Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

The Osprey switches concepts and sets its sights on seafood

Flipping the bird

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Turn and face the strange 'cuz change changing places. Pardon the lyric mashup, but I've been subconsciously humming "Changes" by Bowie and Yes this past week and only just realized it when thinking about all the changes Osprey Tavern – the subject of this week's review – has undergone. Not just changes in the past couple of months, but changes in the Baldwin Park boîte's short five-year lifespan.

Chefs Bruno Fonseca, Joseph Burnett, Austin Boyd and Elek Kovacs have come and gone, each putting their stamp on the menu of new American fare by fussying up or editing down changes made by the kitchen's previous administration. I don't know if the ideal formula was ever found, but it's a moot point now. The pandemic all but forced owners Jason and Sue Chin to transform Osprey Tavern into the restaurant it was always meant to be – a seafood joint. In fact, a seafood concept is what the Chins had in mind prior to opening Osprey Tavern back in 2015. It even inspired the restaurant's design, as well as its name (the osprey is a fish-loving raptor, ya know).

Interior: The Osprey Seafood and Spirits - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
  • Interior: The Osprey Seafood and Spirits

By the way, Osprey Tavern now goes by "The Osprey: Seafood & Spirits." At present, the spirit of note is rum and you'd do well to quaff the tropical and fruity Pain Killer ($12) or a brooding, gingery Dark & Stormy ($6). They're happy hour faves. Yes, happy hour is back in full force, people. And, yes, somewhere Anthony Fauci is smacking his forehead.

Having denied ourselves oysters for three months (raw bivalves aren't the best takeout option), we decided to take advantage of their $1 happy hour oysters inside the restaurant. The Chins are taking safety seriously – 50 percent capacity is maintained at all times and servers, cooks and bartenders all wear masks and gloves. It gave us a real sense of comfort, as did the four varieties of oysters – Moondancers from Maine, James River oysters from Virginia, and Boonedocks and Bay Beauts from Panacea, Florida.

Lobster roll at the Osprey. - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
  • Lobster roll at the Osprey.

More happy hour mirth: plush "crush-puppies" ($8) filled with crab, corn and leeks; a smooth smoked salmon dip ($7) served with house kettle chips; and gorgeous calamari ($9) dusted in jerk spice. Made us wonder how and why Osprey wasn't always a seafood restaurant. Chin attributes it to the shuffle of chefs and a lack of focus, but with chef de cuisine Anthony Watler at the helm and Reyes Mezcaleria's Wendy Lopez acting as culinary director, the focus is, well, osprey-sharp. The experience Watler gained at Jamie DeRosa's now-shuttered Izzy's Fish & Oyster in Miami clearly shows – his skin-on trout ($26) with Jupiter white rice and hoppin' john is Southern comfort epitomized. The puree of black-eyed peas darkened with squid ink damn near upstages everything on the plate. The lobster roll ($22) went easy on the mayo and let the meaty chunks of a whole Maine lobster speak for the sandwich. Cioppino ($29) has a peppery tomato-saffron broth ($29) washing over tilefish, scallops, Cedar Key clams, mussels and red shrimp. We didn't fancy the PEI mussels ($12) as much – a heavy-handed use of grain mustard in the white wine sauce muted the zing of harissa. That said, this concept shift to seafood is working and I, for one, hope it stays for good. I also hope baked Alaska, my fave post-seafood ending, makes it to the menu.

Baked Alaska at the Osprey. - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
  • Baked Alaska at the Osprey.

BREAKING: All my subtle coercion appears to have worked. Baked Alaska will be on the menu this week! And if ice cream and cake enveloped by a dome of meringue doesn't get you excited, then you likely have no pulse. Should you be among the walking dead, Watler's rum cake ($6) will add a spring in your step, that's for certain. I think it's safe to say that in a very short amount of time, the Osprey has found its sea legs.

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