Food & Wood: Oak Steakhouse Nashville

Apparently, you can’t take the restaurant reviewer out of the girl, but you can merge her with a middle-aged mom in trade school to get a report that’s equally focused on construction and cuisine.

That’s what happened this week when I attended opening night at Oak Steakhouse in the new Westin Hotel and found myself drooling in equal measure over canapés and construction.

Behold the soaring wine wall of metal racks and ladder, the varied wall textures of wood and tile, the glass balustrade that makes 7,000 square feet of dining room, bar and open kitchen merge into a seamless space where stairwells and pendant lights float with disorienting grace.

To paraphrase Woody Allen in Annie Hall, the trimwork was so beautiful I could hardly keep my eyes on executive chef Eric Zizka’s menu, which highlights local purveyors, such as Bells Bend Farms, Green Door Gourmet, Bobby John Henry Bakery, and Porter Road Butcher. While servers circulated with Sazeracs and bite-size entrees of duck, beef carpaccio, and crispy tacos with tuna and nori, I was distracted by trying to figure out how horizontal shingles—of eponymous oak, I assume—could be affixed so flat, firmly and flawlessly to the wall beside the kitchen. (See photo above, borrowed from Oak’s Facebook page.) There was virtually no sign of nails or screws or other fasteners, nor was there the slightest give or wobble in the pieces.

Imagine wood shingles rotated 90 degrees, with their corners blunted at 45-degree angles. The effect was much more tailored than the ubiquitous treatment of reclaimed barn wood, but still added patina to the gleaming space.

Having shingled some walls in construction class, I know how hard it is to achieve such level evenness among the registers, and I imagined the process and equipment required to get such perfection. Laser levels? Chalk lines? Or just the eyes and experience of seasoned carpenters?

It must be hard to find folks to do that kind of specialty trim work, especially in a boom town like Nashville. Maybe that’s why the June 17 grand opening of Oak Steakhouse’s Nashville outpost came six months later than originally announced?

Other than that, Mrs. Buttercup, how was the food?

The opening party featured a sampling of small bites, so I can’t speak to Oak’s regular menu, which features a raw bar and entrees ranging from a $21 vegetarian plate to a $63 bone-in filet. But the small bites promised big things from the restaurant, which also operates in Charleston, Charlotte and Atlanta.

We were particularly dazzled by something called “Duck, Duck, Goose,” a jewel-colored slice of rare duck breast topped with a fluffy dollop of foie gras and a crumble of fried duck. We asked the server if it would be on the regular menu, and he asked us to lobby for it, so consider this my lobbying effort.

Our other favorite bite was a deviled egg with fried oyster on top. If you attended the opening of Oak and didn’t get one, consider this my apology for eating them all.

Oak Steakhouse Nashville, 801 Clark Place, serves dinner nightly.

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