The Oak Stave started offering its signature burgers and tavern-plus menu in early September at the corner of Transit Road and Clarence Center Road.
The high-ceilinged dining room has the televisions of a sports bar, a lounge’s banquette-style booths, and the sort of chandeliers swashbucklers swing from in movie castles.
A meal there last week left me marveling at the calamari, burger and steak, and disappointed by other dishes. My visit was within a month of its opening, before a restaurant settles into its groove.
The best appetizer I tried was calamari a la plancha ($12). Seared calamari was tossed with greens in a red wine vinegar dressing, with charred lemon, tomatoes, pepperoncini, pickled onions and oregano. It was served on a swath of fragrant, forest-green basil sauce, making for a light, vibrant seafood-centered plate.
Afterward Chef Nick Rada confirmed that he uses never-frozen calamari, for more tender results. It was a relief to find an excellent lighter calamari dish to break up the fried calamari cartel. If this isn’t offered an entrée the next time I’m in, I’ll just order two.
Tuna tartare tacos, ($15) featuring airlifted Honolulu Fish Co. ahi tuna, were three crunchy corn shells filled with pickled onions, avocado, salsa fresca, and fish. Pretty, fresh and tasty.
The Oak Stave menu says burgers are signature here, so I had to try one. The Smokey Oak’s jumbo 10-ounce patty was cooked to requested medium-rare, with moderate crusting.
Topped with pulled pork, tobacco onions and a judicious application of bourbon barbecue sauce, I could still taste the beef under it all. It’s $16, with fries.
Even more impressive was the N.Y. strip steak ($34). A 12-ounce slab of 1855-brand Angus beef arrived topped with grilled scallions and chimichurri, riding a throne of patatas bravas. That is, crusty skin-on potatoes with smoky paprika garlic mayonnaise.
This was meat and potatoes of a high order, especially since the beef was again the right shade of pink.
Sides ($7) of frizzled Brussels sprouts with garlic yogurt and fresh dill and creamy, smoky elbow mac and cheese were satisfying.
Dishes I didn’t like so much included a farmhouse salad ($10) that had lots of nourishing ingredients – quinoa, roasted beets – but a bland, barely there dressing.
Falafel tacos ($13) were three flour tortillas carrying fried chickpea balls topped with tomato jam, red onion, jalapeno, garlic yogurt, and a sprinkle of sour red sumac dust. Tasty, but undermined by gluey falafel fritters.
Desserts included a worthwhile housemade chocolate layer cake served with a little jug of milk ($10), and pie in a jar. I ordered the latter to see if my position on food served in lidded mason jars has changed.
It hasn’t. The peaches and pie crust at the bottom were a pain to dig out, for what gain I could not tell you. I persevered, because it was still a solid sweet, especially with housemade peach ice cream in the bargain.
Service was intermittent toward the end of our meal, as the place filled up. I’ll be back to see how The Oak Stave shapes up.
Info: The Oak Stave Drinkery and Eatery, 5989 Transit Road, East Amherst. Hours are 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
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