PERFECTLY COMPOSED A tart fried green tomato at Oscar's New American.
I think it was Tolstoy who said that “urban families are all alike; every suburban family is suburban in it’s own way.” It’s so true. The suburb represents the ultimate effort to create a space — the big house, the yard — appropriate to pursue excellence in the private sphere of family life, rather than in the public sphere where greatness has traditionally sought recognition. Family and household once represented a shadowy and indistinct realm to seek relief from the demands of public life, and to satisfy our daily needs. Now it is to family that we attempt to reveal what is distinct and best in ourselves. Our spouses should be our “soul mates” and our children are our “best friends.” The inevitable shortcomings of these relationships are devastating.
The typical mediocrity of the suburban restaurant seems designed to punish the family for leaving the home, with its big kitchen intended for perfect meals. But now a restaurant in Yarmouth, Oscar’s New American, seeks to reverse this dynamic — offering distinctive cuisine in a suburban strip mall. Oscar’s itself is a family affair, of the modern sort, with step-brothers and step-parents running the kitchen, bar, and dining room. By pursuing greatness in a way suburbanites can understand — familial and focused on consumption — Oscar’s suggests a way forward for the suburban citizen confounded by the inadequacies of home life.
Like a suburban home, Oscar’s dining room is capacious, but nonetheless has some charm and elegance. In the big room, the open kitchen seems tucked away and gives off a distant hearth-like glow. The cuisine leans a bit to the American south, the region where suburban sprawl is most advanced and family life is weirdest and richest. The food at Oscar’s is rich too, and the chef’s greatest accomplishment is delivering rich wintery dishes that also feature an engaging brightness of flavor.
It is the rare chef, for example, who can make ordering the “veggie plate” seem like a good idea in retrospect — but the one at Oscar’s was fantastic, with a great mix of colors and textures. Just-charred broccoli sat over a creamy pile of manchego grits, while nearby roasted brussels sprouts soaked up some egg yolk. A barely sour celery root puree was piled with sweet carrot, while beets had been chutneyed to bring out their native sweetness. Kale chips, tissue-paper thin and sprinkled with a tangy aged cheese, melted in your mouth moments after the initial crunch.
Other dishes offer similar excellence and balance. In one, a soft-boiled egg had been battered, fried, and split over mushrooms sautéed with some spicy heat. The creamy yolk mellowed the spice and complimented the musk of the chewy mushrooms. In another dish, the tartness of a fried green tomato mingled with the mellower sour of goat cheese, all topped with crisp candied bacon.
Just about every dish had great little touches, like the sharp and crunchy little fried capers on the deviled eggs, perched next to garlic chips that had been soaked in milk and fried. And even the one unrelentingly rich and creamy dish we tried, braised pork cheeks over those same manchego grits, was balanced and layered. A rioja reduction brought just a touch of sweet to the appealingly funky grits and tender meat.