Prov - Nero's Oak Restaurant (review)
Last night my friend and I revisited Oak Restaurant on Hope Street (Providence), our first time since the new ownership (Oak was always a favorite of ours the past few years). We were eager to try it and see what's going on.
The first evident change is in the window - it's now called Nero's Oak Restaurant, to reflect the new ownership by Kevin Nero. As I mentioned months ago (on another thread which talked about the new ownership) Nero was the former owner of 'Pat Orlando's' on Rte 44 in Johnston and had itentions of changing the restaurant into an Italian restaurant.
Change he has done - gradually. For those who enjoyed the creative offerings from the former (dinners were nothing 'unidentifiable', but different enough from traditional fare) you will still find some of those on the menu; apparently the more popular survived (their famous meatloaf, Maryland crabcakes, lobster ravioli). Others have been replaced with the more popular offerings from Pat Orlando's (Chicken Sorrento, cheese ravioli, eggplant parmigiana). It seemed like everyone in the restaurant was ordering the 'Italian' dinners, so my friend and I followed suit. The Chicken sorrento was a s delicious as it was at PO's (always a favorite fo mine there), while her eggplant parm was just as good as she remembered as well. Both were generous portions, and both were around $20.
What threw us a bit was they still serve the grilled pita bread with hummus as a starter for the table, which we realized isn't a great start to traditional Italian meals. A basket of hot Italian bread would have been more suitable. Dessert was OK - pumpkin cheesecake which was a bit dry.
One major difference we did notice was the atmosphere. Except for a few tables (ours included), most tables had toddlers with them - and at times, these children were running around the restaurant unsupervised- distracting to our dining and the waiters. We always liked the atmosphere at Oak because it really wasn't a 'family restaurant' and little children were hardly there when we went (weekends); it was always quaint and comfortable. Last night it was just the opposite. I didn't notice a 'children's menu', so I'm not really sure what the allure is for families. (Don't get me wrong - I don't mind children at all, but not expecting it here.)
I was there again last night, but forgot to ask about brunch...sorry!
Luckily, the restaurant did not have children running around as they did last week. That's a good sign. My friend and I both had the special last night - gnocchi in a cream/squash sauce mixed with shrimp and pancetta. Again, the portion was huge - so we both took the other half home. It was delicious (hopefully it will be added to the menu) . I did notice once again MORE Italian meals were being served than the 'Oak' signature dishes. If I'm noticing this, I'm sure the kitchen is as well - so I'm hedging to bet that this will be all-Italian soon. (One table near us did send back both their dinners - not sure why, or what they ordered - as wellas their desserts. Go figure. The owner did come out to talk to them.)
As for the service - The waiter we had is 'Anthony' - we had him last week as well, and he was very good. In the past, I kept getting a heavy-set waitress with short hair, who was perpetually miserable (for wahtever reason) and very unattentive. We always had her until we requested NOT getting her table. She disappeared for a while (a good year or so) and now she's back...still looks unhappy, unfriendly. I don't know whay she's back. Luckily, we have had 'Anthony' for the past two weeks.
Thanks for the review... I always had Oak at the top of my list for one of the most disappointing restaurants in Providence, but I at least appreciated the creative menus as times. I had some hopes the new ownership would keep what was good and work on the weak spots (wildly inconsistent quality and very poor service)...
I'm now really disappointed to hear it's switching to an Italian format, as if Providence is crying out for more Italian dining...
I wish them well. If I hear the quality and value are great I'll give it another shot, but since good Italian can be found, well, EVERYWHERE in town, I'll hold off for now and save my dollars for something a bit more original...