Oak Steakhouse opens for dinner tonight in Old Town, giving the historic Alexandria neighborhood an anticipated 130-seat venue to wash down tomahawk ribeyes with nearly 20 wines by the glass.
Billed as a “contemporary steakhouse,” Oak is boutique chain from Charleston, South Carolina-based Indigo Road, the same hospitality group behind O-Ku in the Union Market district. The new steakhouse in Alexandria (901 North Saint Asaph Street) is filled with exposed brick and crimson-colored leather banquettes. It joins five other Oak Steakhouse outposts that opened in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee over the past decade.
Chef Joseph Conrad is leading Oak’s first foray into the D.C. market. His local resume includes stints at Bourbon Steak and the Lafayette inside the Hay-Adams Hotel. The restaurant opens with dinner service to start, followed by the addition of weekday lunch around the end of the month.
Aside from importing some of hospitality group’s core dishes — like bacon oysters Rockefeller and a house steak sauce — Conrad has “carte blanche” to bring on his own touches. So the kitchen is making its own cultured butter topped with rosemary-lavender lemon sea salt to slather on Parker House rolls made of cornmeal from Anson Mills, S.C.
A prerequisite for any good steakhouse is serving stellar fries, and Cornad is proud of his “super flavorful” version built with beef fat, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and sea salt.
“Everyone is doing truffle fries these days,” says Conrad. “I wanted to do something more unique.”
Oak has a spacious 40-degree walk-in that holds tomahawks dry-aged for 70 days along with 36-ounce porterhouses and 22-ounce New York Strips.
There’s way more than just steak on the menu, Conrad notes, pointing to crispy skin black bass alongside cauliflower purée and Langenfelder Farms’ pork chop with grilled nectarine. The purveyor also provides the crispy skin pork belly, surrounded by Anson Mills white grits, miso butterscotch, toasted peanuts, cilantro, and pickled chilies.
Conrad is big on sourcing local when possible. Karma Farms heirloom tomatoes star in a salad alongside roasted garlic aioli-lemon olive oil, parsley purée, petite basil, and grated fresh horseradish.
Vegetarians can look to the corn agnologtti with smoked butter, corn nuts tossed with ancho chile, roasted garlic, lime aioli, and cilantro, or hummus with za’atar.
“A steakhouse is a place where celebrations happen — like anniversaries and birthdays. But not everyone eats steak,” Conrad says. “I don’t want people to not come because they think there’s nothing to eat on the menu.”
Sharable sides arrive in cute cast-iron containers from fancy French cookware manufacturer Le Creuset.
“It has a cool, rustic tavern feel to it,” Conrad says of the powder blue vessels.
Creamed corn is built with grilled shishito peppers and finished with Parmesan truffle butter. Baked and fried russet potatoes help to give potato skins an upgrade. Conrad builds his with American cheese sauce, bacon, scallions, and pickled chiles.
A large amount of sides (truffle mac) are also vegetarian. So are all of Oak’s salads besides a wedge with pork rinds, which can be removed. Conrad’s wife, who doesn’t eat meat, made a personal request to have a good veggie burger on the menu. His roasted chile-and-mushroom version trades quinoa for cooked rice. The patty is more stable and burger-like that way, he explains.
Desserts are designed with celebrating in mind. The five opening options include a caramelized banana tart, a spin on a strawberry shortcake featuring a rosemary scone, and a “big honkin” piece of chocolate espresso cake with salted caramel butter cream. Customers can perk up after a filling dinner with coffee and espresso sourced from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. in Richmond.
The restaurant, which will soon unveil a 36-seat outdoor patio, features a back room that takes private dining seriously. A service door attached to the kitchen lets plates sneak in and out of the kitchen so there’s minimal interruption to service. The room also sports its own entrance from the outside. A TV hidden behind a wooden partition is “locked and loaded for pharma groups ready to book,” for presentations, he says.
Architect David Thompson — also behind a handful of Oak’s other locations — worked with designers at //3877 to craft a swanky style that includes sleek slabs of floor-to-ceiling woods, cathedral-style lighting, and tufted burgundy chairs fit for a fancy living room.
Unlike the brand’s other largely one-room locales, Alexandria’s layout has various nooks and crannies that each set a different scene. His personal favorite seating section, which he calls “The Showroom,” looks into an open kitchen framed with pewter-finish tiling.
The wine wall features an old school rolling ladder for waiters to ride, juxtaposed with a built-in lighting system that makes its 200-bottle wine list pop.
Conrad thinks the whole experience will add excitement to a neighborhood in dire need of something new. Outside of Oak, the only upscale steakhouse in Old Town is the Warehouse Bar and Grill.
“You get a lot of mediocre restaurants that have been here a long time,” he says. “They are what they are and are probably not going to get better or worse. I think it’s nice to come in here and do something a little different and have a fresh take on the dining scene.”
Oak Alex Dinner Menu 2 (1) by Anonymous S3C97Jx4 on Scribd