Previously known simply as the Oak Room, the renamed and renovated Oak Long Bar and Kitchen reinterprets the previous space's old world luxury.
The room is impressive, with high ceilings two stories above the entrance and windows that rise nearly as high facing the common between the Boston Public Library and the Trinity Church. Top shelf booze is literally top shelf here, displayed in cabinets 12 feet high off the floor. There's the obligatory fireplace, obligatory (but surprising, if not blasphemous) TVs, and framed paintings of people you ought to recognize but don't. Seating consists of plush leather backed hightops at the bar whose zigzaggy nature makes it a little less long, more leather backed hightops at tables, lower/plusher seats at tables, long banquettes against the Dartmouth Street windows and a few choice spots at pillowy couches. Chandeliers? Check. Intricate carvings in both the ceilings and the wood beams supporting them? Check. Glass door leading into the wine vault? Check. High check? Check: $19 for the Oak Burger.
When I saw that the upscale burger's blend was a combination of ground shortrib and aged ribeye, I had an Oak Long Bar of my own. It immediately shot to the top of my list of most-wanted-to-try burgers.
The fact that their chef looks like a James Bond villain in his online bio photo adds even more intrigue.
A dark, shiny-topped vessel similar to brioche but closer to challah was deceptively airy (a good thing as far as ratios go). A quick, light toasting sans butter allowed it to stand up to the juiciness of the beef while still having enough flexibility to stay with the burger through every bite. But there was an awful lot of it relative to the beef (which, by definition, isn't such a good thing as far as ratios go). Overall, I'll call the bun a small plus that with a slight reduction could be a big plus.
When you start with shortrib and aged ribeye, you're off to a good start. This extra thick patty struggled to reach the edge of the bun but came just close enough to not be a dealbreaker. A quick peek under the bun revealed grill marks and very minimal crusting. A cut to inspect the cross section yielded nice pink color and perfect medium rare doneness both times, but different results for juiciness. On the first visit, juices beaded up and trickled out upon squeeze only; the second visit improved to full flow mode. But back to the blend: long story short, interesting composition with a lot of depth and a little bit of funk thanks to the aging, but a little too restrained in both flavor and flow.
Somehow the lettuce (interesting use of Romaine) and reasonably fresh tomato worked within the overall framework of the burger without upstaging the beef.
I was eagerly awaiting the smoked maple cheddar, which came in rubbery and had more of a light sweat than a melt the first time. That turned out to be a good thing, giving it some textural bite to match its sharpness bite. No maple or smoke, however—either time.
A dab of smoked onion aioli (mustard lookalike with similar texture) on both halves of the bun gave just a hint of extra flavor, serving as yet another layer of complexity helping to make the burger work. As applied, that is. The extra ramekin for fry dipping and burger spreading proved boldly and compellingly flavorful, with a rich oniony essence neither sweet nor bitter. I enjoyed it enough to consider asking for some to take home. Ah, if there were only someone to ask. [cue ominous music; cut to commercial break]
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: Crispy, well saturated fries with a hint of rosemary tasted good on their own and better when dipped into the charred onion aioli. The second visit's batch had no rosemary flavor until I got to the crumbled pieces at the bottom of the can.
Onion rings: More garnish than side, a few thin sliced, thin battered rings hit the spot as a crunchy, tasty pre-burger nibble.
Service was not only horrible but downright insulting.
On the first visit I dined alone at the bar and was ignored for 3-5 minutes by a young bartender chatting up two women. An older managerial bartender saw this, came over from the opposite end of the bar, took my order, stuck the bill bar style in a glass and that's the last I saw of him. A runner delivered the plate, and that's it for interaction with servers, though young bartender was literally four feet away chatting up the women the entire time. I left a 12% tip and am disappointed that I left that much.
Second visit, same bar, different bartender, service again cold, and this guy also doted on a woman two stools down, offering her taste after taste and chatting up another couple about Bloody Marys. For the record, I had a beer the first time and soda ($5!) the second time, but should that really matter?
While the first visit had zero interactions with the bartender, the second visit had two:
1) Ordered the Oak Burger (that's what it's called) and a Diet Coke with lime. Received a Diet Coke without lime and a "So you want it without cheese?" "No, I want it to come with cheese, exactly how it comes." "But you ordered the Oak Burger." "That's what it's called. It says it comes with cheese." "Oh."
2) After being hopscotched several times by his long chitchats with the middle aged boozette to my left and middle aged Bloody Mary couple to my right, I finally get some bartender facetime between shuttles. As he's bouncing from the Bloodies and eagerly racing back to Boozy, I get a quick, "By the way, how's the burger?" Nice of him to ask as I'm on my second to last bite. Nicer if he'd notice my by-now empty glass.
The Bottom Line
Although the Oak Burger is definitely very good, it's not a "complete" enough burger to be called great. There's upside for sure, and it's more obvious here than, say, the Farmstead Table in Newton or Firebrand Saints in Cambridge, but two tries are enough. Short on flavor, it still managed to leave a bad taste in my mouth thanks to the horrendous service experience both times.
Other Opinion/ Info
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