When assessing the recently reopened Oak at Fourteenth, the lazy tendency would be to open with a sentence such as this: “Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Oak has returned from months of rebuilding from a debilitating fire.” Given this tough history, it’s also tempting to go easy on them, as nobody takes any pleasure in knocking someone when they’re down. Fortunately, Oak has bounced back with a vengeance, and it’s unnecessary to resort to tired clichés or lowered expectations when surveying the scene here.
Clean lines in a sparkling, sunlit space, coupled with attentive, denim-clad servers, give this higher-end establishment a foodie-meets-cowboy feel.
There’s undoubtedly an American roots vibe here, as evidenced by the presence of fried green tomatoes as well as grits and meatballs. Rotating dinner highlights include seldom-seen skate wing, house made pasta and an opulent porterhouse steak for two. At lunch, there are small and large plates ranging from a grass-fed pastrami sandwich to a salad crafted from kale and Honey Crisp apples.
For lunch, pal Tertia and I kicked things off with $5 fried pickles with Green Goddess aioli. This modified mayo was much better than the stuff from the Seven Seas bottles populating the childhood refrigerator. The aioli’s creamy herbal qualities played nicely with the measured tart and briny qualities of the thin pickle slices. Fresh from the fryer, these hot and crisp morsels quickly disappeared from the plate.
Oak’s $11 burger lunch features double patties of Our Pastures grass-fed beef and surprisingly delicate Old Bay seasoning-scented tater tots. The included house-made root beer was a touch sweet, but happily lacked the processed taste one typically associates with this product, instead offering “rooty” vanilla tones. If you could access Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, you could likely go back in time and sample something similar.
The burger was so tall I contemplated a preemptive call to a TMJ specialist. Happily, medical intervention wasn’t necessary to savor the clean grass-fed flavor.
It was darn near perfect, especially with the melted gruyere. If the kitchen had dialed back the garnish peppery harissa aioli and cooked the meat a little less, this could easily be the best burger in town.
My shrimp grits benchmark is the sausage-accented version from Columbia, S.C.’s Blue Marlin restaurant, located in the shadow of Adluh Mills, that eatery’s grits supplier. Oak’s $16 version eschews the sausage and uses grits from Adluh’s cross-town rival, Anson Mills. There’s another key difference: Oak’s version might be better than its Southern antecedent. The sheer quality of the Royal Red Key West Shrimp in this dish is reason enough to order it, although the grits’ deep creaminess didn’t hurt either.
While neither of us are Dessert Diva Danette Randall when it comes to such matters, we thoroughly enjoyed the $8 cremoso. This dessert skillfully blended olive oil with dense milk chocolate mousse, garnished with marshmallow and a Cracker Jack mix of nuts and Boulder popcorn. The oil added sheen and velvety mouthfeel, and provided a decadent ending to an exquisitely prepared meal. Like a phoenix rising … never mind.
In any event, the newest incarnation of Oak hasn’t been slowed down by past misfortune, and it has proven it can already hold its own in Boulder’s top tier of dining.