I’ve liked Oak since it opened under former Mansion sous chef Jason Maddy in 2011. I ate there in the Brian Zenner and the Richard Graaf era too, and each man stamped his own culinary style on it without losing the essential accomplishment of the place. Plus, there is the coziness/edginess juxtaposition of the space, courtesy of Plan B Design. It shows why you should have a pro design your space if you are in the high-end restaurant business.
Now Joel Harrington, a comparative veteran of the Dallas fine dining scene (despite still having hair that looks like it has had a run in with a lawnmower) brings his take to the menu and the restaurant looks like it could be heading to new heights.
I first had Harrington’s food when he was executive chef at Stephan Pyles in 2011. I made a mental note that he was a chef to watch. Most recently he was executive chef at Bolsa, so that may explain the most palpable shift in Oak’s menu (which Harrington has substantially overhauled) ― an emphasis on farm-to-table and a renewed outreach to local producers.
Another noticeable change is a readiness to do dishes that require elaborate preparation. At a recent media dinner he took us through some of his new additions, astonishing me at the sheer elaboration on some of his plates. A third shift is that vegetables, both the types selected and the elaboration of their preparation, are more important than before. It is like being at Richard Blankenship’s CBD Provisions in seeing them stride, not tiptoe, onto the menu. Finally, a concession to Dallas, steak, and the word ‘steak’ itself gets more prominent, and frequent, placement.
I don’t usually start dinner with a macaroon amuse but on this occasion it was filled with duck foie gras
and onion jam. Certainly an appetizer for the sweet tooth, but tasty nonetheless. Next was a tour de force: roasted beet salad ($14).
Beets of three color variants are left with their root extension attached and then planted headlong into a smear of goat cheese fondant. Compressed apple broadens the dynamic range of flavors beyond the spectrum of beets, and couscous marinated in beet juice gives the dish just enough bulk. Add upland cress for a herbal accent and you have distinctive and eye-appealing plate. With Sauvignon Blanc the flavors are even more enriched (we had the elegant 2014 Craggy Range from the Martinborough area of New Zealand). I have added this inventive salad to my 2016 Best Dish list.
The next dish was seafood paella
($18). Overlook that it takes some liberties with the definition of paella and just savor the lobster topped with caviar. This is a cavalcade of luxurious ingredients all bathed in a saffron broth.
Monkfish liver must be one of the most overlooked ingredients in the culinary arsenal. It has the rich umami flavor of foie gras but a lightness all of its own. The only other place that I have found this exotic ingredient in the DFW area is Naan
Steaks have steadily moved to a more central place on the Oak menu since opening. We got a feel for its quality with a medley, so to speak, of three different cuts. The filet mignon (8oz/$44), the ribeye (16oz/$48), and the NY strip (14oz/$47)
, all from 44 Farms
in Cameron, Texas, this tasty, medium-rare meat was accompanied by a selection of vegetables: roasted Brussels sprouts ($9) and creamed spinach ($9) are familiar, but also truffle potato purée ($10) that was more edgy and simply ethereal. Forest Mushrooms ($10), a selection of porcini, hen of the woods, beech, shiitake and oyster, were also an upgrade on the common buttons.
An interesting feature is a selection of accompanying sauces to the steak. Beyond Bearnaise there is Chimichurri, 0-16, an Oak signature with an apparent vintage hardwired into the name, a Flaming Balcones Brimstone Q Sauce and a sauce-of-the-day.
One thing to not overlook is the “Butcher’s Cut” (Mkt.). On our (lucky) occasion the chef wheeled out a cart with a whole suckling pig marinated for twenty four hours with an aggressive mojo marinade, lots of garlic, parsley, coriander, cumin, chili flake, mint, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Then cooked for over four hours at low temperatures. The pork simply dropped obligingly off the carcass under the slightest persuasion. Glorious stuff, and the table service is an impressive touch as well.
Desserts, from pastry chef Susan Lor, are in the exotic and indulgent category. Selections like white chocolate and citrus and chocolate espresso sponge cake. If you have room, enjoy.
Beverages include the now mandatory selection of custom cocktails, a ‘small but well chosen’ wine list that needs the same local attention lavished on the food. For example, the absence of a Rhone by the glass could be replaced with Pedernales Cellars
Harrington has already done a good job at Oak. It is once again one of the best restaurants in Dallas and visitors to the town will also find it conveniently just a 10-minute Uber/Lyft ride from DAL and 20 from DFW.For more dining news, click here.