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Oscar’s: A European’s Neighborhood Hangout

Despite its imperfections, I personally find Oscar Cafe to be essentially flawless for what it is. The small and lively Italian cafe on Macdougal St. in Soho encompasses the downtown ‘laidback cool’ vibe that so many dining establishments have tried to nail down…and failed.

Oscar’s has got that je ne sais quoi that elevates a restaurant, no matter how formal, fancy or elegant, from very good to truly excellent. It inspires loyalty in me. Since my first glass of wine on its tiny marble 3-table terrace, I have always though of Oscar’s first when in need of a bite to eat, some serious decompression through wine, and an intimate place to discuss matters with friends and loved ones. Oscar’s a true spirit and heart.

The space itself is only about 13 tables, 3 outside and 10 inside, with a rosy wooden bar with stools. Bright red walls, low lighting, soft South American beats, and an attractive laidback European waitstaff all lend a decidedly sensual vibe to the cafe. You can sit with your wine and a few small plates and watch the night wither away as quickly or as slowly as you want. And on some nights during the week, a saxophonist (who sits in a chair, no music) and a keyboardist play soft jazz tunes.

The food is just as wonderful as the scene. Colorful and creative modern Italian, the menu is peppered with savory small plates, salads, delicious pasta plates and more substantial entrees. I adore their bruschetta – goat cheese with roasted red peppers, gorgonzola with honey, goat cheese and caramelized onions – they have about 6 to choose from. Their orzo salad with garbanzo beans, tomato, basil, onion and fresh mint is fresh and light; while the oscar salad mixes traditional flavors with little surprises like pineapple and sweet pecorino. As for the main plates, the cold nicoise pasta is perfect for a hot summer night or early brunch with perfectly cooked chilled penne, tuna fish (not in mayo!), and crisp string beans. The grilled chicken stuffed with spinach, wild mushrooms, and goat cheese is a bit more succulent and decadent. Lastly, they have a ‘cutting board’ where you can sample cheese, assorted cured meats, and pates.

The wine list is well curated, stocked with a variety of French and Italian grapes from often little-known vineyards. I recommend the sparkling rose for brunch and their cabernet sauvignon for a late dinner.

Oscar’s is perfect for a late night snack, wine with friends, a romantic date, a leisurely brunch – pretty much any occasion where you want to savor the food and wine slowly. Take in the scenery here at a European pace – parfait!

Oscar Cafe on Urbanspoon

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