Chew Haven’s new team of reviewers began their tenure with a promising dining experience at Oak Haven Table & Bar, which has set standards quite high for the reviews to come. In line with our new policy of inviting one of our passionate readers to come experience restaurants along with us, we were accompanied on our first visit by Anna B. Albright (a sophomore at Yale who hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts).
Oak Haven is located on 932 State Street (a couple blocks up from Modern Apizza), and was a twenty-five minute walk away from central campus — just far enough out of the Yale bubble to feel like a break from the buzz of campus activity, but not far enough to necessarily warrant an Uber. The spot is already a popular spot for drinks amongst students at the nearby Yale School of Management and residents of the surrounding East Rock neighbourhood, but this review aims to spread the word about its delicious dining options to undergraduates.
We were immediately shown to our seats upon arrival, being fortunate enough to get one of the prime outdoor tables on the cozy elevated patio overlooking the street lined with restaurants and bars. Since Oak Haven Table & Bar is famous for their adventurous and crafty cocktails, we perused the drinks menu and decided to each nurse a cocktail recommended by our waiter as we deliberated the dinner menu.
The Spanish Dove (hornitos silver tequila, xicaru mezcal, giffard grapefruit rose liqueur,basil infused agave, lime juice & activated charcoal sea salt rimmer) was shaken & served in a rocks glass over three mini cubes. It was sweet, but not overpoweringly so. The flavour profile was complex, with notes of rose and subtle hints of grapefruit underneath.
Skipping Down State was another complex concoction served in a vintage coupe glass — seemingly a sweet tropical drink, its main flavour was actually of yoghurt, which is unusual. Although the yoghurt pairing with alcohol seems odd, we’d recommend going for it if you’re feeling like trying something novel. There was an aftertaste of coconut thanks to the coconut sugar rimming, which adds yet another interesting dimension to the drink.
The third drink ordered was Market Special, which was the simplest of the three. The alcohol wasn’t nearly as perceptible as in the other drinks, with the blueberry mint & lime seasonal fresh citrus & herbs dominating. A sip of the drink yielded a single note of jumbled fruit, nothing more and nothing less.
By the time we finished taking notes on the drinks, the owner of Oak Haven came to our table to greet us and guide us through the food menu. Dan was exceptionally friendly and warm, as evidenced by his sporadic breaks from our conversation to greet incoming diners whom he recognised by their first names. Dan was an invaluable guide to decoding the secrets behind the menu. It turns out that the Oak Haven menu is unique, and this review only temporarily authoritative, for one simple reason: everything at Oak Haven Table & Bar is freshly sourced from local farms around Connecticut and New England and every order is made to order on the spot. Truly embracing their motto of “Farm to Table”, the restaurant’s menu evolves in tandem with the seasons (and the supply of local farm produce). We heard that it isn’t uncommon for guests to come back for a second visit and find a few totally new items on the menu. As Dan explained, this turnover helps prevent the diners from boredom and the staff from stagnation. In addition to changes based on seasonal products, the chefs are always experimenting with different recipes and taste combinations that would provide their guests with the best sensational experience. In a sort of experimental dining experience, the restaurant offers novel items as specials for a fortnight before incorporating it into the menu. Diners’ feedback is taken seriously and the feedback affects future offerings, so make sure to ask for their off-menu specialty items if you are feeling adventurous. You could potentially give the next menu favorite a try before everyone else!
The first star of the evening was our appetizer: the Portobello Mushroom Fries served with truffle arugula aioli. The seaside mushrooms are sourced from Mystic, Connecticut (the same town that residential college sponsored sailing trips often embark from). The thick sticks of portobello mushrooms were covered with incredibly crunchy and tasty seasoned bread crumbs. Our trio was already enamored of mushrooms prior to this visit, but we feel these mushroom fries could make positively anyone fall in love with mushrooms! The truffle arugula aioli was a perfect complement to the fries and amazingly delicious on its own as well.
Next up was a seasonal item on the menu: Panzanella. This Italian dish (a Tuscan chopped salad) was perfectly crafted with in season heirloom tomatoes, fresh bread, local stracciatella cheese, and basil. The tomatoes deserve special mention for they almost overflowed with flavour and freshness: by far the sweetest and most delicious tomatoes any of us had ever tasted. Overall, the flavor and texture combinations of this dish was incredibly well done, with the softness of stracciatella cheese balanced out by the slightly crunchy yet melt in the mouth bread (all bread at the restaurant is sourced locally from the Hartford Baking Company). It is in this dish that Oak Haven commitment to fresh produce really shined culinarily, and reaffirmed our faith in their efforts.
Last but not least was a classic: Steak Tartare. While this item (a meat dish made from raw ground beef) could potentially have been outshined by the more complex items we consumed prior to it, Oak Haven managed to differentiate their take on it with their use of grass-fed tenderloin, capers, sugar maple farms horseradish, black truffle oil, all of which were topped with quail egg and other seasonings. The helping of delicious and crispy house made chips served alongside really helped balance out the meat.
We concluded our dining experience with dessert: we ordered the Seasonal Beignets (the French term for a pastry made from deep-fried choux pastry, synonymous with English Fritters), which was the Chef’s recommendation at the time. The beignets were very delicately sweetened, with a firm consistency that nevertheless melts in the mouth, and unsurprisingly vanished from the plate before we knew it.
Overall, we truly feel that Oak Haven Table & Bar succeeds in its many missions: crafting adventurous cocktails, using fresh produce sourced locally and ethically to develop delicious food items, combining elevated service with a family diner feel, and through these efforts attracting not just one time diners, but steadily building a family of regulars who come back every week not just for the delicious food but also for the great company and friendly space! As the seasons change, we look forward to returning and trying out the restaurant’s new offerings — and we hope you will too!