The first words on the menu announce, “All our dishes are intended for sharing and will be served as they are ready, please enjoy!” So, what does an English major like myself make of such a decree? Well I guess, right off the bat, the Oakwood pitches three themes: 1) a communal and social atmosphere, 2) pleasant mannered enjoyment and 3) the promise that things will be done the way they want them to be. I like being left to the whims of experts. And when I visited the 4th avenue establishment this week, I felt secure that the Oakwood way was a good way.
We took a seat at the bar to begin; the place was packed. I ordered the Sazerac, a beloved export of the nineteenth century New Orleans bar scene. It was more whiskey-intensive than I had expected and, on top of the obligatory old-fashioned bitters and the floating lemon rind into which the bartender had carved a curious star for me, the glass had been rinsed in absinthe. Attention to detail folks.
We were then led to our table whereat some equally stylish dishes began chasing my beverage. The first up was a re-imagined baked potato: “in textures,” the menu promotes. And my plus-one and I were assured it would offer more flair than its commonplace for-bearer In a cast iron skillet: a row of four fatty chunks of pork belly half-submerged in a velouté (creamy and classic French sauce) of aerated potato with chive flower and the eponymous potato textures in amongst the succulent pig pieces. The unusual textures element consisted of lustrously brittle sheets of deep-fried potato skin. Creamy, chewy, crunchy— even now the dish degenerates my descriptors to the levels of a simple chubby kid trying to talk with his mouth full.
Next to the plate was the seafood component. There was nothing juvenile about this selection ladies and dudes. They served melt-in-your-mouth Arctic char with smoked applewood caviar, fingerlings and cauliflower puree. The food and presentation of this dish were refined, if a bit sparse. My plus-one had misgivings about this particular swimmer— “I’ve had better,” she shrugged— her tastes having been well-trained by the salty waters of the Georgia Straight that slosh at her family’s doorstep. Fine by me; I ate her share.
What caviar is to the ocean, bone marrow must be to the land. I was excited to see the delicacy offered in such abundance in the next entree. The flat iron steak was great, recommended medium-rare. Oakwood even goes the extra mile and slices it up for you and yours. I felt like a Roman commander relishing his battlefield successes as I dug the marrow out of the cow femur and spread the gooey stuff on each of my bite-size beef bits, which were splayed elegantly in a lake of chimmichurri right next to the vertically positioned bone. The cook staff stick a little bowl of sweet sunchoke chips beside the massacre of flesh and blood, and every crunch of the deep-fried vegetable duped me into believing I was being health-conscious. Not so.
The wine renewed our protein-laden spirits. Kettle Valley’s Pinot Noir ranked alongside some of the top versions of my favourite varietal in my opinion. It paired well with our dessert choices: a Nanaimo bar, served as a custard, and apple crumble. These sweet dishes weren’t totally impressive, considering what preceded them, though they did cleanse my marrowy palate.
It would be gruesome not to mention this restaurant’s hip and cozy atmosphere. The Oakwood features a sociable set-up and casually urbane interior décor. With their share plate policy, they promote a collaborative eating culture, long lacking in North America. One section of the floor houses a long wooden table where several parties can be seated alongside each other. And in seeming response to that, there are also several tables-for-two lined up along the adjacent cedar-plank wall. Another attractive corner of the eatery boasts two large elevated booths, above which is a black and white tiled, semi-cylindrical ceiling. This is where I’ll sit when I come back. Of course, there are the bar stools, which were eternally occupied by kale chip munching nomads, happily awaiting a table of their own.
I am obnoxiously sensitive to sound and lighting, which my plus-one can attest to. Well I can attest that the Oakwood’s levels were adequate. We drank coolly and ate plate after plate for three hours without the slightest sign we’d overstayed our welcome. So there’s your service: laidback and good-looking.
Next time I visit I’ll bring a group of friends. I’m keen on trying the duck cannelloni and the fried octopus. The burger looked amazing. If you live in Kits and need a classy place to share a meal with your pals, don’t forget the Oakwood, a comfortable spot just past the trendy 4th avenue restaurant nucleus.