Oak + Char is one of my favorite new restaurants. Located within the former Graham Elliot space in the River North Neighborhood of Chicago, Oak + Char focuses on “Modern Midwestern” cuisine using natural cooking techniques in a rustic setting. The menu is comprised of items cooked by direct fire or in clay pots or tandoor ovens, and the dining room is decorated with repurposed wood, riveted steel, and stockyard leather.
The menu at Oak + Char is designed for sharing, and is divided up into Snacks, Small, and Large plates, in addition to two Chef’s Boards and Desserts. A well curated wine, beer, and cocktail list is available, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier.
I recently dined with two friends, and we were able to sample an array of menu items, all of which were delicious and wonderfully executed.
We began with the incredibly tasty pecorino arancini, with braised rapini and red pepper vinaigrette. The arancini, which are fried risotto balls, were perfectly crunchy on the outside, and warm and creamy on the inside. The red pepper vinaigrette lent the necessary acidity. These balls of goodness were some of the best bites of the evening.
Equally impressive was the charred burrata, served in a jar atop an addictive eggplant muhammara, along with warm naan fresh from the tandoor oven, imparting incredible flavor not otherwise seen in typical pita bread. I literally wiped the jar clean.
The third course consisted of arguably the tastiest and most tender octopus found in Chicago. Thanks again to that tandoor oven, the octopus was incredibly flavorful on its own, and was enhanced by the charred eggplant and nduja vinaigrette. I cannot wait to get back to Oak + Char, if only for this dish.
Vegetarians would go crazy for the roasted acorn squash, with date saba, red quinoa, and a creamy and mild caña de cabra cheese. I really enjoyed this salad and could easily enjoy this as a healthy lunch entree.
One of Oak + Char’s most popular items is the ravioli doppio, or double pocket ravioli, and I can see why. One side of the ravioli was filled with celery root, and the other with maitake mushrooms. They were then topped with more mushrooms, hazelnuts, and a truffle fondue. I mean, what is not to love about pasta, mushrooms, and a truffle fondue?!? This dish was glorious and we literally had to split the last small bite three ways to avoid any fights from breaking out.
We ended our fantastic meal with what sounded like an unconventional dessert – cotton cake, with persimmon jam and a basil streusel. Wow. Not only was this dessert beautifully presented, but the flavors were deep and remarkable. More earthy than sweet, the cake was extremely light, almost like a pound or angel food cake, and the persimmon jam balanced nicely against the basil streusel. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic meal.
While the food at Oak + Char was on point and we loved each and every dish, service was a bit overbearing, with bus boys constantly asking if we were done with our plates, even though we were mid-bite, and interrupting our conversations to ask if we needed more water rather than just refilling our glasses. While attentiveness is appreciated, we felt rushed and stressed at times throughout the meal while we wanted to savor each bite.
Overall, however, Oak + Char is an excellent dinner venue, and I am eager to return. Oak + Char is open for dinner seven days a week, and lunch Monday through Friday. Reservations are accepted.
217 West Huron, Chicago, IL 60654