Young dogs, new tricks
Three of Tulsa’s best chefs have new kitchens to call home.
In the restaurant world, a chef’s tenure in any one particular kitchen is rarely guaranteed, even if he or she owns the place.
Many once-passionate cooks end up feeling stifled and uninspired after years of toiling in a hot kitchen, especially one in which they lose their culinary voice.
This trio of talented chefs, however, has set up shop in new kitchens about town, and the food we are seeing delivered to diners has been nothing short of spectacular.
Trevor Tack - Bodean Restaurant
I have written about chef Trevor Tack before because every stove he steps up to generates delicious food. He wowed us at the short-lived SoChey, brought delicious pub fare to the Main Street Tavern in Broken Arrow and made bar food legitimate at R Bar and Grill in Brookside.
Before heading up these kitchens, Tack worked at The Chalkboard under his mentor, the late Paul Caplinger; served a stint as a personal chef for some Colorado Rockies baseball players (“A difficult job, but super fun and great experience,” Tack told me); and kicked around the kitchens of Stonehorse Café and Dalesandros.
He now helms the kitchen of Bodean Restaurant & Market, and while keeping true to the decades-old spot known for the highest-quality seafood around, he has put his mark on things.
Tack is passionate about using seasonal and local ingredients when possible, and his playful dishes resonate with cuisine known around the globe (seared tuna tacos and black truffle risotto with arugula and a soft-cooked farm egg are just two examples).
My parents and I stopped in for dinner recently and were awestruck with Tack’s new take on seafood.
While it’s no longer on the menu, codfish brandade — a somewhat heavy Provencal purée of salt cod, olive oil, milk and cream — is updated with a crisp Parmesan crust and, if you ask for it, a soft-cooked egg. This is by no means a healthy dish, but your tummy will love you for trying it.
I fell in love with Tack’s Gnocchi and Clams ($26), a big bowl of steamed clams, house-made chorizo, pillowy gnocchi and a fennel-laden, super flavorful broth. I am remiss to try anything else at this point, but I am surely tempted.
Bodean Restaurant & Market: 3376 E. 51st St., 918-749-1407, www.bodean.net
Grant Vespasian - The Hen Bistro
Kathy Bondy opened The Hen Bistro this past August with a goal to offer the same delicious food she is known for at The French Hen, but in a more casual environment.
For more than 30 years, The French Hen has offered classic, upscale French cuisine, and customers come to expect certain menu items when dining there.
That works great for Bondy, for her loyal kitchen staff has been on board for many years (many trained by former chef Richard Clark) and have the dishes down pat.
The new bistro, however, has been trying to find its way, which is what enticed Bondy to bring in Grant Vespasian as the new executive chef.
Vespasian got his start in the restaurant business at age 17 while working at Mary’s Bread Basket. There he crossed paths with chef Timothy Fitzgerald, who rented the kitchen for his catering operation and opened Vespasian’s eyes “to a whole new world of food.”
Vespasian, also a longtime musician, skipped culinary school in favor of some valuable on-the-job training at the Polo Grill and Palace Café before going to The Tavern three years ago, then spending a short time at the Oaks Country Club.
As we go to print, I am looking forward to the “How to make fried chicken” class he is teaching next week, before he dives too deeply into his new role at The Hen.
Bondy plans for Vespasian to focus on seasonal offerings and special events such as wine dinners. I attended a wine dinner in January at The Hen, the night Vespasian was announced as the new chef. He seduced a full house with perfectly cooked mackerel, seared duck breast and medium-rare beef tenderloin medallions — a great glance at what is to come.
The Hen Bistro: 3509 S. Peoria Ave., 918-935-3420, www.thehenbistro.com
Tim Richards - Doc's Wine & Food
For me, the cozy space on the corner of East 35th Street and South Peoria Avenue will always be the home of the Grapevine.
Lately, however, someone has brought new life to the corner that has seen several past reincarnations fail.
Darin Ross opened Doc’s back in 2010, bringing a piece of the French Quarter to Brookside. Its happy hour caught on quickly, but it took awhile for the food to settle into its groove.
Last spring, Ross brought in chef Tim Richards to revamp the Cajun and Creole-inspired menu. Now Doc’s is known for delicious weekend brunch, seasonal cocktails and gorgeous seafood.
Richards knows his way around a fish — he was the executive chef at Bodean Restaurant for a dozen years. I can speak from experience, for our family was treated to an amazing meal prepared by Richards the night before our wedding.
Richards may have left the fine dining world for now, but his cooking would never hint at that. Even in Doc’s laid-back environment, among New Orleans staples such as étouffée, shrimp and grits, and jambalaya (all worth trying) you are likely to find specials such as grilled New Zealand king salmon with butternut squash puree and chipotle aioli, or pan-seared mahi mahi with fried jalapeño-cheddar grit cakes and chive velouté. There is nothing casual about the way Richards thinks out these dishes.
Doc’s Wine & Food: 3509 S. Peoria Ave., 918-949-3663, www.docswineandfood.com