Small audiences so far for Oak Room’s vintage scene

for The Brooklyn Paper
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For the past 20 years, Michael and Alice Halkias have been restoring the 114-year-old Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope. The hall, built in 1892, served as an ornate Victorian public center with theatres, bars, ballrooms and even bowling alleys. Caruso sang there and Fred and Adele Astaire danced on the ballroom’s polished floors.

But by 1981, when the Halkiases purchased the building, its interior was lined with enormous rain buckets.

Mr. Halkias, who directed the renovation, didn’t concern himself with authentic duplication. He favors pastel pink, baby blue and pale green. And, he loves gold. Lots of gold.

Halkias is an art lover, too, who appreciates the work of the great masters. In their honor he commissioned copies of Renoir and Watteau, Ingres and Manet that hang about the hall. The effect is a dizzying fantasyland of portraits, frolicking cherubs and sparkling chandeliers that make an appropriate backdrop for the greatest fantasy of all - the happily-ever-after pact made by the brides and grooms who marry there.

In January, the Halkias’ re-opened the Oak Room, a fancy-shmancy supper club on the premises. The room or rooms (there’s a large, oak-lined bar that one walks through on their way to the dining room) offer dinner each evening and serve as a dancing and dining venue on Saturday nights.

The main dining room features a wall-to-wall mural of a hunting scene lit with bugle-shaped sconces. The ceiling is an acid trip of orange and green squares. Gold brocade chairs accompany expansive round tables. In the front of the cavernous room is a stage for musical performances and a dance floor.

Had that space been filled with carefree revelers fox-trotting about the dance floor, I could chalk up the experience as good, clean kitschy fun. But when you and your guest are two of just six patrons, as we were one Saturday evening, it’s a lonely experience. Our neighbors were two, deeply tanned couples whose table was littered with empty Cosmopolitan glasses. Later in the evening, one couple executed a sexy, liquor-fueled slow dance.

On Saturday nights through June, Joan Crowe and her High Society band performed. It had to be a letdown for Crowe to dig her slinky dress out of the closet, don the boa and heels, and practice "Fever" only to face an audience of six. Crowe’s an attractive entertainer with a pliable voice. She deserves a bigger audience. Ditto for her talented musicians.

Beginning July 10 and continuing through the month The Fran Carol Dance Band will perform.

The Oak Room’s menu is much as you’d expect from a restaurant that is trying hard to make classic, continental dining fashionable. Chef Michel Aytekin, whose resume boasts stints at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes, Le Pavillon in Miami and Chez Claude in Beverly Hills, offers a menu that can be neatly divided into surf and turf with fusion touches.

Each course is super-sized, the ingredients fresh and the plating attractive, but the cuisine never transcends a better catering hall. That may be enough for diners who attend Grand Prospect weddings or special parties, but when patrons shell out their own cash for a meal, expectations are greater.

There are a few high notes on the menu - fabulous shrimp in the shrimp cocktail "martini" and delectable little lamb chops. However, more low notes prevail, like leaden fried calamari and a cloying blueberry creme brulee.

About that shrimp martini: The six shrimp sitting pertly in a martini glass are colossal, tender and so flavorful that the "classic cocktail sauce" served with it is unnecessary - a good thing, as the sauce needs more horseradish to achieve the requisite stinging nostrils affect.

Our waiter recommended the fried calamari. Instead of rings, the squid was cut in large squares, then battered and fried. While the batter was carefully made and not oily, the dish was oddly heavy. The same "classic cocktail sauce" didn’t improve matters.

Much better was the entree of garlicky little lamb chops. The chops came with a gravy boat filled with a sauce made of lamb jus, caramel and mint. As awful as that sauce sounds, it was actually quite tasty and robust. In fact, it was so robust that it didn’t belong with the lamb, and I’m not a sure a rib-eye steak could hold its own against it.

With the meat, Aytekin offers endive, carrots and onions that are slow-cooked in butter. All the vegetables are good, but the long simmer in the butter yields a deliciously peppery, velvety endive.

Grilled whole baby sea bass sounded fabulous, looked like something you’d eat in a tiny, seaside Greek restaurant and had as much spunk as cod. The menu claims that the fish was drizzled with lemon olive oil dressing. If it was, I didn’t taste it.

Our desserts arrived just as Crowe launched into "Judy’s Turn to Cry," which seemed appropriate. Both the blueberry creme brulee and a fluffy tiramisu were sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock.

The Grand Prospect Hall works as an over-the-top wedding hall. The problem with the Oak Room is that it, too, seems like an over-the-top wedding hall. The Halkias family are aiming for an Old World, posh, dinner-and-dancing club with refined service. Hopefully the audience for that kind of room and menu will find the Oak Room soon, so the bands will be serenading more than six diners.

The Oak Room Restaurant and Supper Club at the Grand Prospect Hall (263 Prospect Ave. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope) accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express. A la carte entrees: $18-$36. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. Saturday night three-course, prix fixe dinner and music is $44. Beginning at 9 pm on Saturdays, there’s a $20 music charge and two-drink minimum. An all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch for $28 per person is served from noon to 3:30 pm. Valet parking available. For reservations, call (718) 788-0777.

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