Young and Hungry

What $1 Million Bought The Oval Room

IMG_5558When The Oval Room reopens Monday after a $1 million facelift, some of the tables will continue to be covered with white tablecloths and some will bare polished wood. And that seems to capture the new direction that owner Ashok Bajaj is going with his 20-year-old restaurant. He wants to continue to attract the VIPs and politicos who are accustomed to such fine dining touches and have made the restaurant one of the top "power spots" in the city. But he also wants a more modern space with a bar scene that's going to attract a new and younger generation of diners.

The Oval Room was last renovated a decade ago, and as the lease approached expiration this year, Bajaj debated whether to renew. Ultimately, he decided to drop some big bucks into revamping the place. "There's nothing old here in the restaurant. Nothing," he says. New York-based restaurant designer Martin Vahtra, who also designed Rasika West End and NoPa Kitchen + Bar, has decorated the place with Carrera marble on the entryway floors, mahogany wood accents, and art from artist Jennifer Bartlett on the walls. Even the kitchen has new equipment.

The bar has been transformed from a place where sat if you were waiting to be seated into a place that hopes to attract diners in its own right. For starters, there will be a bar bites menu with snacks like duck confit tater tots and shrimp toast. Oval Room will also offer a special $20 lunch deal that includes an entree, dessert, and drink for people who eat at the bar. A happy hour will be available in the bar and 35-seat patio from 5 to 6:30 on weekdays with 20 percent off drinks.

Chef Tony Conte has created a new menu to go with the new space, which includes appetizers like sautéed foie gras with lychee, passion fruit, and black olive yogurt as well as charred jalapeno spaghetti with stewed tomatoes, basil, and roasted garlic.  Entrees ($20-$34) range from goat cheese agnolotti to poached lobster with saffron ginger broth, sugar snap peas, and bamboo shoots. A four-course prix-fixe menu will also be available for $60, or $90 with wine pairings.

General Manager Simon Stilwell says they're aiming to create more interaction with guests, which might translate to a chef finishing off a dish in front of guests or servers brewing from vacuum siphon coffee makers at the table. "We want people asking questions, people seeing things," Stilwell says. "We want people stopping and taking videos of it or using social media."

That puts The Oval Room squarely at the pro-phone-while-dining camp. Other restaurants have gone so far as to ban phone calls or photo taking in their establishments—a topic Y&H tackled at length in last week's column.

"We want that younger crowd to be joining us and for people to be excited about dining here again," Stillwell says.

Photo by Jessica Sidman