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French twist

Under new owner Kathy Bondy, The French Hen maintains its traditional menu and focus on made-from-scratch recipes with quality ingredients.

There are a handful of restaurants in town that you could tuck into the category of, say, “special occasion places” or “romantic-night-out spots.”

Over the past 30 years, The French Hen would have almost always been included in those categories. There have been only two owners. Terry Turner was at the helm for the first 20 years, and the Clark family, which included Richard Clark, former French Hen executive chef, and his parents, had it for the next 10.

Last November, the iconic Tulsa restaurant changed hands again, to Kathy Bondy, who owned Table Ten with chef Clark from 2004 to 2007. When the Clark family finally decided to sell The French Hen, it would be only to someone they knew would keep the tradition going. Bondy was just that person.

She has been in the restaurant business since age 14, when she worked in her father’s restaurants, and then spent 15 years managing restaurants for the McGill’s group. Aside from new paint and carpet, as well as a few new service staff members, Bondy vows to keep much of the restaurant the same, including the menu and the kitchen staff, whom Clark trained. She does plan to add some lighter dishes for summer and has planned a few wine dinners for fall.

Bondy says she is diligent about two aspects of the restaurant: making everything from scratch and using the highest-quality ingredients available.

I treated my parents to dinner there on a recent Friday evening.

Our table, tucked into a windowed nook, had the feel of a Parisian bistro, as well as a nice view of the light-festooned patio.

Because we were feeling rather Parisian that evening, we shared two of the starters that have been menu favorites for years:  sweetbreads champignon and duck liver paté. The paté ($12), a silky-smooth puree, is served in a martini glass and garnished with capers, red onion, red peppers and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Toasted baguette slices are served alongside for schmearing. I am often on the fence about ordering sweetbreads, the thymus gland of young beef, because the prized delicate flavor and creamy texture can all too often become meaty and mealy. These were outstanding. The trio of sweetbreads ($14) was lightly breaded, gently sautéed and draped with a rich mushroom cream sauce.

Kathy BondyWe also shared a second course of soups and salad. I enjoyed the rich but delicate corn and crab chowder, but we all agreed that the fresh gazpacho (both $5 for a cup) was a bit out of season. The spinach salad special ($9), a medley of fresh baby spinach, pineapple, strawberries, toasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese and orange-honey vinaigrette, was a nice transition from the rich starters.

In addition to the menu, there are typically a half-dozen specials every evening. My mother chose one of them, a generous grouper filet ($35) served over a wild rice blend with a delicate mushroom sauce.

I opted for the heartier mixed grill ($47), which, on the night we visited, included a two-rib Colorado lamb chop, ahi tuna and walleye (a spiny-finned freshwater fish), all topped with a savory blue cheese-truffle sauce and served over buttery couscous.

Mine arrived with a portion of grilled beef tenderloin instead of the walleye, but our server brought us a generous portion of the walleye to try. Both the walleye and my mom’s grouper were cooked perfectly, and the lamb and beef had a nice smoky char.

My father chose the seared diver scallops ($34), which were well seared yet barely cooked through — just as scallops should be. The four scallops were served over a rich plate of pasta with sautéed shrimp and a creamy sherry sauce. We loved the scallops but thought the pasta could have used a little something — a bit of salt or acid, perhaps.

Desserts are all made in house and feature local fruits whenever possible. On our drizzly and slightly cool spring evening, we shared the banana walnut bread pudding ($8), which, crowned with satiny caramel sauce, served as a decadent end to our lovely meal.

The well-edited wine list features whites and reds from around the world, with a handful of French selections from many of the country’s regions. In addition to the main dining area and patio, there is a separate dining area across the walkway (decked out with the latest in audio/visual equipment), which can seat up to 48 for private functions.

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