Attention to detail
Oren is one Tulsan’s take on big-city dining.
Sweet potato croquettes
Matthew and Yara Amberg have given Tulsa a gift with their new restaurant, Oren.
Oren could very easily fit into the New York City restaurant scene. You can imagine discovering a place like it in Brooklyn or on a list of the hottest new restaurants in NYC.
Instead, Matthew Amberg opened a progressive American cuisine restaurant just blocks from the Brookside neighborhood where he grew up in Tulsa.
Amberg’s New York style comes naturally, as he worked in mostly Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City for almost seven years. It was at these restaurants, including Oceana and Aureole, that Amberg learned under some of the best and developed and refined his own style.
But Amberg’s plans included more than an influential culinary career. He and Yara wanted to buy a house in which to raise their son, have more children and open their own restaurant. Making that happen in New York would be a challenge. So, three years ago they came to Tulsa. They’ve bought the house, had another child and, now, they have their restaurant.
Amberg tweaks the menu each day at Oren, making every visit new. His focus on what’s fresh and procuring the best food available translates to beautifully presented small plates of interesting, thoughtful food.
We visited for a weekend lunch and found the service to be friendly and attentive but not overbearing. Our server was helpful in offering recommendations. We took her advice and ordered a few small plates and one larger entrée, sharing them all.
Sweet potato croquettes ($8) were small square, crisp-coated cubes filled with a sweet potato puree. The croquettes sat on a coconut sauce dusted with granola, cilantro and lime zest, playing with the ideas of texture, color and temperature. When the last bite was gone, we were wishing for one more.
Arancini ($7) is Oren’s take on risotto balls, but creamier and more flavorful than typical. The arrancini and accompanying tomato sauce are a crowd pleaser. While it doesn’t have the adventurous qualities of the sweet potato croquettes or others, including a jicama salad with Aleppo pepper, it’s a dish diners will find familiar and delicious.
We were head over heels for the ricotta gnudi ($16), a cross between gnocchi and ravioli. Gnudi is made with ricotta rather than potato, like gnocchi. The light texture was brightened with Meyer lemon zest, Parmesan and parsley.
The striped bass ($32) was nicely cooked and was served with an interesting side: rye spaetzli, a small, soft egg noodle. The accompanying arugula and whole-grain mustard rounded out the dish. The German spaetzle was unexpected but brought a nice texture to pair with the bass.
Amberg says that unlike many restaurants that make the protein the focal point, it was important to him to focus on the vegetables.
“We’re definitely fruit and vegetable focused, but not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant,” he says. “We feel like vegetables in Tulsa are kind of underutilized and, in general, kind of an afterthought.”
So instead of starting with a steak and building around it, Amberg starts with, for instance, pomegranate, and then determines which protein would pair. That’s how the pork tenderloin with pomegranate, celery and farro came to fruition.
Oren doesn’t rely on standard garnishes and sauces. “We’ll probably never have a cream sauce here,” Amberg says. “We like things to be a little lighter.” Instead, he plays with olive oils and vinegars, pickling, and candied fruits, vegetables and nuts to add layers and interest to each dish.
The degree to which Amberg goes to find the best ingredients and treat them well is impressive.
For his risotto, rather than use Arborio rice, the typical short-grain rice used for risotto, Amberg uses Carnaroli, an Italian rice aged for at least a year.
“It makes a really superior risotto as opposed to Arborio,” he said. “We would never use cream in our risotto, which has become commonplace. You get the creaminess from the starch in the rice.”
For risotto, Amberg starts with shallots and garlic, then lightly toasts the Carnaroli before adding white wine and chicken stock. He finishes with a bit of butter and pecorino cheese. The risotto has many iterations, depending on what’s seasonal. One winter iteration included roasted butternut squash and an aromatic pumpkin seed oil with dried Aleppo pepper.
That risotto is a perfect example of the time and thought Amberg puts into each dish, from tracking down an imported rice to creating a pumpkin seed oil and adding the sweet-heat of a dried pepper with origins in Syria. It’s an approach Amberg is betting Tulsans will fall for.
3509 S. Peoria Ave. | 918-764-9699
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday.