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Dining Review: Fort Oak

Trust Restaurant Group's Mission Hills offering features cuisine that's proficiently prepared and inventively diverse

Image Credits Photo by Vincent Knakal

With a proven devotion to thoughtful, innovative but still approachable cuisine, the Trust Restaurant Group has come to inspire just that with its diverse yet unified concepts. Case in point: Mission Hills’ Fort Oak. Opened at the onset of 2019 at the base of The Fort building, its namesake lumber is fodder for the flame-kissed creations dotting its eclectic bill of fare. With charred proteins including a ribeye and New York strip, raw seafood towers, and formidable cocktails, a cursory observer could mistake the venue for a steakhouse, but there’s far more than (dry-aged) meat and (coal-roasted) potatoes going on here. Complex setups celebrating worldly culinary cultures provide unexpected flavor profiles, all with varied degrees of wood-fired depth.

Fort Oak chef/owner Brad Wise plates his Chicken
Fried Quail

Smoke adds savory richness to a grilled branzino dressed with lemon and salsa verde, while coal-smoldered Brussels sprouts and potatoes combine with the yin and yang of garlic and ginger to elevate a Duroc pork chop beyond homestyle weekday supper fare. But the most surprising main is a Lebanese-inspired barbecued half-duck (breast sliced medium-rare, leg confit) rubbed in fiery harissa spices. Toum (garlic sauce), pickled turnips, and a pomegranate seed blend of farro and spring peas adds earth, funk, acid, and sweetness for a remarkably well-rounded dish. Enjoy it with a bowl of perfectly charred (deep brown, not black) sweet-and-sour caulilini (broccoli-like baby cauliflower) tossed with smoked almonds and dried currants. Its explosive flavor goes beyond standard-issue veggie sides.

Oysters on the Half Shell

Before diving headfirst into the fire, take a trip to Fort Oak’s bars, both raw and cocktail. The former is stocked with fresh, pristine prawns, oysters, and lobster served with traditional accoutrements, but nothing awakens one’s palate while setting the tone for the bold flavors ahead like a Peruvian-inspired starter of thin-sliced yellowtail in a pineapple leche de tigre (fruited ají amarillo chile-based sauce) offering vibrant tropical tang and a clean, building heat. Pair it with the “Bel Air Nomad,” a bright and smoky spin on an Old Fashioned with toasted coconut mezcal and mole bitters, or select from a list of classic tipples, including a trio of martinis (dirty, botanical, green tea), and refreshing house creations like the rye and roasted peach “Compass” or a grapefruit-elderflower French 75 called the “Fairlane.”

Fort Oak’s Old Bay Prawns and ½ Maine Lobster

The bulk of Fort Oak’s menu is made up of “shares” ranging from simple house-cultured bread and butter and a Mediterranean beet and feta salad with tannic sumac-infused ranch dressing to epicure magnets like broiled oysters with Buddha’s hand kosho (Japanese fermented citrus-chile condiment). A must-have for comfort seekers is the chicken-fried quail, a deboned, sectioned game bird lightly breaded and stuffed with rosemary-cornbread dressing then served over stewed local red beans in coffee-infused “red-eye” gravy sweetened with pureed dates. It’s a year-round source for authentic Southern Thanksgiving flavors.

A dessert menu leans homey — beignets, cinnamon roll bread pudding, chocolate caramel “turtle” cake — offsetting warm baked goods with figuratively and literally cool ice cream creations (sour cream, bay leaf) from nearby Mr. Trustee Creamery (also a Trust outfit). It’s a case of two links in a respectable restaurant chain coming together to form something ironclad. Yet even on its own, Fort Oak stands strong, a mid-city bastion for those in search of food that’s proficiently prepared and inventively diverse. 619.722.3398. fortoaksd.com

Golden Forks

Service: 4
Timeliness: 3
Ambience: 4
Culinary Innovation: 3
Food Quality: 4
Wine List: 4
Beer List: 2
Craft Cocktail Program: 4
Value: 3

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