Monday, April 9, 2007

Oak Room leaves hollow feeling

Upon entering the highly touted Oak Room restaurant, nestled away in Boston’s equally luxurious Fairmont Copley Hotel, the scene resembles that from one of the classic James Bond films, in which the suave, debonair 007 (Sean Connery, for my taste) enters an exorbitantly expensive dining establishment and calmly asks for his customary martini, shaken not stirred. The Oak Room, not surprisingly, offers such a cocktail called the 007. This secret agent, er, reviewer went undercover to assess if this dining experience would leave me saying Never Say Never Again (that would translate to a compliment given the double entendre) or have me playing the part of the evil Dr. No. In other words, did the Oak Room meet Paul’s Palate?

On atmosphere alone, the Oak Room scores high marks for grandeur and decadence. One can clearly ascertain from where the restaurant obtains its name, as oak panels encompass the entire room. The mounted, stuffed deer on the walls, mile-high cathedral ceilings, and illustrious chandeliers provide a peculiar, yet casual ballroom/country-club like setting. Waiters are decked out in tuxedoes, and customers should plan on dressing accordingly for this fancy affair (i.e. it is recommended that men wear jackets). The dining area is pristine, not a crumb to be found. One major cause for irritation, however: why does the Oak Room insist that customers depart from the dining area only to utilize the hotel’s washrooms, which are surprisingly filthy?

Service is near pitch perfect. Our waiter is friendly, attentive, and infinitely astute about the menu, confidently providing recommendations throughout the evening. One such notable suggestion of which this reviewer is particularly fond includes a 2004 Louis Martini Cabernet, which is perhaps the most smooth, subtle, luscious wine I have tasted in quite some time. This glass is not overpowering like most Cabernets, and perfectly compliments the steak dish I have ordered. The wine, however, is unfortunately the highlight of the evening.

Appetizers are disappointingly bland. Calamari came out lukewarm, containing too much batter and zero “zing.” Another side dish of potatoes and onion rings also comes out on the colder side, similarly lacking in flavor. Asparagus tips are also maddeningly lukewarm, and on the brittle side in terms of texture. On a more positive note, sesame crackers, crispy mini bagels, and spicy olives laid out tableside tide us over until the main entrees. As an aside, while the wine recommendation is spot-on, the pomegranate and cucumber mojitos we ingest are mediocre at best, lacking the sweet potency of the pomegranate altogether.

This being a steakhouse and all, meat assumedly will be the standout course of the evening. Are we ever mistaken: a bone-in ribeye, a notoriously juicy and moist cut of meat, is a tad overcooked and unacceptably fatty. Fortunately, the aforementioned Cabernet offsets this major culinary faux pas.

Given that we are celebrating a landmark birthday with family members, we proceed to devour slices of birthday cake that are garnished with a luscious kiwi and strawberry sauce. Our cinnamon-infused cappuccinos are the best I can recall in recent memory, but I remain baffled and frustrated as to why the drinks have taken center stage over the meals this evening.

In terms of value, the Oak Room rates poorly. While portions are moderate, the quality of the dishes ranges from mediocre to poor. For my money’s worth, this secret agent would rather splurge at Morton’s Steakhouse, or even Vintage, out in West Roxbury. Dr. No has re-emerged from his evil lair, and his earth-shattering verdict is in: the Oak Room does not meet Paul’s Palate.

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