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New OSO Brings Uncommon and Delicious Dishes to Sonoma

Many restaurants offer shrimp cocktail. At Sonoma’s new OSO, however, chef David Bush does things quite differently.

His shrimp come lightly pickled and splayed on a plate, the firm, chilled seafood gently curled against a chop of kale and spiced peanut slaw doctored with tomato-horseradish aioli ($12).

It’s tart, just slightly sweet with the meat, and gutsy with the perfect zip of fire.

Four deviled eggs ($12) are so pretty, meanwhile, they look like cupcakes, swirled high with golden yolk, crowned with snowy pulled crab and dusted with mild yellow curry for layered flavors that evolve with each bite.

It’s a bit odd, then, to look around and see so many people crowding the bar of the moodily lit, 50-seat space. We can see the tiny kitchen, and the dining tables are full with customers and plenty of plates, but mostly it’s sparse, urban-cool decor with wood floors and eclectic art. It can be loud, though you can retreat to the garden patio in back for a quieter meal.

But then, OSO is different than a typical restaurant, because really, this is an artsy lounge augmented by wonderful, chef-driven food. In fact, OSO is a 21-and-over establishment, because technically, it is registered as a tavern with the city of Sonoma. No reservations are accepted, so prepare to tap your toes in line for a while.

Risking crowds and noise are worth it. As a fitting salute to its Sonoma Plaza location, the place is named after the California state bear (oso is Spanish for bear), and this joint is roaring, delivering intriguing, oh-so-not-typical bites like shiitake and kombu-cured salmon with tamari soaked egg, Serrano ham, tobiko, basil, and a slick of sweetened Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise ($13).

For the past six years, Bush was executive chef with St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa, but he left in April to pursue his dream of a restaurant on his own. He did some of the build-out on the 19th century building himself, and rolled the dice in not offering the more typical California cuisine of this neighborhood.

Call it a success. Our merry band piled plate-after-plate on our table, making a tight but delicious fit as we shared Kumamoto oysters ($3.25); slabs of crispy grilled bread spread with a brilliant mix of black pepper ricotta, English peas, jamon, and orange zest ($7); and charred albacore tuna with gai lan, shaved radish, boiled egg, and anchovy vinaigrette ($16). The flavors don’t match, certainly, but they don’t jar, and I loved such explosive tastes in every bite.

And that’s the whole idea. What are you in the mood for? I recommend the beef tartare spiked with housemade harissa, shiso, quail egg, and pickled turnip for scooping with grilled toast ($17). I also like the big bowl of mussels, boosted in new ways because of the gorgeous miso broth, a goldmine of ginger-imbued chicken meatballs hidden at the bottom of the soup, peppery shaved radishes and green onions, and a thick slab of toast for sopping ($14).

More timid diners will be happy here, as well. The roast sea bass is a nice piece of fish, presented simply with broccolini, yellow squash, and fingerling potatoes in a pond of sauce verte ($16), while slow-roasted lamb shoulder is tooth tender and mildly spiced alongside housemade chorizo, potatoes, English peas, arugula, and cotija ($18).

Servers check in often and, when they stop to offer dessert, get it. The signature butterscotch pot de crème ($6) is pure comfort, and a bit of something soothing amid the high impact eating.

Details: OSO, 9 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-931-6926, ososonoma.com. Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.

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