When health issues forced chef Jason Maddy to leave Oak in May 2013, Dallas’ dining scene was poorer for it. His elegant and precise cooking made this Design District restaurant one of the hottest and most delicious spots in town. Enter new executive chef Richard Gras. Formerly chef de cuisine at J&G Grill at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, he’s been at Oak for a year now, and his decidedly safer menu—farewell, Moroccan octopus and, hello, seared scallops (yawn)—has its peaks and valleys. A surprisingly bland foie gras au torchon seemed disconnected from its accompanying and overly sweet plum tarte Tatin. An overcooked Niman Ranch pork chop disappointed, as did the aforementioned scallops, well cooked but salty. Happily, Alaskan halibut, with its springtime bounty of white asparagus, fava beans, and English peas, was every bit as revelatory as our waiter promised. The same goes for a braised hearts of palm appetizer resting in a delicate pool of coconut vinaigrette. These dishes felt like the Oak of old: respectful of ingredients. If Gras’ erratic menu would take a cue from Oak’s still effortlessly chic dining room and confident service, ghosts of past meals under chef Maddy may be exorcised. Until then, Oak remains likable but a bit haunted.

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