Restaurant Review: Oak Long Bar + Kitchen in Back Bay

oak long bar and kitchen restaurant reviewPan-seared steelhead salmon with heirloom-tomato-and-cucumber salad, $25

Jarausch has revived and revised some of the former restaurant’s standbys, such as the “chopped shrimp cocktail” ($15), with large chunks of shrimp coated with a generous amount of cocktail sauce spiked with fresh horseradish, Tabasco, and serrano chili. It was served in a lowball glass with a Maine kelp salad that had a silky mouth-feel. Oysters Rockefeller ($15 for three) had lots of fresh spinach but too much of a cream sauce that was overwhelmed with Pernod.

It’s fitting that the simpler main courses were the best. Roast chicken ($22) came from the hearth oven in its own cast-iron pan, broken down so you got big pieces with crisp skin and juicy flesh. A buttery pan-juice sauce fortified with veal stock was another example of what a big kitchen with an experienced chef can do. It was really satisfying, though the roasted potatoes alongside were shriveled, as were the “roasted market vegetables” ($7), ordered as a side dish. All of the vegetables are pre-roasted and then reheated, so almost without exception they were desiccated but wet—an unappealing combination.

A steak salad ($25) came with three ovals of rosy-pink grilled skirt steak with an intensely savory flavor that belied its simple salt-and-pepper seasoning. As with the chicken, this was a generous portion of meat, accompanied by a deconstructed collection of fresh gem lettuce with a creamy homemade ranch dressing spiked with blue cheese. There was also a fine, flavorful burger ($19) made of rib-eye and short rib, the bun slathered with a charred-onion aioli; and pan-seared steelhead salmon ($25) with a convincingly summery heirloom-tomato-and-cucumber salad.

oak long bar and kitchen restaurant reviewOak Long Bar’s clubby dining room has an old-school vibe with a few decidedly modern touches.

Attempts at complexity, though, generally went awry, most notably in a kind of surf ’n’ turf tagliatelle ($28) that wound up a sloppy miss, with lobster meat and a big square of dark-braised short rib plunked on top. With the exception of the chicken, the main courses from the hearth oven were overstuffed and overcooked, like the roast lobster ($40)—which, despite a peppery harissa rub and a brushing of citrus butter, was terribly dry—and the equally dry “New England clam bake” ($34).

Desserts (all $10) were…big, including a gigantic whoopie pie with dull cake and innocuous chocolate gelato. Best was a huge square of crème fraîche cheesecake, nicely lemony and served with a seasonal cherry compote in hibiscus syrup.

The servers were the best illustration of the old-new dynamic at play. Hosts tended to be young, appraising you for your coolness quotient—and, one night, unapologetically waving us to an antechamber to wait 50 minutes after we’d made a reservation. The servers, in monogrammed jackets, had a friendly, old-shoe vibe, with a seen-everything air because, in fact, they have worked at the hotel (which is unionized) for a long time. That tension makes Oak Long Bar interesting—and, at least during that magical uncrowded hour, fun to be in, too.

Other Menu Highlights
Steak salad, $25
Burger, $19

Oak Long Bar + Kitchen, 138 St. James Ave., Boston, 617-585-7222, oaklongbarkitchen.com.

 

Critic Corby Kummer—an editor at The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food—has been reviewing Greater Boston’s top restaurants in our pages since 1997.