If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that we’ve been tracking the progress of Chef Jim Guarino’s new restaurant, Oshun for a while now. It’s been a long journey. We first heard about Jim’s plans to open a Seafood restaurant (with an oyster bar) in downtown Buffalo way back in September 2013. When he took over the building (previously a shoe store and before that, a restaurant in the 40’s) and the construction process started, they ran into some hurdles and their opening was pushed back a couple times. Over time we checked in with Jim for updates and held our breath that they’d be opening up sooner than later.
This past Monday (8/25) they finally opened the doors to the public and Alli and myself visited for dinner on Wednesday night. Like most new restaurants, they aren’t quite operating at 100% yet. The dining room still has to be filled up with additional tables, the staff is still figuring things out and lunch service isn’t available yet (but soon). We asked if we could sit at the Raw Bar, right across from the open kitchen. In our opinion, this is clearly the best seat in the house. Not only are you sitting next to a pile of oysters but you get to watch the flow of the entire kitchen.
We’ve had a lot of conversations with Jim about his ideas for the restaurant; what it would look like and how it would be laid out. But we didn’t have too many conversations about the menu, aside from oysters being a main focus. We’ve heard great things about his young Sous Chef Brett Brennan, who created the menu and is pretty much the guy in charge in the kitchen, and we were not disappointed with what he’s come up with. Like most of the new restaurants that are opening, the menu is comprised of small plates that are meant to be shared. Our waitress suggested 4-5 plates per couple. The prices are very affordable, nothing on the menu is more then $17. Unsurprisingly, you will find a large amount of seafood options but also a few plates of chicken and beef to even things out.
Our meal started with a plate of oysters that were selected and shucked by Jim himself as we watched. He put down a variety of brine-y and meaty oysters that even Alli enjoyed (she has previously been slightly weary of oysters but this may have won her over). We followed up those with their King Crab ($15) and Octopus ($10) small plates. Both were brought to us by Chef Brett who described the each dish and his idea for the menu as a whole. Immediately when the plates were put down, we realized this restaurant wasn’t going to offer standard seafood dishes in the way you might be used to. They are taking classic dishes and putting their own creative spin on each. No, these aren’t crazy molecular dishes with foams and intimidating ingredients, instead they are playful takes on familiar foods with some interesting additions.
The King Crab was the definition of this plan, a slight twist on a classic crab louie salad, which is a very old-school dish. Oshun’s version was presented beautifully, with tempura fried crab legs and slices of avocado, chili oil and a pomegranate gelee. The Octopus was grilled with African spices and served with a farro granola, spiced almonds, yogurt and chervil. It was the most unique octopus dish that I’ve ever had and the intense spice on the octopus went very well with the yogurt.
Next up was a simple offering of Striped Bass Crudo ($9) that was served with dill pickles and honey roasted peanuts. The raw fish had a delicate and fresh flavor while the crunchy peanuts and dill were great additions of texture and spice. We heard several people recommend the Bay Scallop ($10) dish, so we decided to try that out even though we normally skip over scallops on a menu. It’s a good thing we did, this was a perfect dish and something I will recommend to everyone. The seared scallops were served on top of wet (but not too wet) coconut rice along with tomatillos, popcorn and mint. There were so many flavors going on, but my favorite was the sweet coconut rice and scallops against the slightly biter and tangy tomatillos. We were skeptical at first but the crunch and salt of the popcorn worked really well. Chef Brett told me that it was already one of the more popular dishes on the menu and I plan on ordering this every time we go back.
Since we wanted to try a little bit of everything, we got a small order of their Fried Rice Cakes ($8). They resemble a long gnocchi and had a very interesting chewy texture. They were coated in a sesame ancho mole power with some pieces of carbonated lime. This is definitely not a dish for everyone, but if you want to try something a bit unique, you should definitely check this out. We finished the meal with another great dish, the Cornmeal Fried Catfish ($12). I’ve been thinking of fried catfish ever since watching Sean Brock’s episode of Mind of a Chef when he visited Middendorf’s Seafood Restaurant in New Orleans. Oshun’s version is definitely a bit fancier but still delicious. Served with a bacon vinaigrette and chayote slaw, you couldn’t ask for a better dish to be paired with a good IPA.
At this point, both Alli and I were very full but Chef Brett insisted that we tried the two desserts for the evening. First up was a playful dish of cookies and ice cream, served on a mini baking sheet on top of parchment paper. The caramel cookies with pretzels were salty, gooey and straight out of the oven. Alli was in love, this is another must-order. Warm cookies and ice cream, what’s not to love? The other dish was a moist and light peach cake with cashew cream and housemade marshmallow ice cream. It was perfect to share.
From the beginning I had a feeling Oshun would be a cool place to hang out just because it’s so damn pretty. With one of the best looking bars downtown and a very good wine and beer list, even if you don’t like seafood we recommend stopping by for a drink. Honestly, when you walk into this place it’s hard not to remark on how beautiful the restaurant looks. The murals on the wall are original to when the building was used a restaurant (Waldorf Lunch) in the mid 1940’s. Along with the original floor, the walls have been restored and look fantastic. They pretty much designed the rest of the dining room around the wall art and yes it took a while, but they made sure to do a damn good job. Luckily, the menu appears to match the atmosphere, not only do the dishes look great but the food is creative and well-executed.
As always with brand new restaurants, expect a few hiccups here and there but don’t let that scare you away. In the last two weeks there have been some great additions to Buffalo’s restaurant scene and Oshun is another place you should add to your list to try very soon.