Review: River Oaks
“I will never go back there,” my mother summarized as she described her dinner at River Oaks. Being the disagreeable teenager I can often be, I made it a point to give this restaurant a fair shot at satisfying me for one night and one-upping my mother. The entrance of River Oaks packs a hostess stand, bar, and several elevated tables, all three sharing space like three brothers sharing a room meant for only one or two. The restaurant’s interior is beautiful with its hardwood floors and dark, warm color scheme, but the smell of rotten seafood wafting through the air was too strong to ignore. For a Wednesday night, the place was very busy, making for a lively dining room atmosphere.
It was some time before our waiter brought us bread to eat with the whipped butter which had been on our table since we sat down. The bread was crunchy and slightly chewy on the outside but soft on the inside. The butter was as smooth as butter can get.
My appetizer of organic arugula with roasted corn, feta cheese, piquillo peppers and golden raisins with a light vinaigrette was excellent. I usually don’t opt for salads because most remind of family reunions: same suspects with the exception of one or two, boring and very uneventful. This salad was the exception to the rule. The organic arugula was fantastically fresh and had this clean, distinct bitter taste that I have never encountered with arugula. The sweet corn and golden raisins balanced the biterness, leaving space for the feta cheese and peppers to really shine through. The dressing was very light and based the arugula just enough without being too pungent. And for the first time ever, I was given a chilled fork with which to eat the salad.
My pan crisp grouper with caramelized pancetta, onion marmalade, and lardon and white truffle risotto was also excellent. Against the smells which struck me in the entrance, I ordered the fish, and I’m glad I did. The grouper was very fresh, especially for a Wednesday, and the onion marmalade was deep, rich, and exceptionally smooth in its delivery. As far as texture goes, the fish was perfectly cooked and seasoned just enough to let the fish itself be the star without being bland. The white truffle and lardon risotto was more substance than creme and the combination of something as upscale as white truffles and country as lardon was very satisfying and earthy.
I finished my meal with a frozen key lime souffle with fresh blueberries, much to the chagrin of the waiter who didn’t care for key lime, much less a key lime souffle. The souffle was, dare I say, an absoutely brilliant way to finish the meal. Not only an excellent palette cleanser, the souffle satisfied my sweet tooth without the backlash of cavities some key limes could potentially result in. The smoothness of the cream, the crunch and sweetness of the blueberries, the pungency of the key lime- all of these elements came together quite nicely. Every spoonful which landed on my tongue made a blitzkreig impression before disappearing as if by magic. I should clarify that River Oaks’ use of the word “souffle” is rather loose since it was more like key-lime ice cream only denser and with a key-lime sauce. And the best thing about this dessert was that I was able to eat all of it since it wasn’t filling at all.
Diner #2 also had a good experience, ordering a well-cooked veal and moist carrot cake with cream cheese icing. The port wine accompnying the veal was far too sweet in my opinion, as port wine in general seems to be.
Not exactly a place I would visit every week (total including tip and tax was $60), River Oaks managed to serve excellent food despite the timing of my visit and the smells congregrating around the front door. The atmosphere was appropriate, and the service was personable. And to make things even better, it’s located in East Memphis rather than the depths of downtown.
-Reviewed July ’09