Ember & Oak - Downtown Melbourne- 4.5-Stars
"The reputation of a thousand years may be undermined by the conduct of one hour." -- Japanese Proverb
With no Hostess/Host and no signage telling one what to do regarding seating, Ember & Oak upon the first impression, was in a total state of disarray. The one employee in the front of the house, William, seemed to be completely discombobulated by the crowd. Like the previously reviewed Cafe Margaux, Ember & Oak appeared to incorporate the "team service" ideology where everyone helps (in reality no one helps). Christian saved the day in that regard, but I get slightly ahead of myself.
After being given ample time to devour the menu, a young man by the name of Christian approached and asked if I was ready to order. Christian was professional, attentive and did I mention he was attentive? I asked Christian if I could have an order of U8 Scallops, the 50 oz Dry Aged Prime Porterhouse and Benton's Country Ham Mac & Cheese. Christian asked if there was anything else he could get me before he adroitly spun and ran (restaurant speak, not literally) my order to the back.
Awaiting my meal, I took the opportunity to glance around the place a bit. This previously was an Italian restaurant. While the Ember made the food a knock out it did ZERO to change the interior. Hey, when food is this good I would sit on a bare floor to eat it. Before too long, Christian was seen returning laden with a scrumptious selection of savory sustenance. My nostrils drank in the amazing aromas as I eagerly grabbed my implements of culinary destruction and dug into the U8 Scallops.
The scallops were of the jumbo sea variety, tender, juicy and cooked to perfection. The puree was tart and spicy with a huge punch that really woke up the taste buds. The salsa (chutney?) was complex with a multitude of flavors all combining to form the perfect accompaniment to the sea scallops. This was a perfect start to a meal heretofore shadowed by the team approach of service (it was really bad).
Moving on to the 50 oz Dry-aged Prime Porterhouse. Yes, you read that correctly, this was one massive hunk of prime meat (designed to be shared?) The meat was practically mooing on the plate it was so rare and oh so delicious! However, the side of Brussels Sprouts were spongy and not at all crispy as they should have been. The oxtail bone marrow was the perfect balance to the meat and a fantastic blend of flavors. The side Caesar salad, however, was, for lack of a better word, wonky. It was made from fresh ingredients, but something was just slightly off.
This brings us to the final fare to be dissected, Benton's Country Ham Mac & Cheese. This was a complete and total let down after the awesome seared animal flesh and sea scallops that preceded it. I found the pasta to be soggy and not at all al dente. the cheese sauce was mild and exceedingly bland and the ham was just off base and unpleasant. In fact, I was giving them a 5 Star review all meal long, until this parted my lips. It would be a 5-star joint all day every day if one skips the Mac & Cheese.
It is imperative that every reader knows that the Big Boy does not rate on ambiance, presentation or service. I am only concerned with the execution of the items. Period. However, with that said, the team service approach this place and Cafe Margaux use? IT SUCKS!!! I think it's a case of "someone else will take care of that on the team" and so no one does. I wanted to order some tapas but couldn't for the life of me get anyone to bring me a fresh plate. Just offering some constructive criticism to the owners, it did not affect the rating in any way, shape or form.
The Big Boy says, "The entrees rock, skip the Mac & Cheese."