Don’t look now, but Nashville has evolved into a steakhouse town. For years locals have depended on old reliables like Jimmy Kelly’s and Sperry’s to scratch their itch for the old-school steakhouse experience, and dependable chains such as Morton’s, Fleming’s, Ruth’s Chris and Stoney River have delivered solid steaks and top-notch service for years. Kayne Prime in the Gulch became a bit of a game changer when it opened in 2011, combining a hip and sleek decor with top quality steaks at correspondingly elevated prices.
Since then, more steakhouses have opened downtown to take advantage of the conventioneer crowd attracted by the huge Music City Center, and additional beefy bistros are on their way to join the fray. But none has opened recently with a bigger splash than Oak Steakhouse Nashville, the latest outpost in a small collection of boutique restaurants run by the Indigo Road restaurant group out of Charleston. Conveniently located adjacent to the towering Westin Hotel right across the street from the Music City Center, Oak has a built-in clientele of hotel guests and attendees at various conferences downtown, but locals have also discovered the restaurant’s innovative and modern take on the classic steakhouse experience.
General Manager Dominick Delledera says that this is the result of some very conscious choices. “We have wanted to bring an Oak Steakhouse to Nashville for a very long time. Since opening in June, we have been well received by locals and visitors. Our central location to the Music City Center and Bridgestone Arena has been a perfect location for visitors to walk to, as well as locals looking for something special for dinner.”
As soon as they walk through the front door, patrons are greeted by a stunning interior with soaring ceilings allowing for an impressive 1,800-bottle wine rack to stretch two stories tall up the far wall of the main dining space. This requires an agile sommelier to scale a ladder to retrieve the most elevated holdings of the restaurants offerings. The impressive wine list features California Cabs and Old World reds, including a deep selection of Italian and Spanish wines, as well as an array of artisan domestic wines.
Oak Steakhouse pays homage to its name with the use of many natural materials in the decor, ranging from 100-year-old oak planks to make up the floor of the bar, a classy marble raw bar at one end of the bustling open kitchen, wall textures inspired by tree bark and dramatic “dropping acorn” pendant lights hanging from the ceiling to different levels. Even among these natural design elements there are also more modern architectural Easter eggs to be found by the keen-eyed observer. A series of pulleys and baskets make up an almost steampunk Rube Goldberg-esque method for guests who order the literal “top shelf” spirits from Oak’s stunning bar. It’s quite an entertaining spectacle as the bottles are winched down to the bartenders where they are integrated into some seriously creative craft cocktails. An impressive list of beers, including plenty of local craft brews, rounds out the bar program.
Diners can choose to sit in the main dining room with a view of that open kitchen and the bar or upstairs in the smaller, more intimate secondary space. Either way, patrons would be best served to drag their attention away from the ambiance long enough to survey the seasonal menu designed by Executive Chef Eric Zizka to highlight the restaurant’s relationship with local farmers and purveyors. During the inevitable construction delays that put off the opening date of the restaurant until last summer, Chef Zizka took advantage of the extra time to strike up relationships with the Middle Tennessee farmers who are integral to the year’s worth of menus he was writing while he waited to fire up the grills.
The result of Chef Zizka’s work goes far beyond the expected typical steakhouse fare. In addition to the raw bar that features both East and West Coast oysters and clams plus Alaskan king crab legs and a prototypical shrimp cocktail, Oak offers a lot more seafood, with a focus on sustainably harvested products. A tender bit of octopus is cooked sous vide-style to the perfect doneness and then kissed by the grill to add just the perfect hint of char before being served over a bed of earthy field peas, velvety sweet potato purée, sliced jalapeños, fried garlic and bacon. Huge scallops receive a similar trip across the grill until slightly browned and served with seasonal vegetables and a crispy prosciutto chip.
For an even richer treat, consider two lobes of Hudson Valley foie gras, seared and then served over a spiced pumpkin purée, toasted ginger bread from the talented pastry team at Oak, maple drizzle and brown sugar walnut crumble. Sweet and savory at the same time, this decadent dish is totally worth the extra time you’ll need to put in at the gym.
A nice selection of salads and steakhouse sides for the table employ many of the vegetables that Chef Zizka discovered during his farm tours of the region, and some of the proteins he contracted for on his rancher visits show up in main courses such as the Tennessee trout, pan-roasted chicken and rack of lamb. However, while those dishes are fantastic, it’s not called Oak Chickenhouse or Oak Lambhouse, so take Delledera’s advice on what to order:
“It’s our Certified Angus Beef — which adheres to stringent quality standards, each cut is a taste of the heartland — perfectly marbled, incredibly juicy, amazingly tender and packed with flavor. Less than 1.5% of beef achieves the high standards of Certified Angus Beef.” All the steaks at Oak are aged, either wet-aged or dry-aged, for at least 30 days with some of the Signature Steaks actually spending two months developing the rich flavors and buttery textures that only come from extra aging.
Oak’s Classic Steak collection ranges from a 5-ounce petite tenderloin served with Béarnaise sauce and pecorino-truffle frites to filets and ribeyes all the way up to an impressive 20-ounce Kansas City strip. While the slabs of beef are delicious on their own, they are only improved by the availability of luxurious add-ons like lobster tails, classic sauces such as Béarnaise or the Oak’s homemade steak sauce or compound butters to add some herbal notes to the crispy exterior of the steak.
The crème de la boeuf is the Signature Steak selection, created using meat sourced from DeBragga, known as the premier provider of dry-aged prime beef in New York. Over the course of 45-60 days of hanging in special coolers under strict temperature and humidity controls, the steaks can lose 15% of their volume and 50% of their weight, concentrating flavors and introducing delightfully funky notes and melt-in-your-mouth textures. Offered as a 12-ounce NY Strip and a 20-ounce (or larger) bone-in ribeye, these steaks are offered at market price, which is not cheap. Considering the effort that goes into their creation, the care taken in the kitchen to prepare them and the experience on your palate, they are worth every penny. Paired with a rustic and dry Brunello di Montalcino, whose substantial tannins can cut through the unctuous fat of the steak, there may not be a better plate at any steakhouse in town.
Whether it’s a special occasion or just a quick drink and a small plate at the bar, Oak Steakhouse is a welcome addition to the roster of fine dining destinations downtown. Don’t let all the construction going on in the neighborhood scare you off. Embrace the valet parking and enjoy a special evening.
Oak Steakhouse is located at 801 Clark Place, Nashville, TN 37203. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Learn more at (615) 902-3111.
This article is sponsored by Oak Steakhouse.