Oz Restaurant & Bar Gets a Menu Revamp
Clarendon's Australian-themed restaurant has a new chef and some new dishes.
Oz Restaurant & Bar, which landed in Clarendon about a year and a half ago, is perhaps best known for its famous owners. Co-owner Ashley Darby is a former Miss D.C. winner, now featured on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Potomac. Her husband, Michael, co-founder of the development company Monument Realty, hails from Australia, which explains the inspiration behind the cuisine at Oz. (Plus, there’s not a lot of competition in the area to serve Aussie food.)
Chef Brad Feickert was recently brought on board to breathe new life into the menu. The Purcellville native cooked for a year at Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt in Frederick before moving to Australia to work under a few acclaimed chefs there. Judging by his new menu items, Feickert intends to incorporate Asian flavors that reflect Australia’s proximity to the island nations of the South Pacific.
Dinner here starts on an excellent note with a complimentary plate of pillowy, flaky Vegemite biscuits served with butter in a pool of maple syrup. Vegemite may have gotten a bad rap among those of us who didn’t grow up eating it, but these welcoming bites are enough to set you on the yellow brick road to acceptance.
Our server tells us that most of the salads are new, as are some of the dishes that expand beyond traditional Australian fare, such as a Thai salad of rice noodles, cucumber, peppers, mango and carrots accented with a peanut-mint vinaigrette. The noodles are the main ingredient, and unfortunately they end up mealy. It’s unclear whether this texture is the result of overcooking or sitting in the dressing for too long, but I find them inedible, choosing to pick around them to fish out the cucumbers and other hidden tidbits. For a Thai salad, it also lacks acidity and could use a bit of spice to punch up the flavor.
Another new dish, mussels bathed in a deep red curry sauce and garnished with fresh fennel, is far more enjoyable — although it channels the Mediterranean more than Asia. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Despite the menu changes, the Australian fare is still the most successful. The beef-and-bacon pie is like a wonderful, homey stew encased in a perfect sour cream-pastry pouch. Plus, the potato wedges served with it are fluffy inside, crispy outside and entirely addictive. And although I didn’t have a chance to try them on this visit, I did enjoy the kangaroo sliders topped with avocado mousse, tomato relish, lettuce and sweet-corn jam soon after Oz first opened. These can now be found on the “exotic” menu, along with camel sliders and emu wraps.
No matter how the rest of your meal goes, make sure you end with the Aussie banana pudding, a trifle-like layering of caramelized bananas, pudding, meringue, fresh berries and Anzac cookies, an oat-and-coconut treat popular in Australia. It’s adorably served in a teacup.
Of course the wines skew heavily toward Australia and New Zealand, but you’ll also find bottles from Argentina, Napa, Oregon and France. More than a dozen are available by the glass. Of the cocktails, I opted for the Gin Zen, a highball of Bombay Dry, strawberry puree, basil and lime juice, topped with sake. Sadly, it mostly tasted of basil and booze. The advertised flavors all work well together, but a little more balance in the execution would have gone a long way.
Other drink choices include what are known here as “soda juices.” The grapefruit version is a blend of fresh grapefruit juice, mint, brown sugar and soda water — with the option to add booze.
Happy hour is daily from 4-7 p.m., except for Fridays when the party starts at noon and goes to 9 p.m. During those hours, you’ll find $7 cocktails, $5 rail drinks and wines by the glass, plus $2 off draft brews and several food specials.
If a good neighborhood spot is what you seek, this is your place. Our service was incredibly friendly, the patio was filled with women — yes, all women — enjoying a nice night, and several friends and couples were taking a painting class that was set up behind the host stand. Oz successfully manages to walk the line between comfortable and classy.
Go, Wait or Skip?
Go, but order carefully. As mentioned above, not everything will take you over the rainbow.
Oz Restaurant & Bar is open for dinner Monday and Tuesday from 4-9 p.m.; for lunch and dinner Wednesday-Friday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and for brunch followed by dinner Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-664-0693; www.ozarlington.com.