Monday, December 3, 2012

Oak Long Bar, Fairmont Copley Hotel, Boston

Years ago the Oak Bar, located in the Fairmont Copley, was my favorite spot to go for a special occasion cocktail. The ornate, shadowed and deeply masculine feel of the room leant itself to quiet conversation shared over a double pour martini, or a velvety rich pour of Bourdeaux. It was a place to linger, it was a place to speak in hushed tones as the veteran staff attended to every need. The Oak Bar was a place to savor as with a piece of flourless chocolate cake- sparingly. When I got wind that the room, and its accompanying restaurant - The Oak Room, were closing for renovations in honor of the centennial celebration of the hotel, I was devastated. Fearing the worst, I pictured an overhaul to the rooms, losing the mystery, the history of what had been there.

I feared the worst, and as I tend to do, I didn't even want to see the new space. However, I ran into a lady who can easily be known as a treasure of Boston herself, and she began to reveal more and more about the history of the building as it had been, and the reverence that the renovations had paid to that. Stories of a tile mosaic floor unearthed won me over, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to stay away from the new look for long. I have made several visits since then, and each time I have fallen deeper in love. The front halls of the hotel, leading to the front desk, had their linoleum floors removed to reveal a tile mosaic laid at least a century ago. The restoration paid that artistry homage, allowing the tiles missing from their places to be respected, not replacing them with the new and shiny. The Oak Bar and Room have been joined into one room, with a massive bar (83 feet long) the longest in Boston, spanning between them, bedecked with high backed leather bar stools perfect for lingering. Cozy fireplaces have been installed, and where heavy, dark drapes once blocked the light, the room now has an airy feel with rich curtains now welcoming a new era. Remnants of the old room remain, the chandeliers remain, and, if you look closely, the long abandoned track of the carousel that once turned in that room has been polished up and left intact. This is now a room that brings a crowd every night of the week, and whose new look is bright, and beautiful, but remains the historical masterpiece it was built as.

I had the extreme honor of being invited to the Oak Long Bar for dinner one evening and was treated to a sampling of their new menu. I am extremely happy to attest that the food is as wonderful as the restoration, offering something for everyone.

We began our food adventures with the LBK Charcuterie Board. This is a board like no other- served with flourish as every pice is revered as a crucial ingredient. Ours included speck, sopressata, coppa, porchetta and prosciutto amiercano, with a mix of cheeses including local Berkshire Blue, Landaff, and Cabot's Clothbound Cheddar. Accompaniments included a cranberry apricot relish, a mustard spiked with maple syrup, house cured pickles and olives. A charcuterie board like no other. The cured meats were salty and tender, melting as they hit your tongue- exactly the way you want them. The cheese, a perfect sampling of the beauty of New England cheeses complimented those decadent meats with a tangy relief. Portions were nicely measured out- and our table of six couldnt finish the massive offering.

Our next course featured a selection of their wood fired flatbreads: their Backyard Farms Tomato Flatbread, their Pulled Pork Flatbread and their Organic Mushroom Flatbread. You all know my love of Backyard Farms Tomatoes- locally grown in northern Maine, these tomatoes are cared for with love and attention all year long and the farm renders August style tomatoes throughout the year- hence you know that a flatbread in October featuring their tomatoes is going to be special. How about if we add to that flatbread Maplebrook Burrata cheese (another local contender) and allow its creamy center to mingle with those beautiful tomatoes and sweet basil in a way that traditional mozzarella is just not able to do? A masterpiece is created.

Not to be outdone, the pulled pork flatbread entered the race with its own secret weapons. The tender pulled pork, full of smoky flavor had been paired with smoked cheddar cheese to carry through that theme and then topped with pickled grapes adding a contrasting pop of tang. The result was unusual and addictive.

The winner, as though it was easy to choose, was the organic mushroom flatbread which, quite simply, blew the others out of the water. The crisp crust had been topped with tender mushrooms, an earthy truffled vinaigrette (a perfect compliment to mushrooms in my book), spicy arugula and, finally, an Heirloom egg, cooked to perfection so that the sunny yellow yolk spilled over into the rest of the flatbread and mingled with the other components creating a perfect combination of decadence and earthy heartiness.

Next out to our table though was a crispy yet tender piece of braised pork belly. The meat crackled in its pan, the tender meat permeated from its now crispy roof of flavorful fat. This decadent piece was topped with just a bit of spicy and sweet candied ginger, and another pickled grape lending their own sharp flavored tastes in stark contrast to the unbelievable richness of the dish. While more than a bite or two of this is all that I was able to "muster"- Ill gladly admit that in privacy I may have housed it.

We were next treated to their Prosciutto Sandwich which combined Blythedale Farms brie, local apples, more of that spicy arugula, and fig jam with the salty cured meat, and was served with a kale slaw on the side. The sandwich hit every flavor sensation between the bitty and spicy greens, the creamy cheese, the salty meat and the sweet fruits. The toasted bread added a satisfying crunch to every bite and resulted in a feeling of complete comfort. As much as I enjoyed the sandwich, here it was the crisp, hearty and refreshing kale slaw that I loved most of all. The slaw was delicate, yet had an incredibly hearty vibe to it- and allowed me to feel as though I was getting some crucial nutrients in as well.

We turned our attention next to dishes more pulled from the entree section of the menu, starting off with their Lamb Osso Bucco. Large chunks of slow cooked, tender lamb stewed into a rich, velvety sauce, were served over a mushroom farro and then topped with a pistachio gremolata. This dish hit all of my high points- well cooked protein, with an unique accompaniment, and textural contrasts. The Osso Bucco appeared to be an ossobucco in bianco, which includes flavors of cinnamon and bay leaf as opposed to tomato in its braising liquid and here that concentrated liquid clung to the meat and to every grain of the nutty farrow creating beautiful continuous flavor profile with subtle variations. Here the parsley and pistachio gremolata added a beautiful freshness contrasting the rich sauce and the crunch of the nuts complimented the tender qualities of the rest of the dish. Huddled into this cozy space, I couldn't help but picture enjoying this meal on a dark and snowy night.

Next up was a classic, the New England Clam Bake incorporating Georges Bank Cod with littleneck clams, chorizo, and root vegetables all in a light broth. I am one of those weird New England fanatics who thinks that this is a crucial item to a menu here in Boston. Its such a celebration of what our area is known for, and the cultures that come together here that I am thrilled when one is done perfectly. Oak Long Bar concentrates on the simplicity of the dish, not adding in superfluous ingredients but keeping it pure. In this lack of pomp and circumstance is where the real dish lies- a clean meal that has been made for centuries by the rugged fishermen of New England.

Our final savory dish of the night was truly a dish not to be missed. A "Bone Out" 16 oz Rib Eye served with roquefort butter, a cabernet jus, crispy onions and the bone itself contained grilled marrow for creating an even more decadent offering. The steak itself was perfection- cooked to a beautiful medium rare, not over seasoned to allow the full flavor of the beef to emerge -it was a worthy steak contender for our city. The accompaniments just pushed it over the top in every way. The tang from the roquefort paired with rich butter, the subtle sweetness of the cabernet reduction and the crisp onions all created a dance of flavors.

Dessert was served at once for us and brought with it enough temptations that somehow our very full bellies found the room to fit in a "few more bites". A flourless chocolate cake topped with a dried fruit and nut relish and served with a cranberry and clove coulis, a Creme Fraiche Cheesecake enhanced with a cranberry and dried cherry compote, and finally an Apple Croissant Pudding with caramelized apples and raisins and topped with traditional vanilla ice cream rounded out our selection. My dining companions and I long debated the best of this triplet. The cake was dense and rich, exactly how you want a flourless cake to be, but paired with the sweet tart and citrusy relish it fit in perfectly to the season and walked away from its "typical" role. The Apple Croissant Pudding took a classic bread pudding and created a whole new eschelon of "pudding". Sweet apples and raisins showcased against the buttery delicacy of the croissants and found a result in something with effortless sophistication. My pick for best though was the Creme Fraiche Cheesecake. I am not, on the whole, a cheesecake fan. I often find it monotonous and overly tangy. Here the more diluted sour of the Creme Fraiche created a softer, silkier feel to their offering and when paired with the sweet tart compote the result was elegant and delicious.

The Oak Long Bar is a new shining star in the very heart of Boston. No longer is it a place reserved only for special occasions, it has emerged as a space where cocktails and wine welcome a late evening crowd, while the diverse yet cohesive menu full of local favorites calls out to any food lover looking for a unique and satisfying meal. If you haven't yet had a chance to revel in the beauty of the time honored Fairmont Copley -I urge you to check it out- soon!

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