Checking in on John Tesar's New Menu at Oak
The Arctic char at Oak
I have to say that it was an exceedingly likable plate. The corn bisque evoked memories of my mother's creamed corn, and the fish that swam in it was cooked perfectly. A faint rosy hue peeked out from flesh that was soft, supple and juicy, and the skin was crisp like a fried snack from a plastic bag. The vegetables had lost some color, but they were still toothy and fresh. This is the sort of thing you could eat every day and not get too tired of it.
The Arctic char is just one of many new plates available at Oak. John Tesar announced he was taking over the kitchen back in January, and his new menu was unveiled recently. A few dishes from the old regime remain, but it looks like he's conducted a complete rewrite.
Steamed dumplings stuffed with tofu and mushrooms are a standout because, really, even most bad dumplings taste good. So does the squid ink pasta, as Tesar has turned out a number of exemplary pasta dishes at Knife and the now defunct (I'm still in mourning) Spoon.
There's more seafood if you're missing John Tesar's old Preston Hollow restaurant. A halibut dish pairs a second seared fish with a black-eyed pea salad. Sunchokes get blended into baby food instead of corn on that plate. There's also sea scallops with chermoula, and oysters done up with ornate garnishes like they're headed to the opera.
I was dining alone, so I didn't get to dive into any of the meat dishes, but if they're handled at all like they've been handled at Knife, you should be safe. Braised pork shanks and beef cheeks sound a little heavy for spring, but what the hell? You can have the salad next time.
As before, Katie McKeown is behind the bar, whipping up cocktails with tools that include barrels, cotton candy machines and other mad scientist equipment. And I also noticed that the restaurant offers teas curated by the Cultured Cup. Don't miss out on one of the best tea menus in the city.
If you've been looking for a reason to revisit Oak, you've certainly been given one. Still, things have felt a little sleepy at the Design District restaurant the last two times I've visited. It could be I picked an off lunch and weekday dinner service, or it could be an indication of something else. Tesar's presence has definitely given new life to the menu; let's see whether that energy carries all the way out into the dining room in a lasting way.
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