Restaurant: Restaurant Oak
Location: 959 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02906
Price: Not cheap (~$20 entrees)
Would I eat there again: Eventually
Salt. What a powerful ingredient. Sodium, chloride, and that's about it. Wars have been fought over it, and it's the first half of the ubiquitous American spice combo- S and P. When used in moderation, it can enliven, heighten, and bring out the latent power of a dish. But add just a tiny bit too much, and the whole dish can come crashing down on your plate. At Restaurant Oak, we were victim to the latter.
In ten years of life in and around Providence I have driven down Hope St. and past Oak countless times and always been curious, yet had never dined there. Their neighbor probably doesn't help- when Chez Pascal is across the street from you the bar is set pretty high (in fact we watched as folks pulled up directly in front of Oak to park, then walked across the street to Chez Pascal...).
The decor is attractive and inviting (if rather reddish), and has nice big glass windows fronting on Hope Street. The waiter was very friendly and attentive, keeping our waters tended to (which was vital as it turned out) and taking good care of us. It was fairly slow the night we dined there (in the middle of our meal we were the only customers in the whole place) yet he managed to stay on top of his game and not get sucked into the comatose stupor that can befall wait staffs on slow nights.
Instead of the standard bread you often get, an excellent focaccia with a homemade hummus was provided as a house treat, and seconds were offered (and accepted!) when we finished the first round. For our dinners we shared the Oak meatloaf, and the smoked salmon club with the addition of sweet potato fries (a real weakness of mine). They both came out very quickly, which was hopefully a sign of a kitchen looking for work, and not overly pre-prepared dishes. The sweet potato fries were tasty and very salty, which can probably be forgiven/expected. The smoked salmon was decent, and had the lowest sodium content of the meal (although the bacon slices in it didn't help). The meatloaf dish was the epicenter of salted danger. Two very generous slices of meatloaf, topped in a gravy, with mashed potatoes, and green beans. Seems pretty innocuous. I started off with a couple green beans- very nice and crispy, but salty. The mashed potatoes started off good, but then you guessed it, the salt came through. At this point we were making a pretty serious demand on the water glasses, and our wonderful waiter kept the water coming. The meatloaf could have had great flavors in it, but all I could taste at this point was salt. My taste buds were overwhelmed, and I had to give up in defeat.
Now it is completely possible that a salt shaker had lost its top in the kitchen all over my plate. Perhaps this happened and nobody noticed. Or perhaps I was just the unlucky victim of an off night. Regardless, it was salt overload. Let me know how Oak has treated you- I am quite curious, but I am afraid for my blood pressure should I try again.
Nero's Restaurant Oak looks great, has a friendly staff, and a decent, if fairly standard menu. We ran into serious salt overload, but minus that one factor I think Oak has a lot of potential to be a good neighborhood eatery.