Oak, the classy cool restaurant in Dallas' Design District— has been undergoing a few changes recently and it's all for the better. Shortly after opening in 2011, the restaurant gained both local and national attention for its globally inspired cuisine thanks to the restaurant's executive chef, Jason Maddy and its chef de cuisine, Brian Zenner. In 2012, the Dallas News gave Oak a four star rating, D Magazine named it one of the best new restaurants of the year, and it also received a nomination for the same by Bon Appetite.
Then in 2013, Maddy flew south for a position in the Grand Caymen Islands and Zenner moved a few miles west to head up the kitchen at Belly & Trumpet. Zenner's cuisine at Belly and Trumpet also earned a four star rating by the Dallas Morning News.
But, unfortunately after both chefs departed, Oak lost some of its groove. However, that's all changed now that Zenner is back heading up the kitchen. He is also still manning the helm at Belly & Trumpet and travels effortlessly between the two restaurants on a daily basis.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sample some of Zenner's seasonal creations at Oak, and from the taste of it all, it seems he's putting the restaurant back on track.
Some of the starters worth noting on the present menu include a Canary melon salad with guajillo pepper, charred pepitas, cotija and cilantro. It sounds somewhat simple but the sweetness of the melon combined with the heat from the pepper and the saltiness of the cotija cheese delivered a wonderful umami taste sensation. As well, I had a yellowfin tuna crudo with dashi gelee, black garlic, shiso and horseradish that was as pleasurable to look at as it was to eat.
The restaurant also offers A5 grade Miyazaki Wagyu beef freshly flown in from Japan. This isn't your average Kobe beef, it comes from champion cow stock. It was served as a carpaccio with Parmesan cheese, capers and arugula. The meat was flavorful, buttery and literally melted in my mouth. It can also be ordered as a steak for $20 per ounce.
Other items on the tasting menu included Berkshire short ribs and East Coast squid, together on a plate with mole Verde sauce, elote, squash blossoms and aji panca chilies. The dish is Zenner's take on Jason Maddy's famous Moroccan octopus and pork jowls. It was an interesting dish to say the least. I preferred the beef short ribs that came with casoncelli pasta stuffed with marrow, beech mushrooms and kale— all resting in a flavorful beef consommé.
If you're fortunate enough to come while the Branzino is on the menu, be sure to order it. The fish is pan roasted to perfection and served whole— along with tomato confit, picholine olives, potatoes— and ladolemono, a Greek sauce made with olive oil and lemon.
The restaurant has a nice selection of wines to pair up with the menu—priced at $9-$25 by the glass and $36-$595 by the bottle. On Monday nights you can snag a bottle for half-price.
Be sure to save room for dessert. Pastry chefs Maricsa Trejo and Jackie Martinez whip up a spectacular chocolate tart filled with dulce de leche and served with banana ice cream.
Oak is open for dinner Monday through Saturday and is planning to start lunch service in the fall.
1628 Oak Lawn Ave, Suite 110
Dallas, TX 75207
Price: $9-$16 appetizers; $26-$48 mains ($100 Miyazaki Wagyu steak); $8-$15 desserts