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Jan 13, 2009 04:01 AM

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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    1. Paul,

      Welcome to the board, but please stop spamming the board with your out-of-date postings. This review was posted on your blog on April 9, 2007, and only two of your postings (Pigalle and Mount Blue) are even from the last month.

      FWIW, your Phantom Gourmet format and style may be fine for TV, but I find it annoying.

      1 Reply
      1. re: azra

        Just found out about ChowHound, and yes, posted some reviews of mine within the past year. I apologize for inundating you with these today, and I promise that this will be a one-time thing. Will be sure to post reviews real-time going forward. As for my writing style, I'm sorry you do not enjoy it. I try to make my prose fun for readers. As you can tell, I try not to take myself too seriously (at the risk of sounding pretentious) when writing these reviews.

      2. Oak Room is currently surrounded on the outside by a great big plywood box while the exterior (and presumably interior) are renovated. Anyone know if they're open during renovations? I understand their wishing to renovate during Boston's off-season, but I've thought of it as a nice warm place for a drink this time of year.

        1. Glad to have some "new blood" around here, thanks for joining us, Paul. This place gets pretty stuffy with the same voices all the time, so I am glad to see a fresh perspective. I'm looking forward to hearing more from you.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chris VR

            Thanks for your kind words. I look forward to contributing going forward as I hit restaurants that I haven't been to before.

            I just want to apologize to everyone else and say 'mea culpa' for this morning's posting fiasco. I merely wanted to get feedback on the other reviews I've done within the past year and see if folks agreed/disagreed with my sentiments (people can certainly agree to disagree on my writing style - hey, no offense taken). I admit that I definitely would have been better suited to post only my latest review and have people simply go to my blog from my profile if they wanted to view additional critiques. Again, my utmost apologies for this first-time Chowhound's entry onto the website. I promise to be more prudent going forward posting-wise.

            1. re: paulspalate

              I like your writing style, Paul -- and agree that there are few things worse than lukewarm food. Sorry you had such a bad experience at the Oak Room - I haven't been yet but I am intrigued by the fact that they serve complimentary homemade warm pretzels when you order a Stella. I'll look forward to reading more of your reviews.