Diners visiting Sonoma’s town square are spoiled for choice. There’s a restaurant every couple of blocks, from elegant to basic. Opening a new spot right in the middle of it all means that to thrive you must find a way to stand out in the crowd.
OSO Sonoma, the newest addition to the overpopulated food scene in town, tries very hard, but the Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson tunes playing through the meal are the perfect metaphor for the menu: crowd-pleasing, familiar, not too daring.
Does it work? Greeted by an energetic “What’s up?” from the bartender (more places should use this greeting), we sat down to find out.
The lunch menu is compact and all across the board, mixing seafood with hearty sandwiches and tacos. We started with the soup ($8), tomato and fennel, sprinkled with Parmesan and sourdough croutons. Tomato soup is often a restaurant cliché, but OSO’s stands out. Whipped and containing no dairy, the hot soup has a multi-dimensional taste and a light, gazpacho-like texture that’s complemented by crunchy croutons. A total must. The following two dishes we tried, however, were disappointing.
The Gulf shrimp cocktail ($14.50) is elegantly served and comes accompanied by an excellent spicy adobo sauce, but paying this price for six medium-sized, if delicious, shrimp felt a bit decadent, even for Sonoma. The steamed mussels ($14) promised a great-sounding combo of green onion, radish and miso broth, but the unfortunate appearance of dominating bacon compromised the flavor and robbed the mussels of their pleasantly martime flavors of sea, salt and funk.
Simplicity and balanced flavors returned in the form of the achiote-flavored chicken sandwich ($14). In a sweet brioche bun, dressed with jalapeno aioli, pepper jack cheese, avocado, lettuce and red onion, awaited the perfect chicken breast, crispy and spicy on the outside, juicy and cooked through on the inside. The kitchen did equally well on the fuyu persimmon salad ($8). Cubes and discs of persimmon mingled with grapefruit and avocado in light herby vinaigrette. It was a little sweet, refreshing and light.
“What about dessert?” asked the attentive waitress, and gave us the choice of chocolate cake, a cheese plate or “roasted apple.” Light, fruity desserts are often outnumbered by creamy and overtly sweet options, but sometimes all you want is a tart treat. The roasted apple ($8) was served cubed and warm, with hazelnut streusel, vanilla ice cream and poached tart cherries. It was delicious, every bite and combination of ingredients more satisfying than the next.
As we left the restaurant, a couple of bundled-up visitors asked if the restaurant was any good. The answer didn’t come easy. OSO is good—with a couple of delicious standouts and a fun, family-friendly vibe, perfect for stopping by and ordering that chicken sandwich any given day—but it’s not quite yet the foodie destination it hopes to be.
OSO Sonoma, 9 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 707.931.6926.