of the take-out box. It is served just warm enough to soften the burrata, and it is comfort food at its best. I am usually not a fan of anything slobbered in tomato sauce, no matter how good the sauce is, but this combination of layers, textures, flavors and even richness works beautifully. I was left wanting more, and was bummed to find out it was no longer on the menu on my next visit. But we had transitioned into summer by then, and the menu reflects the seasons. This seasonal variety is something I love. It makes sense, and it is also more fun and interesting both for the chef and the diners. I am quite happy to taste the grilled bread with toppings of the moment, and wait for the burrata & broccolini whenever it will be again.
Above left is the Chilled Asparagus Salad with Parmesan and Croutons ($12) dressed with Ceasar’s dressing. If you can put comfort in a salad, this is it. Above right is the Seasonal Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Fennel, Blue Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds and Sherry Vinaigrette ($9), which was both light and delicious. Seriously, everything at OSO is so wonderfully satisfying! And especially the super popular Deviled Eggs with Dungeness Crab I mentioned earlier, and which you can see again in the image below. The bed of baby arugula salad they sit on is the perfect accompaniment, as the vinaigrette it is dressed with brings just the bit of sour zing needed to balance the richness of the eggs. I almost stopped by the other day just to pick up some deviled eggs to go, but I had more errands to run after leaving Sonoma, and the weather is just too hot these days to keep something this delicate in the car for more than ten minutes.
Below is the delicious Ceviche with Avocado, Red Onion, Radish and Carrots ($15). The fish used in the ceviche changes daily depending on what is freshest. Besides all those lovely ingredients listed, the ceviche is also served on a bed of finely shredded cabbage, which was a first for me and I thought added a really nice touch. And if you like a bit more fire in your ceviche, you can sprinkle it with that red sauce served on the side in the little bowl. I like a little heat, but not so much that I cannot taste what I am eating, so I left the sauce where it was.
Below are the Shrimp Tacos Verde with Cabbage, Avocado Crema and Cherry Tomato Salsa ($16). The tacos were fresh and delicious, but so spicy hot that my mouth was instantly anesthetized and I could hardly taste a thing afterwards. I have not had food that fiery in years. Not sure if it was normal for this dish, or a slip of the fingers when adding the heat. The people at the next table ate them without blinking, so maybe it was me not being used to super fiery food anymore.
The dessert selection is limited at OSO, just three choices plus a Chef’s Cheese Selection with Seasonal Accompaniments ($15). I know some people enjoy a taste of cheese at the end of their meal, but to me that is not dessert. I enjoy a bite of sweet to round out all the flavors from the savory spectrum that happened before.
The selection may be small with desserts, but the quality is up there with everything else. The Butterscotch Pot De Creme with Whipped Cream and Shortbread Cookies ($9) in the image below is popular for a reason: it is excellent, and one of the best pots de creme I have ever had. Baked bain-marie style, the custard was silky and creamy like that of creme brûlée. Served with fresh whipped cream, it was the perfect thing to soothe my shrimp-taco fiery mouth.
The other two dessert options that day were a Roasted Apple with Pretzel Streusel, Vanilla Ice Cream and Dark Caramel Sauce ($9), and Hot Fudge Sundae with Vanilla Ice Cream, Hot Fudge Sauce, Strawberries, Whipped Cream and Peanuts ($9). There is always another time.
Let’s not forget this is the California wine country, which means that at OSO, besides some lovely cocktails and craft beers, you will also find a carefully selected wine list that pays homage to the Sonoma County, with also inclusions from Napa Valley, Mendocino County and Central California, plus a pinch from Italy and France.
OSO will delight you with good food every day for dinner, but also for happy hour Monday to Thursday, and lunch + afternoon (with an in-between menu) Thursday to Sunday. You are sure to be coming back for more, as Chef David Bush has a true way with food. Just don’t forget to make reservations for dinner, especially as you get close to the weekend, because things can get quite busy.
By the way, Oso means bear in Spanish, but why the restaurant is called OSO I have yet to find out.
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