The Cavalier Daily
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Gathering around the table at Oakhart Social

Family-style dishes are designed to be shared, but you will want to indulge in everything yourself

<p>Oakhart Social is inviting and cozy, and after eating there, you will feel at home right here in Charlottesville.</p>

Oakhart Social is inviting and cozy, and after eating there, you will feel at home right here in Charlottesville.

Last weekend, I was paired with my big, Ella, within my sorority. She raved to me about Oakhart Social and suggested that we go there for a family-style dinner with another big-little pair. Ella had been to the restaurant before and described it to me as American cuisine with a twist and was particularly fond of its shareable menu items and rustic ambiance. Comparable to tapas, Oakhart Social’s small plates are almost all priced under $30, which enables diners to taste-test numerous items.

Oakhart Social is located on the way to the Downtown Mall on West Main Street, directly across from Blue Moon Diner, the eatery where I enjoyed brunch with friends for my last food review. Though we took an Uber to the restaurant, it is only a 20-minute walk from Central Grounds. The restaurant is open from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and will be open Tuesdays starting in April.

I reserved a table via Resy in the main dining room, which resembles an antique car garage. They also had seating available at the bar and under their outdoor tent. The modern interior was stunning, featuring a sliding barn door and warm filament bulb lighting. When our party was seated, I admired the dinnerware — the cutlery had dainty patterns and the plates were delicate ceramics. Upon arrival, there was also already a glass carafe of ice water on the table, and we appreciated the ability to refill our cups at our disposal.

Like many other restaurants in Charlottesville, Oakhart Social has taken an eco-friendly approach to their menu presentation, and we all scanned a QR code on the back of a small index card to access the list of courses. However, our dining experience was still personalized, as a server came over to explain the shareable style of the menu, review the nightly specials and give us some recommendations.

I would also note that Oakhart Social was incredibly allergy-friendly. Although no one in our dinner party had any sensitivities, relatives of mine have life-threatening allergies, so I understand how distressing dining out can be for affected individuals. Our server asked us several times if we had any allergies and explained that the ingredients list — with recommended modifications for each item — was available online.

The kitchen prepares one dish at a time, ensuring a constant stream of fresh food. We found this helpful to fully appreciate each dish on its own. First, we indulged in the shaved salad, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the meal. It boasted an assortment of savory vegetables, including fennel, arugula and carrots, balanced out by the sweet add-ins, like watermelon radish, apples and chewy dates. The dish was elevated by the bread crumb topping and garlic parmesan dressing, which created cohesion between the contrasting flavors. I was tempted to order another one, but knew I needed to save room for the upcoming plate.

Second, we tried the roasted broccoli, which was coated in a fish sauce caramel, giving it a salty tang, and topped with a subtle nutty sesame crumble. The flavorful burst from the sharpness of the garlic aioli and tangy togarashi topping — often referred to as “Japanese seven spice” for its infusion of seven different ingredients — was delicious. As someone who is trying to expand her palate with different spices and flavorings, I appreciated the experience of new tastes in this inventive dish.

Next, we split the tuna bolognese. This Oakhart Social nightly special was a twist on the classic meat-based bolognese I typically order at Italian restaurants. The tomato-based sauce was paired with lasagna noodles and topped with corn. The bonito — a Japanese topping of dried, shaved and compressed tuna flakes — added a delicious smoky flavor that made this a memorable dish. The tuna bolognese made me consider how dishes that traditionally feature red meat can be transformed with different protein sources.

Our last entrée course was another nightly special and a twist on a traditional wood-fired pizza. The pizza layered a creamy herb and lemon sauce on lightly charred — yet still soft — dough. It was topped with bacon, Brussels sprouts and a two-cheese blend of provolone and parmesan that melted together atop the warmed base. A hot honey glaze was an outstanding linkage between the flavors and textures of the other toppings.

While we were all comfortably full from dinner, there was unanimous agreement that we still had plenty of room left for dessert. We were intrigued by the s’mores bread pudding but didn’t quite know what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised by the sophisticated presentation and taste of the sweet treat. The plate had creamy chocolate pudding in the center and was surrounded by crisp fried dough, chewy blow-torched marshmallow fluff and crunchy muddy buddies — Chex cereal coated in chocolate, peanut butter and powdered sugar — which made for a variety of textures. Devoured within seconds of its arrival, the pudding was a grand finale to a show-stopping meal.

Our party thoroughly enjoyed our trial of Oakhart Social’s menu, evidenced by the fact that every single plate appeared to be licked clean. I look forward to returning to try more of their dishes, including the baby sweet potato, hanger steak and future specials. Their menu is an eclectic take on traditional dishes, striking a perfect balance between familiarity and innovation. Oakhart Social is inviting and cozy and, after eating there, you will feel at home right here in Charlottesville.


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