Osmanthus sits inconspicuously on the northern border of Rockridge, at the intersection of College and Claremont Avenues. The establishment has little signage, and is recessed several feet off of the sidewalk, thanks to a small front patio of five or six tables. “Osmanthus” is etched in gold on each of the restaurant’s two front windows. Still, many Oakland residents have surely passed 6408 College Avenue since last October without noticing that the restaurant has changed hands.

The space that was the home of Nan Yang for 20 years has been vastly remodeled to host an ambitious and original Asian restaurant. Osmanthus successfully pulls off a menu of pan-Asian, Californian-influenced cuisine, without being tritely “fusion-istic.” It claims to be “modern and classic”— and that certainly rings true. Some dishes are Asian classics with subtle, cross-cultural adornments. Others are unique creations composed of ingredients from throughout Asia.

Inside, Osmanthus has dark wood graced by several Chinese lanterns and intricately carved teak decoration. The space is somewhat small, but has vaulted ceilings and neatly-packed tables that help the room seem larger than it really is. Moreover, efficiency of staff and speed of service make the busy restaurant feel relaxed.

Osmanthus is clean and modern without losing classical Asian influence

Osmanthus is clean and modern without losing classical Asian influence.

Owner Michael Chiang has spent much of the last 10 years in China, and has returned to the Bay Area to open Osmanthus. He and his brother Bruce recruited Chef Julia Klein, who spent several years cooking under the celebrated chef Hiro Sone at Terra in Napa Valley. Chiang and Klein certainly wield complementary strengths. Chiang came up with the restaurant’s concept, designed its remodel, and currently runs the business with his brother.

Klein’s menu is medium-sized and well-organized. Some dishes are mostly Japanese, others Chinese, and handful are mostly Thai. Osmanthus’ strongest dishes are its house originals, like salmon served over purple yam puree and yellow curry. Terra’s Hiro Sone is known for his refined flavors and cross-cultural cooking. Klein doesn’t skip a beat, and certainly shows off her resume at Osmanthus.

Salmon Curry at Osmanthus

Salmon Curry at Osmanthus

Another common favorite is the lightly-battered prawns, presented in a delicious, gravy-like coconut milk curry and garnished with chopped mint leaves. Again, Klein’s dish is simple: mint, curry, and shrimp, but it does not lack flavor or intensity. Both Klein and Bruce Chiang admitted to extensive taste-testing and flavor-pairing sessions pre-opening; they wanted to achieve “balance” in each of their dishes.

Many patrons dine family-style and try a smattering of Osmanthus’ dishes. In fact, it seems as if this is how Osmanthus wants you eating. The menu is separated into Cold Foods, Noodles and Hot Foods. Of course there are many sizable dishes, but lots of the plates are appetizer-like. There are two options for chicken wings: ginger-honey glaze, or dry-fried dusted with Szechuan peppercorn. Plus, two rib plates: a short rib dish and sweet-glazed spare ribs. Heaps of fresh Brussels sprouts come to tables in deep bowls, stir-fried with salt pork, and drizzled with a honey-Sriracha sauce.

Brussels Sprouts, Salt Pork, Honey-sriracha

Brussels sprouts, salt pork, honey-Sriracha sauce

Osmanthus features somewhat formal dining, and would be great for a date or dinner with colleagues, though it would certainly be appropriate for a family night out. I noticed several college-aged couples the few times that I have dined there since it opened, so it surely appeals to many ages and occasions.

The beer list is like the rest of the menu in that it represents many parts of Asia: Chinese Tsingtao & Lucky Buddha, Thai Singha, and Kirin from Japan. For American beer drinkers, the bar has Boont Amber Ale, Sierra Nevada Hefeweizen, and Stone Brewery IPA on tap. There are also several sakes, and a list of craft cocktails.

Another project of Michael’s–the cocktails list–has 8 unique options, all priced between $9 and $11. After several extensive study sessions, I’ve found that my personal favorites are:

  • The Osmanthus: the house’s namesake drink made with vodka, osmanthus wine (osmanthus is a flower), lychee, lemon and some vermouth.
  • Ms. Grant: a great drink for the summer, the Ms. Grant is a strong but refreshing gin drink, garnished and flavored with ginger and lime.
  • Snow White: my true favorite: a concoction of sparkling wine, lemon juice, lychee juice, St. Germain, and sake. It goes down way too easily and is twice as good as it sounds.

6048 College Avenue in Oakland
(510) 923-1233

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