November 26, 2012

David Bracha’s Oak Tavern Takes Root

Now open, chef/restaurateur David Bracha welcomes guests to Oak Tavern, his inviting new restaurant in the heart of the Miami Design District at 35 NE 40th Street (between North Miami and NE First Avenues). With affordably priced great food and drink in a stylish but laid-back setting, Oak Tavern brings a refreshing new option to Miami foodies looking for a top notch dining experience in a relaxed, approachable environment.

Bracha has been known to Miamians for close to two decades, when he relocated from New York and opened his first South Beach restaurant, 411, in 1992. Since that time he has operated Jake’s in South Miami (since sold) and River Seafood & Oyster Bar, a downtown dining destination known for impeccable seafood, great service and a stellar dining experience for close to ten years. A resident of Buena Vista East for 15 years, Bracha has dreamed of opening a restaurant close to home for quite some time now – and recently found the right location for his small plates, neighborhood bistro concept.

Oak Tavern, so named for the majestic transplanted giant oak tree which graces its outdoor patio, will offer guests the same unpretentious, convivial vibe that is the trademark of the River Seafood & Oyster Bar. Certain to attract plenty of attention and an eager clientele, the restaurant occupies approximately 5,500 square feet, with indoor/outdoor seating for 140. A large welcoming bar offers signature cocktails, premium brews and eclectic wines by the glass; with large glass doors that open out to the lushly landscaped courtyard, bringing the outside in.

The comprehensive modern American menu extends the spirit of hospitality, inviting sharing with a selection of small plates, snacks, wood oven pizzas, charcuterie and large plates as well as daily specials, all crafted from fresh, quality ingredients. Bracha established his reputation by letting the flavors shine through in his thoughtfully composed dishes and that is evident in the menu he has created for Oak Tavern’s bill of fare. And yes, the glorious oysters that make The River such a standout will be available here too, as well as a slew of other raw bar/seafood specialties.

Support of local farmers like Borek, Paradise and Swank Farms is a given with Bracha, pork comes from Palmetto Creek; eggs from Lake Meadow Naturals; however Chef Bracha also reaches farther afield for great ingredients like Iberico ham from Spain or oysters from the Pacific Northwest. Adds Bracha, “I’ll be making most of our charcuterie in house, we have been making our own salami, soppressata, testa and breseaola, along with sausages. I’ll also be using the wood oven for some interesting things.”

Among those “interesting things” to emerge from the oven ($12-$18) are a slate of pizzas including duck with poached pear, mustard, wild mushrooms and fontina; gnocchi with house made rabbit-truffle sausage, Taleggio and Parmesan and baked mussels served with salsa verde and crusty bread. Small plates ($6-$18) intrigue as well with options including charred lamb ribs with arugula pesto, yogurt and mint; Thai style crispy skin duck salad; a great take on gazpacho – gazpacho verde made with yogurt, cucumber, and Marcona almonds; and bison carpaccio complemented with mustard, shiitakes, truffle and chive, to name a few.

The charcuterie & cheese menu includes a robust Tuscan fennel salami, spicy soppressata and bresaola; there is also a fabulous country rabbit pate, housemade foie gras mousse and American cheeses including Rogue Creamery’s Caveman Blue and Gouda from the Sweet Grass Dairy, in Georgia. Fans of the River Seafood & Oyster Bar will be pleased to know that along with the great service Bracha’s downtown mainstay has been associated with, Oak Tavern will also be serving up fresh from the sea, high quality seafood selections ($10-$22) including a number of crudos, sashimi, ceviches and a daily oyster selection that will always include East and West coast oysters. Snacks ($4-$12) like stone crab crostini, bahn mi, and grilled house cured maple bacon are a great way to start off any meal; while large plates ($9-$32) including wood grilled whole yellowtail snapper served with roasted cauliflower and a lemon-caper vinaigrette and grass fed culotte steak, offered with shishito peppers, sweet 100s tomatoes, scallion and chimichurri and spit roasted suckling pig served with fiery black beans, sour orange mojo and grilled scallions round out the menu. Vegetables and sides ($4-$10) are a showcase for seasonal favorites like wood grilled vegetables, roasted cauliflower and seared bitter greens along with house cut fries, warm buttermilk biscuits served with bacon butter and parsnip-potato mash.

Desserts, like the rest of the menu, will be changed seasonally; current offerings include hard to resist treats like pumpkin cheesecake, a coconut flan, a chocolate truffle cake with coffee caramel and cardamom ice cream, a classic deep dish apple pie with cinnamon ice cream , and English sticky toffee pudding .

Miami designer Holly Cameron of Design Quest has created a space that is masculine and whimsical at the same time. The room feels comfortable and accessible, with an energy that seems common to all good restaurants. The walls are brick, lighting is subtle and warm, and tufted rich dark brown leather banquettes line the dining room’s perimeter. Elegant standing lamps with carved wood bases resemble stately trees, lining the entry into the restaurant. Rustic tables are made of reclaimed wood natural as is the large wood-hewn communal table on wheels that is just near the restaurant’s entry. Outdoors, relaxed seating is augmented with tables and lush plantings to create a peaceful garden feeling – all in complement to the soaring oak tree at the center, producing an environment that is perfect for any type of dining and imbibing experience – from cocktails and a snack to full dinner service

Oak Tavern’s bar, will naturally be a central focus with an emphasis on microbrews, a great wine program and a broad selection of bourbons, single malts and specialty cocktails made with farm fresh ingredients. All of this is under the aegis of Bracha’s director of operations and beverage director, Michael Hidalgo, who also fills that role at River Seafood & Oyster Bar. Eight taps will pour a well curated list of beers, including Florida vintages, Due South and Mile Marker 82 IPA. Among the bottles, interesting brews like Monk in the Trunk, Shiner and Duvel populate the list of 20 or so beers – there’s even a gluten free ale from Colorado called New Planet. Wines are served by the glass, carafe and bottle and are approachably priced; while specialty cocktails include The Green Mile – a cool blend of Smooth Ambler Greenbrier Gin, fresh pressed cucumber, cilantro, chile and lime; Oak Tavern lemon-thyme infused vodka and the Casa Noble margarita – an interesting variation on the classic with fresh pressed cactus pear juice, lime and honey .

Oak Tavern reunites industry veteran Gary Sanon-Jules with Chef Bracha; the general manager also teamed up with Bracha at South Miami’s beloved Jake’s Bar & Grill from 2001-2007 (Bracha had the restaurant until 2009). Sanon-Jules most recently oversaw operations at Tap Tap, Miami Beach’s iconic Haitian restaurant and has worked at a variety of South Florida’s hottest dining destinations over the past twenty years. Rounding out the team, chef de cuisine Curtis Rhodes, a Hawaiian native, who began his culinary career as a baker in Portland, Oregon and was mentored by Jean Marie Josselin, considered the godfather of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine by many, at San Diego’s Pacific Café. After stints in management at Kimpton hotels and the Oceanaire Seafood Room, Rhodes came back into the kitchen to work with Bracha at the River Seafood & Oyster Bar.

What’s a great bar without a fabulous Happy Hour? Oak Tavern embraces the concept of attitude adjustment with both drink and snacks specials nightly from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and is open nightly for dinner. Lunch service is slated to begin Monday December 3, just in time for Art Basel. Oak Tavern is located at 35 NE 40th Street in Miami’s Design District; telephone: 786-391-1818; Valet and street parking available.Follow on Twitter: @oaktavernmiami and Facebook: oaktavernmiami.

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