by Steven Doyle
We announced back in November that Oak, that fabulous Design District restaurant, was back to serving lunches under executive chef Brian Zenner. Zenner is the chef responsible for for honing the restaurant that opened in 2011, but sort of lost balance over the past year. Zenner had originally been hired at Oak, but was later sequestered to that beautiful little Uptown hot spot, Belly and Trumpet as their execu-chef. There Zenner rocked our world with innovation unlike anything that has been seen on that section of McKinney Avenue, and possibly never will see again due to the lackluster enthusiasm or superior cuisine in Uptown.
Chef Zenner has this wonderful background that lends itself to a canvass such as Oak. He was born in Thailand, but also lived in Dubai and London, giving this chef a well rounded perspective on how we should be dining. The chef developed his skills working in Portland and in Austin before making his way to Dallas where he had a stint at the Mansion on Turtle Creek just before being recruited as Chef de Cuisine at Oak under opening chef Jason Maddy.
Zenner himself has hired well. On a recent luncheon visit we visited with Zenner’s sous, Ann Marie Romero (remember this name), another great hire and Mansion alumni who has more recently been sous at Oak’s sister restaurant next door, Pakpao. Romero said that day that she learned so much at Pakpao, but was ready to make way back into the fine dining kitchen. There she worked our lunch for the day and performed beautiful work.
The new lunch being offered at Oak is splendid as you might expect. There are many items offered you will want to taste, and in extremely generous portions. I will tell you this, there is a new luncheon chef’s tasting menu. The new prix fixe lunch menu gives guests three courses for only $25, or four courses for $32. Choices for the courses include openers, salads, soup du jour, sandwiches, mains, and desserts.
Openers of smoked salmon deviled eggs with salmon roe, dill, and red onion or the red lentil dip with Moroccan olive, roasted garlic, tomato and naan can be followed by the soup du jour or salads like baby greens with manchego, almond, caper, and a golden raisin vinaigrette. Sandwiches and mains include dishes such as the mushroom quiche with caramelized onions, gruyere, and crème fraiche; pappardelle with confit chicken, button mushrooms, and sauce blanquette; or trio of eggplant with masala, peanut, okra and yogurt.
I went with the 3-course prix fixe, while my lunch companion ordered directly off the menu. This gave us a nice bit of perspective. I was completely thrilled with my choice which included that day of a goat cheese and beet salad, a beautiful cod dish, and a pair of these breath taking macarons.
My partner, however, went with a Caesar salad which was large enough to act as a complete meal itself. She had previously been bragging about this Caesar she had the week before which she thought to be the best ever, but renounced that fact after nibbling at Oak’s version. If that wasn’t enough, she was plied with their Organic Chicken on Pappardelle served with parsnips, button mushroom, and a sauce blanquette. This was the most beautifully roasted chicken I may have ever tasted. Velvety tender with a perfect browned skin that was slightly crisp, but relenting The accompanying pasta was housemade and maddening good.
We both wanted a side of the ever-so-crisped Brussels sprouts that are heavy laden with fried shallots and a sprinkling of peanuts, and otherwise just about the best way man can cook that delicious vegetable.
While I was served my dessert of macarons, my friend was offered this beautiful lemon tart. Although I had a bit of dessert envy, she was kind enough to share. I reciprocated with a macaron – begrudgingly.
Lunches are served Monday through Friday 11am to 2pm. This would make an ideal bit of relief from the holiday shopping. It is also a bit of an oasis from the usual grind, and less than idyllic soup and salad. You deserve to make this reservation now. 214.712.9700