Oak Tavern's wooden tables are worn -- their faded chocolate surfaces fashioned out of reclaimed lumber, their corners burnt with the logo of a majestic oak. Outside, a courtyard envelops the eponymous tree. Inside, red brick walls guard a precarious past. In less than a decade, the Design District space has housed several restaurants: the neighborhood hangout Piccadilly Garden for years, Jonathan Eismann's Pacific Time from 2008 to 2010, and a Spanish joint named Andalus, which lasted less than a year in 2011. The spot's latest reincarnation debuted in November 2012.
But this long history is not what makes the restaurant feel comfortable. Instead, it's the rosemary-roasted almonds served at the bar. It's the baskets of fresh buttermilk biscuits, flaky orbs of dough with brittle crusts and puffed centers that smell and taste like home. In a city where most places charge exorbitant prices for water, Oak Tavern proffers these leavened cakes, alongside rich bacon-studded butter, for free.
David Bracha is the chef and restaurateur behind these biscuits, as well as the acclaimed Brickell restaurant the River Seafood & Oyster Bar. The Brooklyn native, who got his start at the fabled La Caravelle in New York and then alongside Norman Van Aken in the 1980s, has been a proponent of local produce and modern interpretations of seafood at his riverside spot since 2003.
Now, with the premiere of Oak Tavern, Bracha has established himself in a neighborhood crowded with Miami's most talented chefs. In this section of the Design District, nestled between North Miami Avenue and NE Second Avenue near 40th Street, the food is good, checks are sensible, and environs are easygoing yet cool. Michael Schwartz has his flagship, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, along with its sibling, Harry's Pizzeria, just down the block. Dena Marino has MC Kitchen and an adjoining casual café, Mercato. Nowhere else in the city is there such a concentration of skilled kitchen work. (Although South Beach's Pubbelly mecca comes close.)
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