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Oak Room Tavern review

Oak Room Tavern's juicy, roasted chicken is served

Oak Room Tavern's juicy, roasted chicken is served with with a garlic-and-thyme jus, grilled asparagus and a truffled potato puree. (Oct. 26, 2012) Credit: Johnny Simon

Oak Room Tavern is a newcomer that looks as if it has been pouring since Prohibition's repeal.

On a Saturday night, the cozy 40-seater fills early and fast, at the tables and at the bar. By the time your appetizer arrives, the crowd surely doubles. The SRO bunch, if you inadvertently don't notice, clearly would like you to speed things up. On Wednesday and Friday, there's live music. That also adds to the company.

If you'd like to linger over a beer, or some audible conversation, pick another evening. Come on a comparatively low-key Monday or Tuesday, maybe Thursday. Listen to the Edith Piaf songs. Catch what's on the TV. Check the handsome woodwork. And notice that artful, oversize model of a Ferris wheel on the fireplace mantel, a candle in each gondola.

The rest of the illumination is pretty subtle for a tavern. Sometimes, that goes for the food.

Onion soup gratinée is a respectable starter, on the mild side but flavorful under its lid of bubbling cheese. Pulled-pork sliders, more like mini-hero sandwiches, are tasty, even if the bread is industrial-strength.

The shrimp cocktail stars three good, big ones. Steamed mussels materialize in a chardonnay-spiked broth floating cuts of savory chorizo. Heartier appetites should stick with the red-wine-braised short rib.

But lamb Bolognese, or ribbons of pasta with minced lamb and sausage, tomatoes, wilted arugula and cheese, tastes underseasoned. Likewise the house burger, made with freshly ground Painted Hills beef. You could strain a wrist shaking salt and grinding pepper.

The heritage pork chop Milanese, with a panko-and-Parmesan crust, is so dry it could have been breaded with sawdust. Instead, pick the juicy, roasted chicken with a garlic-and-thyme jus, grilled asparagus and a truffled potato puree. On Sundays, the competition comes from maple-glazed, roasted turkey.

A special of pan-seared striped bass with caramelized fennel and tomatoes is very good. So is the crisp fish and chips, made with cod. The fries -- thick, lengthwise slices of potato -- are hand-cut, irregularly enough to evoke a battle ax, thereby suiting the tavern's Tudor style.

The best sweet is a brownie, served with a thin raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream. The apple crisp: pasty. Chocolate ganache is the memorable part of a peanut-butter tart; gingersnap crust, of the pumpkin tart.

Hoist a pumpkin ale instead.

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