Sunday, August 16, 2015

Oak + Char

It's interesting to visit a space that you had known as a different restaurant if only to see how the space has changed.  I visited Oak + Char recently which I had previously known as Graham Elliot.  Starting with the outside, the face of the building is the same which is to be expected, but there has been a serving window added to the front to serve the patio that has been added to the sidewalk.  The sign for the restaurant hangs over the sidewalk as well vice being mounted on the building.  The entrance to the restaurant is essentially the same and the desk is in the same place.  The room is black and very open as I remember Graham Elliot to be, but I believe they added a private dining area.  The ceiling is unfinished as it was at Graham Elliot, but there have been some odd puffy light shades? (I'm not sure what to call them) added around the lights that kind of reminded me of clouds.  I am not sure where the bar was at Graham Elliot, but at Oak and Char, it is large and sits along one of the side walls close to the serving window.  There is a half wall with banquette seating facing the bar which kind of separates the bar area from the restaurant.  Other than the fact that the bar is there, there really is no difference between the bar and the restaurant, the menu is the same on both sides of the wall and the people seated at tables are served by restaurant servers.  I was seated at a table in the bar area because the hostess thought that I might get better service there.  Looking at the menu, I saw that they had a nice selection of house cocktails.  While I was interested in them, I went on National IPA Day, so I decided to look at their beer list which was also pretty good.  They had two IPAs on tap and two bottles.  I decided to go with one from Solemn Oath Brewery, a Belgian IPA creatively named Butterfly Bandanna while I was perusing the food menu.  They claim to be a very Midwestern gastropub, but I saw many international influences in different combinations on the menu.  I guess that is truly what the definition of American food is, taking ethnic cuisine and using it in new and different combinations.  The midwestern comes in, I guess from the farms where they receive their produce.  My first dish was the perfect example of fusion cuisine.  I had Bacalao (Portuguese) Wontons (Chinese) with Aleppo Chile (Turkish) and Farm Honey (Midwestern).  Bacalao is dried salt cod.  It was flaky, tender, and very flavorful in the crispy won tons.  The aleppo was added to the honey, so when the won tons were dipped into the honey there was a flavor explosion of sweet and salty with a slow burning finish.  I really liked these and looked forward to the rest of my meal.
My next course was also a fusion course with Tandoori Octopus, Guanciale, Pimento Fingerling Potatoes, and a Fennel Salad.  Octopus is generally not prepared in a Tandoor, an Indian clay oven, nor is it often served with guanciale, bacon made from pork jowl.  I gather that there is a small window, when preparing octopus or squid, between under and overcooked.  I have come to expect a certain amount of rubberiness when eating either of these things and it is a rare and very nice thing when I bite into squid or octopus to find nothing but tenderness.  This is what I had here.  The octopus was very tender and flavorful and the accompaniments all went very well with it.  The guanciale added a porky meatiness, the fennel salad was fresh and sweet with a slight licorice flavor, and the potatoes added depth.
While I could have continued with the seafood theme with my entree, I decided to go with some red meat.  Specifically, I had the Korean Braised Short Rib with Toasted Barley and Radish Salad.  The rib was boneless and while they did give me a steak knife to cut it with, for the most part, it was fork tender.  The Korean barbecue sauce that the rib was covered in was thick and sweet with a spicy finish.  On it's own, the sauce on the rib could have been a bit overwhelming, but the toasted barley provided a moderating influence.  Texturally, it was al dente and it provided a bit of a nutty flavor to the dish.  The radish salad was a good contrast to the rib, providing some crisp freshness with the slight spiciness that radishes provide.
While everything on the small dessert menu did look good, I ordered a special that hadn't made it either to the regular menu or the specials menu and was told to me by my waiter.  (Thank you to my waiter.)  I had a Chocolate Pie with Caramel, Sea Salt, Sesame Crust, and a slightly sour Whipped Cream.  This was positively decadent with some pretty intense flavors.  The pie had a very rich chocolate flavor and was sprinkled with large crystals of sea salt.   it was one of those dishes that I would have licked the plate if I had thought I could have gotten away with it.  The caramel was thick, sweet, and buttery, and there were crumbs of the sesame crust spread around the dish (besides acting as the crust on the bottom of the pie or the side as it was served).  The whipped cream was also thick and had a slightly sour tang to differentiate it which is good because I think that if it was simply sweet, it would have just gotten lost.

During my dinner, I must have looked thirsty, because they brought me a second beer before I had finished my first and without my ordering it.  What was nice was that it didn't show up on my bill.  Other than the lighting treatments, which I thought looked a little weird, I liked the space, and the service and food were very good.  When I return, I will have to bring at least one other person, because in addition to the single serving plates, they have a section of the menu called Chef's Boards which serve 2 to 4 people, all of which looked really good.         

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