NYC Restaurants

The Oak Room
768 Fifth Ave (Central Park South)
New York, NY, 10019
(212) 758-7777

Cuisine: American , New American

Menu:   View the Menu

Reader Ratings:

Cititour Review:

In 1907, the Plaza Hotel was built for $12.5 million, an astronomical price tag at the time. For decades it enjoyed a storied life -- Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald drunkenly cavorting in the fountain, the beloved Eloise at the Plaza series of books, Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, said to be the first true red carpet event. The hotel's history hit a snag in 2005. El-Ad Properties shut it down (after shelling out $675 million for the property) to convert it to condos.  New Yorkers mobilized and threw a collective fit.

After years of negotiations and a $400 million overhaul, the Plaza reopened last year as part residence and part hotel. Instead of fanfare it was greeted with a chorus of boos, deemed a botched job. Aside from condo owners' myriad complaints, The Palm Court, under the helm of Didier Virot, was doomed from the start and closed at the end of the year. The fabled Oak Room swiftly booted French chef Joël Antunès after Frank Bruni's withering Times review in February. The owners couldn't seem to do anything right and the situation seemed almost as bad as when Eloise's dipsomaniac nanny proclaimed of the Plaza:

"You cawn't, cawn't get a good cup of tea they simply do not boil the water so you have to have champagne with a peach in it instead."

Cue Eric Hara, 30, who can certainly boil water. He had been in the kitchen a mere three weeks the night of our visit and turned out dish after dish -- from big eye tuna to braised short ribs -- that was creative, accomplished, delicious and so New York.

What a relief. I want to see old school New York preserved but not embalmed. Hara's food is lively and whimsical, such as a pb&j-themed foie gras torchon (slow-cooked in a dish towel), served with a triangle of toasted brioche sandwiching strawberry-vanilla jam and macadamia nut butter ($19). His molded pillar of Dungeness crab and Belize shrimp cocktail ($17) collapsed into a pale green pool of avocado and green goddess dressing, light and refreshing and not cheap on the crab.

The prices were one of the things Bruni griped about (a $58 truffled lasagna appetizer, $44 for a pork chop). They have been tamed. On the international wine list are several choices for $40-$45. Appetizers are in the teens and main courses range from $22 for pasta with chickpeas, oven dried tomatoes and arugula to $48 for a Niman Ranch prime NewYork strip steak that's been aged for 50 days. Cocktails are $20, a distressing price since I'd have to think twice about popping back for a drink in the adjoining Oak Bar, no matter how much I adore the paneling and reliving the moment Cary Grant was snatched from there by thugs in North by Northwest.

The Oak Room is more hushed and baronial, with a gold-trimmed ceiling almost as high as a cathedral's. Restored frescoes of a German castle were said to inspire dinner guest Walt Disney to create Disneyland's castle. Our cocktails -- a classic sidecar and a frothy concoction called The Gladiator, with Michter's bourbon, Aperol, herbal yellow Chartreuse and citrus -- glistened beautifully in the candlelight. Service was friendly, seamless and unobtrusive, with the young and charming Josiah Baldivino choosing the perfect wines to match each course. His boss, sommelier Bruce Yung, is from the David Burke empire as is Chef Hara, who came fresh from Burke's Fishtail.

Hence, Hara's fish dishes are assured, from melt-in-your-mouth pan-seared Chatham cod ($29) with a lobster dumpling, baby brussels sprouts, bacon and a glaze of lobster-butternut chowder to big eye tuna ($36) dusted with smoky sea salt and served with shallot confit and foie gras ravioli. He can do meat, too, such as fabulously rich braised veal cheek stuffed shells ($16), saturated with chanterelles, sour cherries and Pecorino cheese emulsion. It's listed as an appetizer but generous enough for a main course. One of our favorite dishes of the night was prime beef carpaccio ($16), zesty with grains of paradise, aji amarillo chile, pickled honshimeji mushrooms and a scattering of crunchy, tempura-fried rock shrimp nuggets. This play on surf and turf worked surprisingly well.

Our main courses, a wonderful ash-cured venison ($36) with sunchoke puree, chestnut spaetzle and huckleberry, and fork-tender braised short ribs ($32) with sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi, dandelion greens and wild mushrooms, were crowning achievements.

One of the few people to survive the recent bloodbath was pastry chef Eric Snow, whose homemade chocolate bar topped with gold leaf was glorious, a fitting tribute to the illustrious Oak Room. The owners finally seem to have a team in place that stands a chance of winning over locals. The night of our dinner we saw a smattering of businessmen, some girlfriend getaway types and a family that looked dressed for a hike in the Rockies. Since the Plaza has fewer hotel rooms, New York is hurting for tourists and the economy continues to sting, it needs more of us to create new history.

Review By: Julie Besonen

Neighborhood: West 50s

Reservations: Click for reservations

Chef: Eric Hara

Hours: Brunch
Saturday - Sunday: 11:30 - 2:00pm

Monday - Friday: 11:30am - 2:00pm

Sunday - Saturday: 5:30pm - 10:30pm

Late night: 10:30pm - Midnight

Entree Price: >$30

Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard

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