With the sun now blazing and summer finally arriving, eating food that is light but full of flavor and drinking refreshing cocktails or bubbles just sounds about right – until – you find yourself standing in front of a cute little restaurant front on Rose Avenue in Venice.
At first glance you can’t help but be drawn to it: a patio at the entry with what I refer to as Edison light bulbs from back in the day strung above the raw wooden panels that extend out into benches, beautiful wooden stools, inviting decor, an understated sense of comfort, and the feeling that you are going to eat well. Welcome to Oscar’s Cerveteca Venice.
Once you enter, you have two choices – eat inside along the bar, which is reminiscent of a sushi-style bar, or take a seat outside on the patio. You can also sneak into the wine room harbored just to the right of the patio (I was tempted, it looks so fun!) I decided to sit down on the patio that is conveniently covered with a black awning shielding diners from the scorn of the afternoon sun.
Once seated and greeted, I gave in and ordered the Cava Barcino Brut – a beautiful crisp sparkling wine from Spain. Then I completely ignored my need for light and airy cuisine and went full throttle into ordering every insanely inviting item on the menu. (And I didn’t hold back, I wanted a true sampling since I’d heard so much about this place). You might get full just reading this… or have an undeniable urge to head there immediately.
Shrimp Agua Chile: butterflied shrimp cured in lime and cucumber sauce, habanero, red onion (served with homemade tortilla chips). Holy agua this is good! I have never had shrimp like this. The lime and cucumber sauce is unlike any flavor I’ve experienced and it is done with finesse. The shrimp was cooked so flawlessly that I couldn’t bear to watch that plate be taken away without cleaning every last drop of it. Put that shrimp on the chip, douse it with sauce, a healthy piece of habanero and onion and your mouth will thank you. It’s the perfect summer dish!
Davie Salad: beets, kumquat, arugula, cabbage, toasted almonds, with bitter orange dressing. Who would have thought that a salad would be so utterly explosive? Not me. But this salad is such a well-balanced blend of ingredients that not only is great on a hot day, it would be ideal on any occasion, any time of day. The beets are nearly transparent in theory but they are ever present in the dish itself. The kumquats (one of my favorite fruits) add that tartness that offsets the cabbage and bitterness of arugula, with almonds toasted with care. The dressing is a wondrous creation that takes this salad to new heights.
Tacos Barbacoa: braised shredded beef, guajillo, cilantro, red onion. This is where we get down to it. These tacos are not light by any means but the beef is like biting into juicy bits of perfect threads of meat saturated in guajillo, topped with just the right amount of cilantro and onion. This particular taco took me back to when I was in Spain. Guajillo is a chile present in both Spanish and Mexican dishes and it adds a very specific flavor to anything it is cooked with. Needless to say, Oscar and his mom got this right.
L.A. Street Dogg: bacon wrapped hot dog with grilled peppers, onions, mayonnaise, ketchup, and jalapenos. By now I’m feeling gluttonous and the mole hasn’t even arrived. The “dogg” (not misspelled) comes open faced on a buttery white bun with a spread of peppers, condiments, jalapeno, and the piece de la resistance: bacon. I mean, who doesn’t want bacon smothering their hot dog? Sure, it’s a heart attack dish but it’s also a very Hispanic dish that invites your mouth to savor every single trace of spice and naturalness of the meat itself.
Mole with Cod: mole made of sesame seed, peanuts, raisins, chile Ancho, chile Poblano, raw cocoa. Enchilada served with ajillo rice and handmade tortillas.I’m a stickler for mole and rarely is it done without a strange and unwelcome chalky after taste. But yet again, this dish deserves a standing ovation. Mole is tricky to say the least but Oscar’s mom (who really did try out several recipes before deciding on this one and adding it to the menu only weeks before) created what I now refer to as “mole sublime.”
This mole is somehow provocative and familiar all at once. I did modify my particular order. On the menu it offers the option of tofu or chicken and I, not being a big fan of chicken (or poultry aside from duck liver), asked to have it made with fish. I have to digress briefly to say years ago, while in Belize, a local tribe came to our huts to bring us freshly-speared fish and they created a mole sauce to top it. It’s primitive gourmet and until Oscar’s I had never found one even remotely as phenomenal. So, Oscar’s mom – well done!
This is a wonderful dish that is not overly heavy with the chalky after taste of too many peanuts or sesame seeds, nor the strong bitterness of the raw cocoa. This is a beautiful dish, so vegetarians – this is the one to try. (As for my aversion to poultry, I will save that story for another time…)
Plantains. The finish. Plantains are sort of my curious go-to. I’ve had really deplorable versions and some that I would ask for as my final meal – really. (again, it’s a nostalgic dish from my time in Central America.) These plantains are not overly ripe nor mushy nor absent of their natural sweetness. Topped with a crystallized sugar and basking in a very delicate hint of butter, this dish is the way to end my overly indulgent meal.
I ordered the “Whole Young Coconut” to wash it all down and I was satisfied.
Oscar’s Cerveteca has an impressive menu that ranges from Soyrizo Scramble (for the vegetarians) to feeding the carnivorous beast within with the 5 Spice Pulled Pork Sandwich. There is also an extensive selection of beer and wine, in-house aqua fresca, and two signature cocktails.
Your taste buds will be doing the end-zone dance by the time they take the first bite. Cerveteca exceeded my expectations and I’ve already sent several friends to dine there. Next time I’m going to try the quinoa n’ kale and dive into some of their ale.
Oscar’s Cerveteca Venice Beach
523 Rose Ave. Venice