Restaurant Review: Oak Long Bar + Kitchen in Back Bay
Crab-asparagus gratin, $15. (Photos by Ekaterina Smirnova)
The dining room at the new Oak Long Bar + Kitchen at the Fairmont Copley Plaza can feel magical—with the sweep and elegance of a grand urban space in the heart of the most beautiful square in the country’s most historical city—which demonstrates the success of a recent reinvention that kept the best of the old and added much new.
The renovation that joined the already vast Oak Bar with the Oak Room shows on the walls, the leather banquettes, the heavy wooden tables…all of it telegraphing a modern opulence. What remains of the old? Two-story Palladian windows that look out onto the square; beautifully preserved ceilings; the grandeur of a Beaux Arts train station. And what’s new? White-painted woodwork to replace some of the dark-stained wood of hallowed memory; an aptly long L-shaped bar with tufted-leather stools that overlook an open kitchen with a hearth oven; a large communal high table. That magic I speak of? It comes when the huge, 146-seat room is about a quarter full, when you can hear yourself think and have a crack at being shown to your table right away. The space is typically packed and fantastically noisy, with servers that can be intermittently inattentive and more eager to please than able to deliver. The crowds are chic, urban, international: They’re looking for a scene, and getting one.
The masses might well be coming for the drinks. I don’t think they’re coming for the food, which is less successful at marrying the old with the new. That Oak Long Bar serves any noteworthy food at all—and it does, a little—is an achievement. But its lasting value is likely to be as an enormous, luxurious room worth seeing and being seen in. There’s an overhauled menu with a long cocktail list featuring expertly made, innovative drinks, and a wide variety of small plates, many of which show off just what that stone-floored oven can do.
Roast chicken, $22
Under the direction of the German-born and trained executive chef Stefan Jarausch (who for four years prior had served as chef at the Oak Room), the restaurant has glommed onto the farm-to-table theme that rules the day, but that might not really be suited to an institution geared toward serving club-style food to large crowds. Jarausch does work an impressive number of New England–centric ingredients into his dishes: Vermont-made Maplebrook cheese, Backyard Farms Maine tomatoes, Powder Point oysters, Cold Fusion gelato from Walpole. You get the idea that a chef, not just a corporation, devised the menu. Many of the dishes, though, have a trend-compilation air to them, which gives them just the corporate feel the restaurant seems to want to avoid.
That’s too bad, because a few dishes are as good as anything in town. For instance, the “farm chicken soup” ($10), with its distillation of chicken essence from the sort of accumulation of bones only a big kitchen can compile, was as wonderfully clear as a consommé—the kind of technique only a classically trained chef like Jarausch can muster. The crab-asparagus gratin ($15) was a similarly lovely dish—a custardlike cream of fresh Jonah crabmeat, crème fraîche, and mayonnaise topped with grated cheese and baked in a cast-iron dish until browned. It demonstrated a real talent for highlighting the delicate, clear flavor of a local product: The slightly saline Maine crabmeat was moist and plentiful, the thin asparagus adding color and a bit of texture but not distracting from the taste. If only it had been served warm.
Chopped shrimp cocktail, $15