I can’t say that I’ve ever woken up with a craving for Australian food. In fact, until I received an invitation to visit Oz in Arlington, I never gave the cuisine from the land down under much thought.
A glance at the menu at Oz is a little Miley Cyrus meets Liam Hemsworth. There’s flatbread with tomatoes and basil pesto, kale salad with goat cheese, and eggplant “parma.” This alongside more Aussie-focused options including the likes of kangaroo skewers, emu “tartar,” and camel sliders. What no shrimp on the barbie? Kidding…that was just for the entertainment of us Americans by way of a mid-1980s television commercial.
Australian real estate developer Michael Darby opened Oz with his wife Ashley, with a goal to introduce the little-known cuisine to the DC area. The concept is to provide light and simple fare, which is indigenous to Australia, and spice it up to appeal to local palates. Chef Brad Feikart lived in Australia for a year, studying the cuisine and how to adapt it.
The decor at Oz is based on various regions of the country. A painted blue ceiling evokes the Great Barrier Reef, Aboriginal art and didgeridoos line the walls, and natural wood and greenery are an ode to the Outback. The entrance is decked out with a mini-forest including a large stuffed koala, pleasantly perched as a greeting to guests. Owner Michael Darby shares insights with guests, including the fact that koalas are not really bears, and there were originally two koalas but a patron managed to abscond with one.
A Cilantro Rickey with Bombay gin, simple syrup, cilantro, and lime is a refreshing house cocktail which boomerangs through the restaurant as our tasting gets underway.
Beetroot Caprese Salad is a mixed bag. The dish would benefit from more beets, and mozzarella takes an unexpected form in a creamy sauce. The tomatoes lack flavor, but I’ll give points for appearance and a crunchy topping that rescues the dish.
Arcadian flatbread with tomatoes, pesto, garlic aioli, and lemon zest has agreeable flavors in the middle but suffers above and below. I’m not fond of nibbling on large hibiscus flower petals, and the flatbread itself is too soft for my taste.
Hake is moist with a slightly charred coating that tastes familiar, but I can’t identify it right off the bat. I reach deep into my memory. Fish sticks! My 21-year-old dining companion agrees, and her days as a picky eater aren’t all that long ago. Perhaps that’s why this is her favorite dish. Puréed cauliflower, spinach, and scape perk it up.
It would be easy to skewer Oz over the meat on the stick, but this is where the chef succeeds. Chicken on a skewer is a hit—juicy and tender with a slight zing. I’m squeamish over my first taste of kangaroo, and my dining companion is even more apprehensive. Our Australian server (how perfect!) tells us that the meat is typically very tough so the chef marinates it for 24 hours in a juice of pineapple and berries. The result is a slightly sweet, very tender, beefy tasting meat. The fact that kangaroo is low in fat and calories adds to the appeal.
Lamington cake is straight out of an Australian dessert table—a spongy cake adorned with cherry puree, chocolate, berries and dusted with toasted coconut. It may be because I’m at Oz just days after my daughter’s wedding, but this feels to me like something served at an event for 200 people. In that context it would be considered very good.
So what do I take away from my dive into Down Under food? Oz brings some international flair to the Clarendon neighborhood. But if I’m going to travel for a meal, I would prefer a trek to Australia to experience all the country has to offer.
Oz Restaurant and Bar, 2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Virginia