On a Friday night, all of Sea Cliff seems to crowd into Oak Room Tavern, and for good reason: The nattily appointed little room pulses with conviviality and, starting at 9 p.m., live music.
In the kitchen, executive chef Shawn Patrick cooks with undeniable talent, though his tendency to overwork a dish often obscures his skill.
I was happy to see razor clams as a special appetizer, and they were cooked perfectly, sitting prettily in a vaguely Asian sauce, but I would have rather had an extra clam than the handful of similarly textured calamari that added nothing to the proceedings. A tender tentacle of octopus should have been trusted to shine without so many supporting players; fried potatoes and romesco sauce would have sufficed -- a pile of tapenade and spray of frisee only detracted.
That same frisee showed up, unaccountably, atop a beautifully roasted piece of lamb. Under the lamb was muddy mixture of couscous and ratatouille. We couldn't find the promised merguez sausage. Patrick handily managed the trick of giving a slab of salmon both a crisp skin and a silky interior, and paired it with an accomplished caper-butter sauce. But the green beans and cremini mushrooms seemed to have wandered over from two other plates.
A tavern should have a great burger and, sorry to say, Oak Room does not. My burger, ordered medium-rare, showed up medium, at which point the too-lean beef had lost every trace of juiciness. The stiff patty was saltier than the bacon atop it (no mean feat), its tomato was unripe, fries previously frozen.
My favorite item at Oak Room Tavern was so-called "skillet cookie," a chocolate-chip cookie that had been baked in a little cast-iron skillet and topped with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream. Simple, unadorned, delicious.
Oak Room Tavern is at 242 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff, 516-277-2350.