Fire in the Belly
Oak + Char, in the former Graham Elliot space in River North, is a dimly lit, wood-trimmed temple of all things fiery and flavorful. Between the suspended light fixtures wrapped in billowy fabric that emulate plumes of smoke, weathered oak stools and charred wood paneling, it's clear that virtually every design detail nods to the restaurant's namesake motif.
At a mere $7 a plate, bar snacks like the dare-you-not-to-lick-your-fingers-good MSG wings (maple, sherry and gochujang chile) are an obvious—and satisfying—place to begin. Pair them with the Alicia cocktail ($12), a bright, citrusy number with Sloe gin, grapefruit, lemon, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and soda that cuts through their thick, sticky-sweet glaze.
Rye-aged duck at Oak + Char
The beef tartare ($13), another shareable starter, toes the line between playful and sophisticated. Uni aioli, smoked pine nuts, pickled pears and dehydrated red onions offer color, texture and an incredible depth of flavor.
Entrées range from cider-brined pork collar ($24) served with fermented apples to a surprisingly great double cheeseburger ($16) loaded with verjus-infused onions and cooked perfectly medium rare. The smoked chicken ($25/half, $35/whole), on the other hand, is pleasantly juicy but feels uninspired next to dishes like rye-aged duck ($26). For the particularly voracious, there's a jaw-dropping chef's board to conquer with a hulking 32-ounce bone-in rib eye, bone marrow and sauce Périgueux (market price).
Finish things off with a cocktail in lieu of dessert. The Margo ($14) is a thick, Frosty-like shake imbued with Hangar One vodka, St. George coffee liqueur, Averna, cocoa and coconut milk. It reminds us of a Girl Scout Samoa cookie, all grown up.