Fire & Oak: Montvale, NJ
May 02, 2009
Walking out of Montvale's Fire & Oak after our recent meal, I felt a feeling that I hadn't felt in quite some time. I had just given someone 100 bucks, and I wasn't pissed off about it. I felt like I actually got my money's worth.
Granted, this was just one visit, but my experiences at South City Prime, the now defunct restaurant which begat Fire & Oak (the "Prime" concept wasn't going to fly in this economy, so the owners scaled back their existing restaurant in Little Falls and the two they had planned to the more casual "Fire & Oak"), were always pleasurable, and I would like to assume Fire & Oak is on the same track.
Not much unlike the old South City Prime in Little Falls (which is now a Fire & Oak), as you approach the restaurant you're greeted by 2 large uninviting doors, which make you question if you've got the service entrance, or the main entrance, or if they're even doors at all. Have no fear, it is the main entrance...most likely. After you get through those doors, you'll notice that the place just screams "Hey! We poured a lot of money into this restaurant!" Almost always a bad sign in my experience. You'll also notice that the bar isn't very big, and in fact it's not big enough. How do I know it's not big enough? Well, because it was filled to capacity, while the restaurant was left 3/4 empty. The supply of space at the bar is clearly not meeting the demand. Normally I would have just turned around and left, but we decided to take a seat at a table, surrounded by several solo diners, typing into their Blackberry's (the restaurant is in a hotel, and there are a lot of businesses in that area, which might be part of the problem with regard to the bar being filled up on a Wednesday). The solo diner next to us warned us, "Don't get today's special. It was so spicy I had to send it back." OK, errr, thanks?
We were given menus, which contain the wine list. When I asked if they had a beer or cocktail list, the server recited the beers (out of the three beers on tap, two are frat party beers, sorry to say). When we then asked if they had any signature cocktails, he offered to bring a cocktail list (which contained the full beer list is well). So, I would ask the manager, since he should be reading this, why not just present the diner with whatever menus you have right out of the gate? Do you not want every opportunity extract money from the diner's wallet, which would presumably help pay for this enormous expensive place? It just defies logic, common sense, and good business practice. Hiding what you're selling isn't going to help you sell it.
Back to the wine list. The list contains and denotes several wines that are organic, or biodynamic, and I like that. It also has some incredible values on it. The mark-ups were about only 100% on some wines, and many wines came in under 40 and even 30 dollars. I would estimate that the majority are in the 20's. I think that's just fantastic.
One unforgivable issue is the lack of vintages on the list. I don't know if they're planning on selling to the frat crowd or what, but this is unacceptable, and to my mind speaks volumes about their aspirations and target audience. Another peeve, and I'm being a bit nit-picky perhaps, is the heavy pour from the bottle. Show a little restraint, and fill the glass to an appropriate level, with the experience in mind, rather than emptying the bottle in mind. Thanks.
As we'd experienced at South City Prime, the cocktails were nicely made. A Manhattan with Old Overholt rye and Carpano Antica (Italian sweet vermouth) was as good as what I would make at home. Unfortunately, the cocktail list is short, and leans more toward the flavored vodkas rather than the classics.
The steak selection included hanger, ribeye, prime rib, filet mignon, and a Prime strip. The strip is the only Prime selection, and the only dry-aged selection. The rest are wet-aged "to perfection," for whatever that's worth. We skipped the steaks, although the hanger was tempting, and opted to eat light to hedge our bet.
South City Prime used to have a grass-fed beef burger, which for my money was one of the best burgers in north Jersey. Unfortunately, this burger didn't make it to the Fire & Oak menu. The regular burger did, along with the Kobe. "Kobe" burgers are, I am convinced, all about marketing, and should be avoided. I ordered the regular burger (peppered bacon, Vermont cheddar). It arrived a bit more than the desired m/r, but it was still juicy. In fairness, it was so dark in there that even if they placed a full compliment of Randy Jackson's enormous white teeth on each table, there still wouldn't be enough light to make a fair determination on the doneness dawg. Make sure you gut the bun before commencing with the eating. If you do, you'll be treated to a very good, well balanced burger.
The missus ordered BBQ ribs, which are hardwood smoked at the restaurant. She enjoyed the saucy ribs, although I felt they were a little too tender, and the sauce was a bit too smoky, almost as though they used Liquid Smoke in the sauce. Regardless, people in general will love these ribs. The chunky cole slaw with horseradish cream was great, I thought, although the missus didn't care for it. But then again I've never met a slaw I didn't like.
Both came with fantastic french fries. Make sure you don't let them put any of that truffle oil on them. Truffle oil should be left in the 90's, where it belongs.
The rest of the menu, which maddeningly lists prices with cents (26.95, 20.95, etc. -- honestly, lose the cents, and round up. It just cheapens the look and feel of the place to include cents, and it's an insult to your customers), leans toward simply prepared foods: whole chicken, crab cakes, pastas, tuna steak, salads, some maki and oysters. If they added an entree or two, the menu would be a bit more well-rounded. As it is there wouldn't be enough to keep me coming back month after month, except for perhaps oysters and that burger. If we don't get a spot at the bar, though, we're outta there.
Fire & Oak is in the Courtyard by Marriot Hotel in Montvale. The website doesn't seem to have the address, an I don't have the interest to find it. There's also a Fire & Oak in Little Falls, and they're opening one in Jersey City at the Westin.