Oswald (Santa Cruz) re-opened
No one has posted about this yet, so I thought I should mention it.
After an absurd amount of time waiting and hearing rumors, Oswald has re-opened as of the start of the new year at the NW corner of Soquel Ave and Front St. downtown (just down the block from Barnes and Noble). I thought its previous incarnation was hands-down the best restaurant in Santa Cruz. I didn't always agree with the composition of the plates, but the execution was IMO virtually always spot-on.
While I haven't eaten a full meal there yet, I stopped by for a couple of drinks and a calamari salad last night. It has a much different feel from the previous location, which I think many, myself included, found cozy and intimate. Version 2.0 has many more tables and a rather sizeable bar that probably seats around 20. Menu isn't much changed in size or in spirit, it seems. My one salad was nicely executed, though maybe not quite to the same exacting standards as before (more covers per night? growing pains of a new - sort of - place?). There's also a full bar now, and they do some nice mixed drinks. I'm curious to see how it does and how it evolves over the next year or two.
I've been to the new Oswald and think their food is pretty amazing. I've heard a lot of buzz from friends in the community about its new location. Some love it, some loved the old spot. Regardless, the food is still incredible and much nicer than anything I've eaten around town. Simple, straight forward bistro fare that isn't pretentious or trying too hard. None of that gross fusion crap that seems to be so loved. A bit noisy, but that can be expected as there are so many of us that need to be fed good food. Seriously the best creme brulee in town. I've noticed that they are also open for lunch and have a fun, lighter bar menu as well.
Went again, this time for a full meal. Unfortunately, despite a relatively early (6 pm) arrival time and light crowd (it was a Tuesday), we were given a really bad table - right by the kitchen, with lots of clanking sounds and for those facing away from the kitchen, the weird glow of the faces of my fellow dining companions who were lit by a weird Close Encounters bluish fluorescent light. Normally this isn't the sort of thing to bother me but for whatever reason I found it particularly annoying on this day. So take the rest of the post with some skepticism given my possibly less-than-ideal attitude.
The food is good but there's still something missing that I can't put my finger on. I ordered the pork with cabbage and spaetzle which used to be a great dish at Oswalds. This time it was fine but far from inspiring. The sauce seemed to not go so well with the pork - too assertively flavored and a bit too sweet. I guess the easiest thing to say is that the dishes seem to lack the easy balance that they used to have. That, and the portions aren't particularly recession-friendly (which didn't used to seem like as big of a deal, but nowadays is on people's minds, at least mine).
One friend of mine has said that she thinks they should have a separate bar menu, which I think is a great idea. The fairly limited dinner menu doesn't necessarily go so well with the large bar. I do hope this is still a transitional period and that they'll hit their previous stride sometime soon.
We had our first dinner at the new Oswald, and the comments of bouncepass seem to match our experience. The old Oswald was our favorite restaurant in the area. The new one is so different it almost warrants a different name. Indeed, the old one was cozy and intimate - the new one is much larger and noisy, partly because of the bar scene but also the restaurant itself. A number of dishes on the menu have the same name but again, as bouncepass has already mentioned, they do not seem to match the high quality, complexity, and care that they did in the previous place, even though (we were told) they have the same chef and kitchen staff. The old restaurant was truly unique - the new one seems to be a cookie cutter of dozens of "hip", "in" restaurants. We could just as easily have been in San Jose or Orange County. Given the difficulty in getting reservations, the new Oswald will probably be more financially successful than the old one.
Next week, we'll head back to our more recent, and still, favorite - Au Midi in Aptos.