As a teenager, Chow, Baby dreamed of being a rock star. Despite having no musical talent, a singing voice that might attract stray cats, and no discipline for learning to play an instrument, I still spent many a night in front of a mirror singing into a hairbrush and playing a tennis racket like a guitar. I’ve pretty much given up my rock star fantasy, in lieu of more gluttonish daydreams and dream-dreams about food — like the recurring one where I can almost reach a chocolate Jell-O pudding cup, but it always disappears. (I know. I have issues.)
Maybe the closest I’ll ever get to the big stage is at Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge (1311 Lipscomb St.). The stage was dark on my recent lunch visit to the concert venue/bar/restaurant, but the kitchen was making sweet music on the grill.
I am always leery of bar-restaurants, but the Live Oak is not your average dingy salmonella factory. It’s a pretty classy joint. The vibe is somewhere between an upscale ski lodge and a ’70s-era bachelor pad. In other words, the place has a very masculine feel, with its brick-box exterior and the hand-built wooden shelves that line the swanky bar. On the roof is a beautiful, scenic patio bar illuminated by Christmas lights draped in a nearby oak tree.
The menu is also masculine Americana, featuring five different kinds of buffalo burgers, plus other meat and seafood dishes. There’s also a good-sized salad selection and something called “The Hippie,” which is the menu’s only vegetarian dish, a portobello-and-hummus-stuffed lettuce wrap.
My guest and I started with the Poké ($14), Hawaiian-style ceviche with ahi tuna, onions, avocado, and cucumber in a soy sesame sauce. Served in a martini glass, the dish looked more like a tuna tartare than ceviche. The ingredients were fresh, but the dish seemed dry and a little bland. In contrast to the Poké, which could have used more spice, the flavor of the grilled lamb pops ($12) was drowned out by the accompanying spiced berry compote. The chef had slathered overly sweet jelly on perfectly cooked pieces of lamb. Whereas the ceviche missed by mere inches, the lamb pops missed by a mile.
The star of the menu was the pork chili verde ($14), with tender, slow-roasted pieces of pork swimming in a spicy communion of fire-roasted serrano, jalapeño, and Anaheim peppers, served on a bed of cilantro rice with crème fraiche. The dish looks like a cross between a stew poured over rice and the innards of a tamale. The sauce was not overwhelmingly spicy, but there were sporadic bites that ranked higher than others on the Scoville scale, thanks to some sneaky pepper seeds. The crème fraiche acted as a cool insulation against those waves of heat.
All the burger and sandwich options on the lunch menu featured buffalo meat, which is something that I approve of, since many places offer only one buffalo selection — or none. I was intrigued by El Vaquero ($10), because it is served on a pretzel bun. The giant, soft bun was a nice touch, although the burger was problematic overall. It’s served with a chipotle barbecue sauce that completely masked the flavor of the buffalo. The sauce itself was fine, but it was the only thing I could taste. That burger is begging to be sauced with a creamy aioli instead, to draw out the natural sweetness of the lean buffalo meat.
I may never get to be onstage at the Live Oak, but that’s OK. These days, the dining room is just fine with me. Besides, after eating that pretzel bun, I’m certain I can’t fit into leather pants.
Contact Chow, Baby at Chowbaby@fwweekly.com