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.

  • Andrea

    I’ve been to LOB&K twice now, and been disappointed by the lukewarm food, but mostly by the service. The first time, our (hungover?) young blond waiter was mostly absent, confused and served our food cold. The second time, our waitress rolled her eyes at my mother’s fish allergy, and said “Yeah I get it” when my mother explained her fear. We wrote a letter to management and never heard back. In my opinion, OLB&K is unfortunately a far cry from the Oak Room, and a blemish on an iconic hotel.