The other night, I dined at the latest restaurant to adorn Columbia’s culinary landscape, The Oak Table. Even though I did not receive an invitation to their media tasting, (forgive them for they know not what they do), I decided to check them out anyhow. And I’m so glad I did. This turned out to be one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in Columbia in quite a while. Aside from wonderful conversation and company, courtesy of my date (te-he-he… that’s so much fun to say), the restaurant itself added quite a flare to my otherwise uneventful Wednesday evening.
Concept Overview. What I liked best about The Oak Table is that it took your everyday Southern mainstays and shone a light on them. For example, the oak tree. In this day and age, oak trees are oftentimes taken for granted. When I was growing up, they were most important because they provided some much needed shade and a cool breeze while we sat underneath them shelling bushels and bushels of peas and beans. Nowadays, since people have air conditioning (and they sho’ ain’t shelling no peas), the looming cover of oak trees is taken for granted, and may even seem ominous at times. But The Oak Table displays the beauty and vastness of oak trees in every aspect possible. From the solid oak tables, to the bathroom door stalls, to the pictures on the wall. I actually felt a great deal of comfort being surrounded by all the oak furnishings.
The Entrees. I also found that The Oak Table took many of our Southern staples and jooged them up just a little. For example, the whole fried lobster, which my date (te-he-he) ordered. To me, the fried lobster is kind of a play on the fried soft-shelled crab. The only thing is, lobsters are generally rather expensive, so few would consider frying it for fear of ‘messing it up’. But believe it or not, it was a delicious twist on an upscale staple. OMG… and when I say whole fried lobster, I mean the WHOLE THING was fried. My date, who has had lobster in as far-away places as Thailand, says he’s never seen a whole fried lobster. He loved the twist and found it rather delectable.
Now, I am a ribeye kind of a girl. In fact, I am on a national search for the best ribeye in the United States. And I’m a little particular when it comes to my red meat. I like it prepared a little more than medium, but far from medium-well. Yes, I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds and I pity any chef who actually tries to deliver my request. But guess what? Chef Jacobson actually did a pretty good job at getting my ribeye just right. It came out tender and juicy with the perfect reddish-pink center. If you get the ribeye, I suggest you pour your own bordelaise sauce, just in case, like me, you don’t care for it. So, where does this ribeye rank on my list? Pretty high. It’s the top ribeye in Columbia, and a very close second to the Porcini-Rubbed Ribeye at Capital Grille in Atlanta.
The Sides. At The Oak Table, the side items are served a la carte, which is pretty standard in more upscale restaurants. My date and I selected the seven-cheese smoky mac and roasted brussel sprouts. Now, the macaroni was surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because most of those fancy-smancy macaronis are nothing more than a bunch of fancy cheeses meshed together to justify an exorbitant price. But this one was extremely palatable; not nearly as sharp as some of the others I’ve had, including the mac or Capital Grill. And it tasted just as good the next day with my leftover ribeye. But what stole the show for me was the local roasted brussel spouts. They were outstanding! The olive oil was flavorful, the consistency was just right, and it was the perfect light side item to round out our meal.
Wine and Dessert. The Oak Table also has a pretty extensive wine list, although my date and I did not opt for a nice bottle of wine. He enjoyed a simple Riesling and I, a glass of Cabernet. We did, however, opt for dessert. Intrigued by the description, we selected the sweet potato sorbet. It was served with candied bacon and pecan tuile (an interesting waffle-like pastry/cookie); it was cold (hense the word sorbet) and had just the right amount of sweetness for an after-meal treat. Yet another twist on a Southern staple. Oh… and for the grand finale, our check (I mean, his check) was delivered to us in a mason jar. See what I mean about jooging up Southern mainstays?
Other things worth mentioning. The Oak Table offers free valet parking, which is completely necessary because the restaurant would lose a great deal of its allure if you had to drive around in circles looking for parking. We also found the service to be excellent with attention paid to the little things, like cloths draped under the water pitchers to keep the condensation from dripping on the table. We also found the bar area to be bustling and full of energetic suits. I guess that’s what you can expect right across from the State House. And the patio! I love outside dining and The Oak Table’s al fresco dining is perfect. It is just far enough from the street where you would not be terribly bothered by the noise and car exhaust.
Final Review. With the average entrée costing about $30, The Oak Table may not be your weekly dining option for most people. But it should at least be your favorite special occasions restaurant.
One final thought. When I travel to other cities, I try to enjoy local one-of-a-kind restaurants instead of chain restaurants. Usually, I manage to find one place that will forever remind me of that city. The Oak table is just that sort of restaurant for Columbia. It has everything needed to make visitors to our city remember us fondly.