Last month a place called Oscar's opened its doors in the space formerly known as the Mosaic Cafe on the corner of South Tejon and Costilla streets. Already, Oscar's feels like an established neighborhood hangout, with accessible parking to boot. The only signs of relative newness are the shiny tables and barstools, the incredibly clean interior and fish tank, and a few kinks in the flow of service.
Think of Oscar's as a hybrid of, say, Tony's and Manitou's Keg, with some Ritz thrown in. (Owner and chef Phil Duhon was formerly with Concept Restaurants The Ritz and MacKenzie's.)
The atmosphere is low-key and casual, with the requisite pool table off to the side. The clientele varies in age and social grouping, and the food is substantial. So far, the place has been comfortably crowded but not uncomfortably packed.
This is important because you want to stick around for a full-blown meal. Don't be misled by the informal place settings -- silverware propped in a beer mug, next to a roll of paper towels. With a brand new menu (now including oysters, which, reportedly, are excellent), neatly divided into Starters, Soups & Salads, Sandwiches and Entrees, there is plenty to choose from without being overwhelmed.
The Starters lean toward Cajun-style, with Buffalo Wings ($5.95 for a half order, $9.95 for a full order), Creole Boiled Shrimp ($9.95), Fresh Shucked Oysters ($1.00/each) and Louisiana Boudin ($7.95) -- rice and sausage, rolled, breaded and deep fried. As the waitress noted: not good for you, but really good to eat. I highly recommend these tasty cholesterol no-nos.
There are four salad and soup selections: a House Salad or Dinner Ceasar (both $2.95), a soup of the day and, the standout at our table, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (cup $3.95/bowl $6.95) -- a simple but tasty Cajun broth filled with chunks of sausage and tender pieces of chicken breast.
Sandwich choices range from the traditional burger to the Shrimp Po-boy, and are average in size and price.
The Turkey Melt ($6.95) and the Shrimp Po-boy ($7.95) are the most adventurous choices. The turkey melt is served on a croissant, topped with tomato, sprouts, asparagus and Swiss cheese. The whole thing is then grilled. The asparagus makes the sandwich, offering a pleasant crunch and an unusual flavor combo. All sandwiches come with onion rings, fries, tater tots or a side salad.
Entrees are diverse, range in price from $10.95 to $16.95 and come with a mini-loaf of warm, soft bread with a crusty, toasted exterior. Choices include salmon, steak, chicken, pork, shrimp and llobster. The Chicken Oscar ($14.95, also available as Steak Oscar for $16.95) is worthy of the restaurant's signature name -- a large, sauted chicken breast with a hint of garlic is topped with crab and asparagus and a wonderful, homemade hollandaise sauce, served with Yukon mashed potatoes and the best cooked and tasting green beans I've had in a long time.
The Creole Seafood Pasta ($10.95) was the other table favorite. The pasta was fettuccini topped with blackened shrimp, with crawfish, peppers, corn and andouille sausage mixed in, strongly flavored and rich but not overwhelming. Sprinkled with just a bit of Parmesan cheese, the Alfredo sauce stood back enough to allow the crawfish and sausage to stand out. The blackened shrimp provided a nice complement, spiced to Cajun perfection.
Overall, Oscar's is a well-oiled operation, considering it has only been up and running for a month. One snag: When things get really busy, service does not flow smoothly. On one Friday night, our service was great until two huge parties arrived and were seated in the same section. Our meal was almost finished, but it took almost 30 minutes to get the bill, and even longer to get a to-go box. Hopefully the traffic patterns will be worked out soon.
But the beauty of Oscar's is that it's a genuine neighborhood joint, with neighborhood tavern-meets-downtown atmosphere, good food and affordable beer specials (two-for-one taps, including Fat Tire and Laughing Lab). Give them a few months and it'll be the kind of place where -- strike chord here -- everybody knows your name.