By Niki D’Andrea / Photos courtesy MMPR
The Fat Ox makes fine dining affordable during Apertivo Hour.
Eating at The Fat Ox feels a bit like sitting in a scene from the old television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Pristine white serviettes on meticulously set tables almost seem to glow in the twilight spilling through the panoramic windows, while staff performs a well-choreographed service routine through the dining room. If you get up for a trip to the restroom, you will likely to come back to find your napkin neatly folded and placed on your chair.
The concept is “a new approach on Italian food,” meant to be “simple yet bold.” The menu includes decadent dishes worthy of a Robin Leach voiceover – Scottish salmon with faro risotto and apricot agro dolce, Duroc pork tomahawk chop with baby fennel in a balsamic glaze, and a 40-ounce prime porterhouse that will set you back $110. It’s not a cheap place to eat (there’s nothing on the dinner menu that costs less than $10, and that’s the price point for a few small salads), which is one reason it’s a good idea to hit up the restaurant’s “Apertivo Hour” every day from 5 to 7 p.m.
Food items during Apertivo Hour include some of the best marinated olives in town. Salty, soaked in rich olive oil, spiked with chili peppers and punctuated with a squeeze of bright citrus, these castelvetrano olives are eminently edible. If there’s more than one of you at the bar, better order two bowls (heck, at $5 each, you could order a few bowls of these flavor-bursting babies).
Keep the fire in your mouth fueled with marcona almonds spiced with smoked paprika and Calabrian chiles ($5), or tone it down with prosciutto sweetened with truffle honey ($8). Other happy hour highlights include calamari fritti with squid ink, fermented pepper romesco and Sicilian almonds ($12); veal meatballs ($10); and wood-grilled prime hanger steak ($16). There’s also a pasta bar proffering five kinds of handmade pasta ($9 per taste, or $22 for three tastings) including tubular garganelli with speck (pork fat) and truffle butter, and cone-shaped gigli pasta (also known as campanelle) with San Marzano tomatoes and basil.
Drinks on the Apertivo Hour menu include seven cocktails, all satisfying but none too complicated (sangria, gin and tonic, martini, negroni, old fashioned, etc., all $8 or $9 each), and $8 glasses of select wines. During happy hour, Manabrea pilsner and amber beers cost $5 each.
If you’re down for dinner but still looking to nosh on small bites, the menu offers a handful of worthy choices. The house salad (“Insalada de casa”) satisfies with organic local greens, Brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds, and among the sides, roasted trumpet mushrooms and Calabrian-roasted cauliflower steal the show.
There are a few notable entrees, including the aforementioned porterhouse, steamed mussels and Jidori chicken, but the Hokkaido diver scallops are unforgettable. Superbly seared with sublimely salty edges and made with osso vin clams, crispy Brussels sprouts, sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke), pancetta and trumpet mushrooms, these scallops are pretty perfect.
Dessert options include a Meyer lemon tart, tiramisu, gelato and a delicate amaro olive oil cake with hints of rosemary and orange.
Ambiance varies according to time and place. If you’re in the bar area for happy hour, it’s going to be loud and crowded, with music pulsing below the din that sounds danceable but is otherwise completely indiscernible. It’s like Cheers on steroids. But if you’re in the dining area for dinner, it’s quite a bit quieter, a bit more refined, and a lot like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous — but with scallops instead of caviar.