This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables. This installment: general manager Kyle Miller of Oak
From the time it opened back in mid-December, Oak has made a white-hot impression on the Dallas dining scene with its artfully composed plates, luxuriously appointed dining room and upscale yet decidedly unpretentious atmosphere. Impressively pedigreed chef Jason Maddy, who worked under David Bouley in New York and Bruno Davaillion at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, has been elevated to culinary superstar status thanks to gushing reviews from every critic in town.
But despite all the acclaim from professional diners and mere mortals alike, Oak manages to keep its nose out of the air and its feet planted firmly on the ground. At least some credit for this must be given to general manager Kyle Miller, whose humble beginnings found him toiling away in one of the city's top kitchens, experience that certainly sticks with him even now as he rubs elbows with the city's most discerning diners.
How difficult is it to get a reservation if someone calls at say, 4 p.m. on a Friday?
For the weekends we typically fill up about 2 weeks out. But on Friday nights we'll do our callbacks just to confirm reservations and a lot of times people can't make it or their babysitter cancels or whatever, so we do have a wait list and a lot of times people do get in last minute. We also have our newly renovated covered patio that's air-conditioned so we really reserve that for the walk-in business and also for the people who do call at 4 p.m. on a Friday wanting to get in. We also offer full service dining at our bar and our two bar-top tables, and the patio will accommodate about 40 people. It's on a first-come first-serve basis and it does fill up pretty quickly on the weekends, but there are some options instead of just saying "No, we're booked, don't come in!" And as it gets, uh, not like the surface of the sun like it has been this summer, once it gets a little cooler the [patio] roof is retractable, so we're looking forward to that.
Do you have regulars and who are they—neighborhood folks, serious foodie types, people who have followed Jason since he was at the Mansion?
Kind of a mix of all three of those actually. Us being located on Oak Lawn is really great, we're right off a highway exit so it's easy to get to for Park Cities people, and for Oak Lawn residents we're right in their backyard. A lot of our guests are people I've seen over the years at Four Seasons and then at Charlie Palmer, they're more of what you might call the professional diner type that come during the week, and some have known Jason obviously from the Mansion.
Speaking of neighborhoods, the Design District seems to be giving Oak Cliff a run for its money as far as the hottest area in the city goes. Five or maybe even three years ago if you mentioned it to someone they'd say, "Where's the Design District?"
Prior to working at Oak I would occasionally go to the Moth and have a beer or something, but I think it was a really gutsy move on the part of Richard and Tiffanee [Ellman, owners]. People were like, why would you want to open a restaurant in the Design District? But I can tell you just from the business owners down here and also from the people who shop down here, they absolutely love it. There's a new high rise coming to the corner of Hi-Line and the highway which I heard is about 70 percent full already. In the beginning I didn't realize how much residential was down here which is really nice. We're looking forward to Matt [McAllister]'s new place [FT33] opening around the corner, that will definitely bring some more buzz to the area. There's a coffee shop going in just down the street as well, so it's kind of getting that neighborhood-y feel in a not so neighborhood-y kind of atmosphere.
So word on the street is you and Heidi Thorp, the general manager of Acme F&B live together. What's it like being in a relationship with the GM of a competing restaurant?
Yeah, GMs of dueling restaurants? (laughs) It's actually really nice. I mean I've been in the industry before and dated someone who wasn't, and it was really tough. Heidi understands the business, and she knows that when she's had a really tough day, I get it, I can empathize, like man, that WAS rough. Or vice versa, if I've had a difficult night she can sympathize. So it's great, for us it really works.
We also work the same hours, we both work nights so we have our mornings together and we don't just see each other in passing. I know a lot of people in this industry don't get to see their significant others until they get home from work at midnight. So it works out. And as far as being dueling restaurants—it's not a competition between us obviously, but it is nice that we can relate to each other.
What's a typical workday for you like, if there is such a thing?
I love this business for the fact that yes, you have the mundane day-to-day things that you have to do like making sure invoices get paid and all that back office business, but every day is different. You never know who you're going to meet and who you're going to get to see, who you're going to get to serve and who you're going to get to wow. That's what I love about this industry, that every day is completely different. And that's the beauty of it.
Let's talk food for a moment. The octopus and pork jowl dish has been a smash hit—do diners here lean more toward the adventurous or have the servers really pushed that dish?
It's a little bit of both. I think a lot of people read it and you can over heard them going oh my god, this sounds really weird and random, but because it's a really excellent dish and those guys in the back are really talented, it tastes so great there's not a problem selling it. I tell the guests you know what, if you don't like it, I'll buy it. Then you come back and they're licking the plate, like oh my god this is so great, it sounds so odd on the menu but it's a really great combo. And that's just a testament to how hard the guys in the back work and how talented they really are.
We've just recently changed a lot of items on our menu, probably about eight of them. They've been well-received so far, we've gotten great feedback. We're trying to get to the point where we can change the menu every two weeks. We'll have the staples like the octopus and pork jowls but we want to be constantly evolving, keeping with local and seasonal ingredients and trying to keep it fresh, and so that we do have new things to offer to those of our guests who do come in frequently. We just want to keep it fresh and innovative.
What's next for Oak? Anything new and exciting coming up?
We've talked about maybe doing a late night that starts at 10:30 or 11 and goes till 1:00 during the week to cater more towards the service industry people, like a late night menu that we print daily that is really like foodie-foodie snacks, five to six items on there that will change every day.
Another thing we're talking about doing is a Sunday night supper club, where we put maybe 40 people in the middle of the restaurant communal-style seating and we'll do a $40 or maybe $45 four or five course menu and we'll pair wines from different regions—like we'll do Taste of Spain and do this really Spanish menu with all Spanish wines, or we'll do a northern Italian one. But we don't want to do it at like $100 a head—we want to do a more accessible price point so we're reachable by all demographics.
Our regular guests are kind of from that upper echelon, and of course we get a lot of anniversaries and birthdays and special occasions but I think doing that Sunday once a month would be a neat way to kind of give back to our guests and showcase the chef's talents with something really new and fun.
[Photo credit: Whitney Filloon/EDFW]