After seeing the glowing reviews from some reviewers I really have come to respect, I had to ask myself why Oola never made its way onto my culinary radar.
Now I know why... it's because Oola is THE RESTAURANT THAT FLAVOR FORGOT (cue ominous music).
I mean, Oola didn't really do anything wrong - except for that horrible slaw. I mean, what the hell were they thinking and how the hell can you screw slaw up that bad? It's just shredded carrots in a light salad cream! People who've never made a slaw in their life could make a better slaw than this. I'm no fan of slaw, but come on. Really.
Anyway, as I was saying, aside from the slaw, they didn't do anything really wrong, but that isn't to say that they did anything right in the kitchen. Take, for example, the Caesar Salad. This salad had such potential because they not only used anchovies in the dressing, but also included two fillets. However, the white anchovies lent little flavor to the dish, and even less salt. The chef was heavy handed with the dressing, which was close to being good, but tasted more like an aioli than a true Caesar dressing. With some of the dressing scraped off and a healthy hit of salt, the flavor improved significantly.
That's when I realized that the chef was just too scared of his diners - choosing to underseason and dramatically undersalt everything. In an attempt to make something that would appeal to everybody, they end up making something totally lackluster and ultimately forgettable.
This, in itself, confused me when I finally bit into one of the ribs that everybody seemed raved about. Even the people at the table next to us were waxing philosophic about the "best ribs they ever had"... so again, I had high hopes. However, the ribs just weren't interesting. I've made better Asian-style ribs, as have friends of mine. Technically, the Oola ribs were perfect - tender to the point that the meat just falls off of the bone, with a nice caramelization of the sauce. However, the flavor just wasn't there. Adding some salt, pepper and chili while easing up on the honey and hoisin would have helped. Not being afraid to make something bold would have helped more. Even the sauteed spinach - technically perfect, was bland and underseasoned. Salt and pepper helped after the fact, but you can't correct this dramatic of an underseasoning job once the food has left the pan.
For $50 a head, I expect much better. I don't want my lemonade to be warm in the glass when served - take out the bar spoon and give it a stir with the ice in the glass before bringing it to the table.
Honestly, I'd rather have had a bad meal than something just so disappointingly unforgettable.