Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Oak Room

There may have been 20 inches of snow outside, but I wasn't giving up my Restaurant Week reservation for The Oak Room in The Plaza Hotel. After all, it's not very often that a venerable NYC institution offers veggie items on their prix-fixe menu. And, weather as it was, it's not very often that you don't have to deal with crowds in NYC landmarks.

The Oak Room and Oak Bar were built in 1907, and though renovated in 2008, they still retain turn of the century New York grandeur. I spent just as much time staring at the intricate woodwork on the dining room columns and the tile patterns on the floor as I did gazing at my honey (sorry Honey!) It's worth feeling like a tourist for an evening and sitting at the bar for people watching.

Beauty, of course, is not always indicative of good food, so we were eager to see if the Oak Room lived up to its reputation. For their Restaurant Week prix-fixe, there were two veggie options for appetizers- a vegetarian tomato-fennel soup and mixed baby greens, which could be made vegan by omitting the goat cheese- and a solo vegetarian entree, spaghetti with chickpeas, oven-dried tomatoes, and arugula (ask them to leave out the parmesan if you want to make it vegan). Very simple options, but certainly a shift from the tastes of the steak and potatoes crowd that you might expect from older, established restaurants.

I started with the tomato-fennel soup- creamier than I thought it would be (turns out creme fraiche was added), it was rich and warming- just what one needs after commuting during the blizzard. My spaghetti was solid, quite good, but much simpler than what I was expecting from an upscale restaurant. From a little Italian neighborhood joint, sure, but not The Oak Room. Still, it was savory, with just a touch of some red pepper flakes; and with the chickpeas, the pasta was quite filling. Dessert managed to be decadent yet modern- "The Oak Bar", with a chocolate wafer layer, peanut butter nougat, and caramel, with gold leaf pressed into the top of the bar, and served with a scoop of maple ice cream. And yes, it was insanely delish as it sounds.

Though not the most creative options I've had for Restaurant Week, I give The Oak Room credit for putting some healthier, vegetarian items on a menu that's dominated by the usual surf and turf offerings. It's about time. And if anything, embrace the fact that it's not just about the food. Kind of like the Empire State Building- whether you're an NYC native or a tourist, there are many places in the city that you just need to experience.

The Oak Room, 10 Central Park South, 212-758-7777

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