I was ready for another less-than-notable meal at Osprey Tavern; I really, really was. My previous visits had failed to elicit much more than a tempered response when I was asked my opinion of the handsome Baldwin Park resto. Even two weeks after Ravenous Pig chef de cuisine Joe Cournoyer-Burnett joined the team as executive chef and brought along sous-chef Elek Kovacs, my thoughts and the thoughts of the serious culinarians I dined there with were the same: The ingredients for greatness were present, but the open kitchen revealed a lack of passion which translated to lackluster dishes.
On our most recent visit, however, the kitchen appeared to have gotten its act together, to the point where I was a bit taken aback by how good everything was. If making Osprey Tavern a destination restaurant was owner Jason Chin's goal, then he's certainly got the makings of one. The interior design alone is worth a look: The rustic touches (Edison bulbs, natch) and artistic flourishes are a marriage – or a copulation, rather – between Charleston's Husk Restaurant and a high-class turn-of-the-century bordello.
Indeed, dining here is a sensuous experience, and the charcuterie board ($18), with its Black Forest duck ham, chicken-liver mousse, soppressata, Armenian cured beef and smoked trout, is an ideal way to release any gastronomic inhibitions. Other shareable items, like luscious lamb ribs ($11) smoked with za'atar and honey, then topped with caramelized yogurt and crowned with mint, showcase the kitchen's propensity to introduce diverse ingredients on its menu. Same goes for crisp brandade fritters ($8) fashioned from salt cod, then plated with tarragon aioli and wee dollops of lemon verbena.
As much as they're into incorporating exotic flavorings, though, they're equally adept at more traditional preparations. The mushroom tartine ($12), par exemple, comes beautifully adorned with pickled shiitake and hen-of-the-woods layered over fava-bean hummus, with tangy Spanish blue cheese (Valdeón) thrown in to counter the blasts of umami. Just as good was the vegetarian tagliatelle, which, on a previous visit, suffered from a heavy-handed dose of lemon and a wilted garnish of pea tendrils. Not this time. The zest was balanced nicely in a brown butter sauce weighted with Beemster gouda, squash, peas and porcini, all topped with a buttery crisp for added texture. We were also glad to see a not-so-heavy-handed drizzle of balsamic on the superbly cooked basil-rubbed Florida black grouper ($27), served over a butter sauce with Alachua green beans, broccolini and Zellwood corn agnolotti (think smaller ravioli).
The cherry cobbler ($8), a deconstruction of sorts, balanced vanilla compressed cherries atop an almond financier cake; cobbler cookies and a yogurt sorbet were attractively positioned on the plate as well. Pastry chef Kristy Farnham Carlucci (Cask & Larder) did a nice job with the brown butter mango mousse cake ($8) with coconut powder, though I found the lime sorbet to be a tad harsh.
So, will Chin's boîte occupy a slot in our regular rotation of oft-visited restos? You bet. In the meantime, if you happen to be in Baldwin Park, give my regards to New Broad Street and the good folks at Osprey Tavern.