Oscar’s Red Carpet Treatment

Art of the Meal

If you had a list of don’ts for a successful restaurant, you could just about describe Oscar’s. Wildly innovative concept in a moribund location? Lunch that differs dramatically from dinner? A fresh, contemporary design next to… a wig shop? Check, check and check.

Oscar Morales’ dream restaurant is so well-realized, it’s almost cinematic. Making your entrance feels a little like walking down the red carpet into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Everything from the funky, handblown light fixtures to the sweeping blond hardwoods is Morales’ own design, and it works beautifully. Coca-Cola sent its own experts to restore the circa 1917 sign that now looms over diners. Authentic and Southern, yet classically modern, it fits perfectly with its sleek surroundings and chef Todd Immel’s dreamy but grounded menu.

Lunch here could almost fit into a dinner pail: sandwiches include pulled pork with jalapeno mayonnaise and spicy coleslaw, and catfish with blackeyed peas and roasted peppers. No wonder Oscar’s is a lifeboat for pilots and airport employees, as well as businesspeople stranded in nearby airport hotels — it’s just one MARTA stop from Hartsfield.

Dinner, however, shows what Oscar’s is all about. The lighting takes on a theatrical glow; the white leather couches near the bar beckon you to lounge stylishly with a ruby-red Cosmopolitan before dinner. The menu changes every six to eight weeks to take advantage of produce and seafood at its peak season, so what we had can only give you an idea of what’s offered now.

Immel, like Morales, is a veteran of downtown’s Mumbo Jumbo. Oscar’s has a short, well-focused menu, but you’re likely to find everything from steak to sweetbreads, fresh English peas to broccoli rabe.

Among the appetizers, those steamed English peas are so fresh they’re still al dente, served with small perfect cubes of nutty pecorino Toscano cheese and a light vinaigrette. The day’s soup was a knockout, visually and orally — a clear, light vegetable broth with tiny grape tomato halves, chives and tarragon leaves, served room temperature. Bracing, crisp and summery. But we all fell upon the cracker-like Sardinian flatbread, lined with paper-thin porchetta and wide curls of Parmesan, redolent with black truffle oil.

Among the entrees, silky-centered Alaskan halibut nestles on fresh corn and ochre chanterelle mushrooms. The “Duck Evolution” is a rosy-hearted fan of sliced duck breast, with some deliciously fatty bits attached, and a sweet, baked Vidalia onion. We ordered a side of Immel’s excellent potato gnocehi (a pillowy, potato-y dumpling) to dip in the juices. The clear favorite, however, was the sirloin on watercress, served with fingerling potatoes and a wedge of creamy sweet Point Reyes blue cheese. Cooked perfectly medium rare and served with a port reduction, it was matched well by our grandly opinionated waiter with a glass of grapey Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon.

Each dessert comes with a dessert wine suggestion — one of our most favorite and least-seen treats. Once again, Immel surprised us by making the most standard-sounding item new: Homemade yogurt with fresh berries, flower-scented honey and pistachios was an eye-opener of unexpected flavors. The Georgia peach clafouti with ice cream and peach chutney — complete with curry – simply knocked our socks off. Each taste brought a new little surprise: sweet fruit, hot prickle of curry, cold vanilla. The little glass of Blandeys madeira deepened and softened the flavors well.

How does Oscar’s pull it all off? You might as well ask how Tom Hanks does it.

Categories: Art of the Meal