The Oakwood Cafe

While eating at a favorite taco spot, Gringo A Go-Go, one Sunday, my companion and I laid eyes on a cute little spot we had read about in a food magazine called The Oakwood Cafe.  They had it listed under “Diners,” so we walked over to see what the menu looked like.  We were surprised to see the sign on the door said “The New Oakwood Cafe,” as does their yelp page while their website does not.  Confused, we looked over the menu and saw that they offered Argentinean and Cuban food.  We quickly picked a night and and excitedly awaited our night at The New (or not) Oakwood Cafe.   It’s located on the corner of Edenton and Person and has a great little patio with lovely umbrella tables.  We had quite the downpour the night we went, so we didn’t get to sit outside.

Overall:  3 out of 5

Food/Beverage: 3*  out of 5

Ambiance:  3.5 out of 5

Value:  4 out of 5

Service:  2 out of 5

Here’s the breakdown.  Let’s start with food.  Man.  I was so excited heading in.  I’ve never eaten at a restaurant that serves Argentinean food.  From start to finish, the quality was just so inconsistent.  The server brought garlic bread to the table and upon taking my first bite, I realized it was frozen garlic bread.  It’s so simple to cut a loaf of bread in half, throw some butter and spices on it and bake it…why would any restaurant have their first impression be dry, stale tasting frozen garlic bread?  It was awful and made me feel immediately skeptical of what was to come next.

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We started with the Provoletta, a grilled piece of provolone cheese, covered in oil and spices.  Sounded simple but delicious.  It was served with more of the horrible bread.  After one or two pieces, we both just gave up on the bread and ate the cheese with a fork.  The cheese was seasoned well, not too oily and was grilled nicely.

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Our next dish was a beautifully presented empanada  filled with cheese and spinach.  The crust was flaky and very well cooked.  The filling tasted like frozen spinach.  My first bite, I thought it was fresh then noticed it was cold on the inside.  Still, I really liked the empanada.  It was served with a salsa like sauce, which was also oddly cold (like it had been frozen).  It tasted nice, though.  Good flavor, nice spice.  And when I added the house made hot sauce to the plate, it brought it up to a whole other level.  The hot sauce alone brought the food score up form may be a 3 to a 3.75.  It was really good! And you can purchase it for $5/8 oz.

My dinner companion and I ordered two meals so that we could taste more of the sides and two different dishes that we were struggling to pick between.

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I’m going to start with the Baby Churrasco *($14).  This was an Argentinean style steak marinated in mojo and served with a chimi churri sauce.  The steak was ordered medium rare and was cooked exactly to that temperature.  It was well seasoned, juicy and melt in your mouth delicious.  She paired it with a garden salad and the fried yuca.  The yuca were crispy on the outside and nice and soft inside.  We both really enjoyed them.  This dish was the reason for the 3 stars instead of 2.  I would have given this dish a 4 star rating on it’s own.

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The other main course dish we ordered was the Roasted Pork ($14).   I was impressed with the quality of the meat, how well it was marinated and prepared.  The side, to stones, was a crispy fried green plantain.  Let me preface this will the fact that I’ve never ordered anything like this before, and follow it up with I WILL NEVER ORDER ANYTHING LIKE THIS AGAIN.  It was dry, difficult to bite, and absolutely without flavor.  I gave it a good three bites, which is my personal rule when doing a review, and barely choked down that last bite.

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The final dish, the Chocolate Tres Leches Cake, was surprisingly good considering how it looked when it came out.  It was a huge piece of nice and moist tres leches cake sitting on top of a puddle of hershey’s syrup and covered…may be I should say coated…in coco powder.  We enjoyed it, but I worked hard to avoid the puddle underneath.

Ambiance wise, this place was a toss up.  I went back and forth between a  1.5 and a 2 for the score.  The interior was very pretty, and the patio looks nice, there was pretty art on the walls, dim lighting…so what’s my problem?

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My problem…There were two children running loose in the restaurant.  At first they were seated at one of the larger tables in the middle of the dining room, but they quickly began walking around, following our server and asking her question after question.  We realized at that point they were her kids.  How strange.  What kind of restaurant lets you bring your kids to work? Ah, the one owned by your parents.  So, yes this is a nice little family owned place, run by the whole family – mom, dad and their four daughters.  That’s great, makes it feel like it will be more authentic.  But when you are out to eat, the last thing you want is two children standing on the nearby chairs, making noise and distracting your waitress while she’s bringing your food with questions.

That’s a nice lead-in to the service score.  Our waitress was curt.  She spent most of her time talking with the children and when we asked her questions about the menu, she barely answered.

Value, I was thrilled.  My half of the bill included half of two appetizers, half bottle of wine, my main course and half dessert and was under $40.  Being that it was Thursday, they were offering half price on select bottles of wine.  They had four different red and white choices, all sounded lovely! The bottle we ordered was delicious! Very smooth and drinkable and it went well with our food.

I should also mention, they have a large menu of Italian dishes on the back of the menu.  They sounded fine, but I can only imagine they use boxed pasta.  It just seems sad to eat pasta that isn’t freshly made at a restaurant.

Overall, this is the kind of place that I think Gordon Ramsey would be terribly angry about.  They have all this potential, the food is good home cooking, but with so many options on the menu, they obviously use frozen items to cut corners where they can.  I probably won’t go back.  If I did, I’d order the yuca, empanadas and half price wine.

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