Zaid Khan steers Oak Long Bar + Kitchen through pandemic
Photos by J.Q. Louise
This year has not been kind to restaurants.
Between the shutdowns and the new dining rules imposed by local governments, the business is tougher than ever. Establishments have had to adapt to survive, while nimbleness is required when dealing with the twists and turns that are seemingly around every corner. Chefs who planned on making “changes” to their dining rooms this year never anticipated that plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizing stations, and social-distancing markers were the types of changes they would be making.
Oak Long Bar + Kitchen has made a significant adjustment though. The modern stalwart of Copley Square got a new chef amid the pandemic, and he just launched a new fall menu.
Naturally, we ate and drank our way through it.
Chef Zaid Khan took over the kitchen at the beginning of the pandemic in spring. Born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, Khan grew up around fresh seafood and farm-to-table cuisine. He calls his mother the “original farm-to-table chef,” as their family butchered their own meat, caught their own seafood, grew their own vegetables and collected fresh eggs for many of their meals.
“While this has certainly been a challenging year for restaurants all over Boston, I am honored to be leading this team through our next chapter,” Khan told DigBoston. When Oak Long Bar + Kitchen reopened this summer, he introduced a new all-day format, with continuous service from 11am to 10pm daily.
“Some of my plans for new additions to the dining room, like a raw bar for example, are currently on hold,” Khan said. “However that doesn’t mean we won’t be introducing some exciting dishes. We are constantly iterating the menu; new dishes will continue to appear every few weeks.”
His latest additions include: Maine lobster pizza, Georges Bank halibut, and a caramelized apple pizza for dessert. As you can tell, he loves seafood, and while he may not be able to offer a beautifully displayed raw bar at the moment, Khan is striving to bring new ideas to classic New England dishes with fresh local ingredients.
The lobster pizza is a juicy, flavorful transition into autumn; it’s a favorite among Oak Long Bar + Kitchen’s outdoor diners, proving we don’t have to give up our lobster obsession when the days get colder.
“Reimagining our patio has been at the top of our minds going into the cooler months,” Khan said. “We have heaters ordered and have lots of belly-warming dishes coming in the next few weeks. We want our guests to feel comfortable dining outdoors as long as possible this year and we are doing everything we can to make that happen.”
The Georges Bank halibut is a hearty option for cold Boston nights as well, while the Red’s Best halibut option comes marinated in smoked shoyu and Vermont maple syrup for six hours, and is then torched before being finished off in the oven. With accouterments like roasted sunchokes and chanterelle mushrooms, it’s a can’t miss.
Finally, that apple pizza, the perfect complement to an amazing meal under a heat lamp on their spacious patio, especially if paired with something from the new seasonal cocktail list. According to Food & Beverage Director Jean-Philippe Cote, “Our new lineup of fall drinks is sure to warm up our guests this season. Some of my favorites are the Autumn Star and the Sazerac.”
Living in East Boston with his wife and three-year-old son, Khan has done his best to navigate the city and pandemic as a Bostonian. From walking to work through empty streets at the height of the lockdowns, to helping figure out how Oak could reopen, to implementing the new safety precautions in the dining room, he’s learned that the restaurant needs to take a pragmatic approach if it is going to survive. Indeed, the move to an all-day, scaled-back menu has enabled his crew to continue producing top-notch dishes in a harsh situation, and to provide an environment for people to escape—even if it’s just for a night.