Restaurant Review: Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar
Considered dining outside the core
Reviewed by Brandon Watson, Fri., May 20, 2016
Mon.-Wed., 11am-10pm; Thu., 11am-11pm; Fri., 11am-12mid; Sat., 10:30am-12mid; Sun., 9:30am-10pm
Let's try this again. Several months ago, when I reviewed Jenna's Asian Kitchen, I tried to make a point about how a new generation of local restaurateurs are defying the stereotype that the suburban palate stops and starts with quesadilla explosion salads. I bungled that attempt, I'm probably bungling it here (urban elitism is not exactly earned, but it is certainly practiced), but it is still something I believe. If you want to make your mark as a young chef or restaurateur, sometimes it's smartest to bring your food to where people are hungriest.
Chef Amir Hajimaleki and his brother Ali, who together own new Four Points restaurant Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar, seem to know this instinctively. Their District Kitchen + Cocktails has been bringing casually distinguished fare to Circle C since 2013, and they bring some of those same tricks – crawfish mac & cheese, hamachi crudo, and the tendency to truffle their feathers – to their new digs. The food is advertised as "European elevated pub cuisine with a Texas spin," but you're just as likely to find flavors from Japan or the Caribbean. If many local chefs seem to develop menus intellectually, Chef Hajimaleki seems to develop his in the opposite direction. Oasthouse is all wanderlust and emotion, elevating boldness over subtlety.
Most of the time that direction works, especially when the bar part of the name is so prevalent. The ponzu used in the aforementioned crudo ($13) is sprightly when bounced off serrano slices and fried garlic. Lightly breaded calamari ($10) is prepared with all the trappings of pad thai, unexpectedly adding a tamarind twang. Deviled eggs use truffle oil, but not aggressively so – using it more for depth than the exact flavor profile. That signature murk is more present in the prosciutto bruschetta ($9), but the spear-carriers – medjool dates, honey, arugula – make it less blasé. Bangers & (sweet potato) mash ($10) is the perfect companion to a slightly hoppy local pils, with teased smoke in the pork belly gravy and bacon fat spiked mostarda.
The globe-trotting continues in the entrées. There's a burger ($15), of course. These days almost everyone has to have one, and this one stands up to the cult burgers of the inner city. Like with that burger, heartiness seems to be the most comfortable fit for Hajimaleki. Veal schnitzel ($18) is served with a textbook perfect German potato salad and an earthy mushroom gravy. Baby back ribs ($19) are swaddled in a piquant barbecue sauce. The pork tenderloin ($20) was billed as jerk-seasoned, but didn't really have any of the pepper or allspice of the form. It was still an extremely successful dish, if more steakhouse than street stand.
Some of the lighter elements had less finesse. The thick sauce used with the chicken creole ($17) should have been left alone. The limp spinach "crisps" scattered on top didn't live up to the name and added no additional taste. Likewise, the romesco used with the scallops and risotto ($24) was a touch overbearing with sweet spring peas. And the beet salad ($11), though serviceable, could have used something new. But maybe we just need a break altogether.
I do have some quibbles with the flatbreads, which sorely needed texture at the base. The toppings on the two I tried were beautifully rendered – the roasted farm vegetables ($13) had some nice woodsiness from criminally underused thyme, and the Wagyu steak (truffled again – $17) was topped with mushrooms in brown butter, more commonly used but with good reason. But the breads themselves were lifeless. A toast would have served the toppings better.
Removing the flatbreads would streamline the menu, which food critic-y types like me sometimes snivel about. Like Belgian fashion designers, I personally tend to gravitate toward minimalism, but the brothers know their customer likes accessibility and choice. And even someone who babbles about how the sheen of a nasturtium leaf plats against the gloss of ganache can appreciate Dennis Van's unpretentious take on desserts. The favorite is cookies & milk ($8), which is just that: three gooey cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter bacon, and chai snickerdoodle) paired with a mason jar filled with spiced chocolate milk and a bit of cookie dough served charmingly on a electric beater blade. The other standout was the chocolate Nutella mousse ($8) topped with candied orange and sea salt. Spooned in a martini glass, it's fern bar retro, right down to the mint leaf garnish.
The beverage program stands up nicely too. On the cocktail side, it's mostly well-crafted versions of classics like Old Fashioneds and Moscow Mules with a few surprises like the refreshing Beerhound made with 4th Tap's grapefruit IPA. Localness sets the tone for the taps overall, and there is some consideration in the wine list – although that spans globally from Sancerre to Paso Robles. A lot of the chain places that tend to populate the outer rings of a city would have just popped open a Sutter Home Merlot and called it a day. That's not nearly enough at Oasthouse, where none of the ingredients talk down to their customer base. May restaurateurs all over the area take inspiration.
Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar8300 FM 620 N., 737/222-5779
Mon.-Wed., 11am-10pm; Thu., 11am-11pm; Fri., 11am-12mid.; Sat., 10:30am-12mid; Sun., 9:30am-10pm