OKC Fail #2: Red PrimeSteak

10 May 2015

After that terrible dining experience at Vast I ended up changing my plans for dinner this Sunday evening. I was originally booked into a place next to Vast, but I don’t want to be anywhere near that disaster again, so I opted for something much safer. And in OKC that means beef.

I decided to go to Red PrimeSteak, one of the top steakhouses in town, that evening instead. I made the long walk out there and the entire evening began very badly when the host was just plain rude — to me and just about everyone else that enquired. Took about 15 minutes to be seated despite having a reservation, the restaurant being huge and not bustling.

Oh well. I ordered a cocktail and tried to relax. It wasn’t easy as I was getting a mild headache from the lighting in this place. The name of the restaurant, Red PrimeSteak, is no misnomer — the place is RED inside. The red lights are really not pleasant for a dining room… There’s a reason clubbing and dining don’t mix…

The service was looking wee slow already as the servers seem to have random tables in random sections, and my server kept disappearing. Took about 15 minutes to give my order after I waved him down. Goodness, this is turning into a flashback to last night with the FoH chaos. What is it with OKC and FoH problems?

My steak came sooner than I expected — and it certainly beat the wine out, which is extremely annoying…

ribeye_edited

A nice looking bone-in grass-fed ribeye. I’m really glad there’s grass-fed beef here, as so much of this area is dominated by corn-fed stuff. It was actually very good, flavourful taste, cooked to the right temperature (medium rare on the rare side). If this was a normal steakhouse this would be totally excellent. But as I ate the light was giving me a major headache by now. If you don’t believe me at the end of this review I will post an *unedited* photo of the steak and you’ll understand…

All in all a good steak, very satisfactory. But I could not find anyone to bring me another glass of wine and my server has completely disappeared. So I just didn’t bother. When the manager asked me how things were I didn’t hide my disappointment for the rubbish service, but I did tell him that I am glad they had grass-fed steaks and they were done very well.

I headed out a little annoyed at the service, but at least the steak was good. It wasn’t a fail-fail like at Budapest’s Prime Steak & Wine; however, in most sense this dining experience at Red PrimeSteak was another fail. Not as bad as last night, but still a fail. Aside from the service? I was still having a nasty headache from the stupid red lighting.

And yes, finally, here’s the unedited photo of the steak. Maybe you’ll now understand why my head was pounding. Time to leave OKC…

ribeye

Red PrimeSteak
504 North Broadway
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

OKC Fail #1: Vast

9 May 2015

I made my way back to Oklahoma City after an excellent two days in Tulsa. Excellent dinner at Juniper, and a fabulous Rush show, and I was in an excellent mood. However, the adventure getting back in OKC, including an experience of the most ridiculous taxi service in the planet (OKC’s absolutely screwed up taxi industry is EXACTLY why Über has traction…) and the weather going nasty again — throw in another nasty hangover…

But I was hoping for all good when I headed out for dinner at Vast, one of the more talked about restaurants in OKC. It was on top of the Devon Tower on the 49th floor. I see a lot of people going there for events, so I assume this Saturday night will be rather busy there. I didn’t expect the slow service to start with the express lifts, which took ages to arrive…

I was taken to a side area, the “Lounge” as they call it, a much quieter area than most of the bustling restaurant (thank goodness), and I took the window seat, which had an excellent view of OKC.

panorama_from_Devon - 01

I hope I’m not paying for this view, as I have had mixed experiences with these top-of-skyscraper restaurants. Canoe in Toronto is perhaps the best of the lot, but there are some real shoddy ones that one pays for the view rather than the food or service.

Service was already shaky as it looks like 1 person was handling the entire section, and worse — she kept disappearing. The cocktail took over 15 minutes, and in the meantime the server just decided not to bring me a menu until I eventually waved her down and asked for it. Friendly but awful service. Bad start.

After another 15 minutes I waved her down again to place my order — even did my wine order now just to make sure it all timed out right. I am sensing this to be a trying evening, as good as this view was. And it happened just then when the amuse bouche arrived…

AB-beef

I asked her what it was, and she said she didn’t know… “It literally just came out,” she said… I asked if she could enquire. She comes back in a few minutes to tell me it was a braised beef thing. I am not beyond suspect not just of the service, but of the kitchen…

I waited for quite a long time before my starter arrived…and had to wait for another few minutes before my wine showed up…

1-gnocchi

I was like, huh? This was listed as roasted garlic gnocchi. This was one of the very worst dishes I’ve seen or eaten in 2015, and that’s saying a lot. The fried gnocchi was done terribly, it was soggy and not even hot. The parmesan was in a weird state somewhere between gooey and coagulated, something even material scientists may have trouble defining. And it all tasted just awful…and not hot. The wine was also a bit off, but with this FoH shitshow here I didn’t bother…

The red came out for my main course, but not my main course itself…for nearly half an hour. This is beyond a shitshow. It then finally arrived far after I have lost my patience with this place.

2-lamb

I have to admit these smoked lamb chops were tasty and done well, but by now it was so dark I couldn’t see my food, and I had completely lost patience with this staff. I even lost my desire to drink.

Then the kicker. They then brought out the…wait for it…bread. Yeah. Not before the starter. Not after the starter. Not before the main. But during the main. I finished off the lamb (again, it was actually tasty), and asked for my bill as soon as possible. I wanted to get the hell out of here…

From the time I asked for my bill to the time I got downstairs took another 20+ minutes. This was an extremely trying experience. And as a further insult, this place was stupid expensive for this shitty experience. I have no problem paying for a good dinner (as you can see from my many reviews), but this was just a joke.

I will say this “experience” at Vast was the very worst dining experience of 2015. Stay away from this place. You overpay for a good view, and get to see a FoH run by people who have no idea what hospitality or logistics means. The kitchen seems confused too. It’s a shame, because I see OKC has great talent (such as at Cheever’s Cafe and Ludivine) and restaurant functionality (again Ludivine). But this place is a total joke, and the good people of OKC should not have to shell out so much money to be treated this poorly.

Awful.

Vast
333 West Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Review: Juniper

7 May 2015

After that fine lunch at Cheever’s Cafe in Oklahoma City I drove the not-so-far route to Tulsa. A drive never helps a hangover, but I managed to get a little rest that afternoon. Thank goodness the drive was short (and the speed very fast). I came to Tulsa as part of a pretty regular pilgrimage of mine, to go to the 1st Rush show of a tour. I’ve done it for most of the tours for over 20 years, and if this was to be the final big tour, I definitely needed to be there for the first. And I get to eat Oklahoma for the first time.

I had underestimated the distance from my hotel to tonight’s destination, Juniper. But the 20+ minute walk in downtown Tulsa was odd, but needed. I got to the already pretty busy restaurant this Thursday evening and relaxed with a cocktail in hand. Juniper would not have looked out of place in Tulsa nor Chicago, a nice eatery with a wonderful menu.

I ordered after hearing some delicious specials offered, and was about to switch to wine when my starter arrived surprisingly quick — the maple-glazed pork belly.

1-pork_belly

The belly was rich and nice, with just enough meat to give it solidness and enough fat to make it truly decadent. The glaze was nice and added to the overall flavour. An excellent start.

The service has been extremely friendly but my server seemed to have been given a way too big section to handle, so it took awhile before I managed to get my wine. Just in time as my main also arrived soon, the duck breast.

2-duck_breast

Wow. This was damn good. Rarely do I get duck breast this good, cooked perfectly and flavoured perfectly. One of the best duck breasts in years. In Tulsa! Fabulous stuff, totally melt in your mouth. The accompanying items were a little lame, almost like recycled from the starter, but the duck just took my attention from everything else. Goodness this was delicious, so delicious I almost ordered another portion!

Odd thing about this place was that both of their desserts on offer takes over 15 minutes of prep, and watching my poor server run ragged from about 10 large tables she had to cover, I spared her and just paid and headed out. Plus, a storm (after all, I am STILL in Oklahoma…) was approaching so I decided to just leg it back to my hotel.

Juniper is a rather good place, a very pleasant surprise for me here in Tulsa. So far beef-mad Oklahoma is surprising me very pleasantly with some solid cooking. That duck is world class, I must say, from the flavouring to the execution. There are plenty of kitchens with Michelin stars that can learn from that duck. My one dinner in Tulsa and it was very solid, just the way I like it.

Juniper
324 East 3rd Street
Tulsa, Oklahoma

OKC is Definitely OK for Lunch

6-7 May 2015

After some not-quite-mindblowing cooking in St Louis, I headed off to Oklahoma City. Little did I know then that I’ll have a few excellent meals here with some honest but solid cooking the next few days, some of the cooking far better than at places cursed (my readers know what I mean) with a James Beard nomination.

I was going to write a review of my dinner at Ludivine, but chose not to as too much of the night I was focused on the crazy weather, the tornado sirens (and at one point evacuation) and the flash flooding outside, and gave too little focus to the fine 5-course tasting menu. A shame, I hope to be back there again some day so I can do a proper, and deserved review of the excellent eatery. It is highly recommended for food and drink.

In the meantime, I had two good lunches there. The first was at Kitchen 324, a simple cafe that also serves as a market, convenient for the busy downtown area during lunch hour. Not very fussy, but the menu looked interesting. Service was extremely friendly but a little slow and disorganised — something I noticed as a trend here in Oklahoma. Anyway, I was told my main was big, so I ordered only that — the braised short rib ragu.

short_rib_ragu

This was actually very tasty, working well with the pasta in the background. Not as rich as you may think, so it was very eatable for lunch. Nice. However, that also meant I should have gotten a starter, so I went backwards and ordered (once I found staff) a starter and more wine.

shishito

Some blistered shishito peppers, not bad at all. Not sure why they brought sauce, but I guess that’s the Oklahoma thing where everything needs sauce (no, it doesn’t). I left the sauce well alone as the shishito was done well. Actually got 2 hot ones on this plate, so I guess I am starting to have good luck!

But generally good stuff. Maybe not the most efficient service (although extremely friendly) for lunch, but it was solid and already I feel comfortable in OKC with this as an example of the cooking. That night at Ludivine was as excellent, from the mangalica lardo to the foie gras to the excellent cocktails. Shame about the weather issues and those who lost their homes (and lives) that night…

The next day just before I made my way to Tulsa in a rental car I stopped at the well-loved Cheever’s Cafe for lunch. People rave about this chic modern comfort food eatery, and I joined them. The chic restaurant is located at the historic Cheever’s, a flower shop that first opened in 1938, retaining the art deco façade.

The menu looked brilliant, even for lunch as I sat at the bar of the busy restaurant. At the end, I ordered the dish I really wanted to have, the chicken fried steak.

chicken fried steak

Wow, this was one of the very best chicken fried steaks I’ve had in my life. The meat was juicy and tasty, fried to perfection. The gravy boasted strong hints of jalapeño, a wonderful kick to this dish. Excellent, comfort food done right and modern!

I really need to come back to this place for a proper meal, this was fantastic. But Tulsa (and Rush) calls, so I headed out. I drove off for Tulsa very happy, and will return to OKC in a few days for more dining adventures. Again, it’s the unsung places in smaller, less food-known places, that’s winning my stomach (and heart). I’d easily take Albany’s Yono’s, or Louisville’s Seviche, or Macon’s Dovetail, or Jacksonville’s Matthew’s, or Jackson’s Parlor Market, or Richmond’s Roosevelt over those places so many food writers drool on over themselves in San Francisco, New York, London or Copenhagen.

On the road again…

Kitchen 324
324 North Robinson Avenue

Cheever’s Cafe
2409 North Hudson Avenue
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Review: Sidney Street Cafe

5 May 2015

Another long day, including a quick trip up to Springfield, Illinois — just to find Lincoln’s Tomb to be closed (on anniversary week?!). No biggie. But it was a long trek back trying to take in smaller towns and getting lost on the way no thanks to that crappy thing called Google Maps… But I made it back just in time and was looking forward to dinner at the well-liked eatery just south of Downtown, the aptly named Sidney Street Cafe.

Sidney Street Cafe has an excellent reputation, and Chef Kevin Nashan is frequently listed as one of the best in the Midwest. This should be a good closing dinner for me here in St Louis. I certainly hope it shows off more of this city’s fine cuisine than The Libertine, as the only food in St Louis I have been drooling about so far are the ribs (and snoots) from Roper’s and Big Mama’s

I was seated at a table inside the annoyingly dark dining room and it was already a busy night with a lot of regulars it seems, as well as larger parties. I placed my order (only possible thanks to using my phone as a light) after a needed cocktail arrived in my hands. I needed to relax as it was a very long day, including becoming utterly lost in central Illinois on dirt roads trying to find a highway…and nearly being shot for “trespassing” despite not being able to tell when public and private lands differentiated…

Yes, I almost got gunned down at a rural cemetery. You can’t make this shit up…

I waited quite a long time and after seeing nearly everyone get their food before me, I was starting to wonder what happened. Then when a freebie showed up I figured something’s gone awry…

AB-crab

Anyway, the freebie, the Jonah crab. Not a bad starter at all, snappy and tasty. The shishito and turnip helped the overall dish, though the vinaigrette was unnecessary. Nice start despite the wait. Then after a bit more wait my starter finally arrived, the shrimp and peas.

1-stuffed_shrimp_head

Not quite what I expected as there was nearly no peas (in a puree form), but two solid shrimp. The bodies were cooked well. The heads were deep-fried and stuffed, but there was a problem there. Most tempura shrimp heads fried in Japan are done much finer, and does not go down the body into the layered shell area — because the texture and cooking time required becomes completely different. It’s like deep frying a whole fish and trying to get the bone and cheek to edibility in one go. Don’t work. See how it is in tempura places like Tenko Honten in Hiroshima or even Kiriko in Los Angeles.

Nice try, to be honest, but the sheaths of shell from the late end kind of ruins it for the whole thing. I know why they kept it, to stuff it properly, but this for me is a nice-try-but-no.

I switched to some wine and awaited my main course, which came out soon — the day’s pork special.

2-pork

Not a bad plate, several different preparations of various pork bits. I am not a fan of air-puffed type of crackling, it loses all the flavours. A little smaller than I thought, but enough on a very knackering day. Plus one of the adjacent tables was getting drunk and rowdy, so I thought that may be enough for the day.

Not blown away, but wasn’t mediocre as was The Libertine the other night. Maybe I ordered wrong, because these dishes were nothing like what I saw on the website’s photos page — not in content, creativity nor plating (the latter I care little as it was too dark anyway). But it was just not quite what it was trying to sell.

However, little did I know that night that the next leg of my trip, Oklahoma, would bring far better dishes from kitchens that get far less media attention. In any case, not bad.

Off to OKC…

Sidney Street Cafe
2000 Sidney Street
St Louis, Missouri

Old School Triumphs Over Hipsterism in St Louis…

3-4 May 2015

One huge aspect of travelling these days for me is to have as much local food as possible, not just the top-rated places and those award-winning restaurants, but the real local grub. That involves as much research, if not more, than finding the top places, as many such places may not be online. A recent good example is Naples. When I planned a few days in St Louis I certainly looked into all this.

One hard part about doing “real” local food is also distinguishing those old school places that have earned their reputation the hard way — with hard work, proven quality and longevity — versus those hipster-centric places lauded by Eater and other “foodie media” that thinks anywhere full of bearded guys drinking craft beer with some minor twist to traditional foods is the best thing since “ramps season” was invented. I experienced both in St Louis…

My first day in town, I dropped into the famous Roper’s Ribs for some food to take after that long cemetery hike. Roper’s is an institution in St Louis, and its ribs are known across the country. It is just down the road from the worst of the civil unrest in Ferguson, just down West Florissant. Seeing those damaged businesses was unpleasant, and I did my small part to bring some extra business into the area — even if it was just a quick unnecessary fill-up or an iced tea or water. But Roper’s was gonna be a treat…

ribs-1

I got the very last order of their famous St Louis ribs — all those who came after me were bitterly disappointed! I was lucky…

ribs-2

These were fabulous! not over-sauced, but the smokiness was utterly fantastic! Excellent texture and it was just delicious. One of the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life, the best I’ve had in years I’m sure of that — over all the Memphis and Owensboro places certainly. Mmm… What a treat this was! Definitely not to be missed in St Louis!

Later that night I had the wee mediocre dinner at The Libertine. The next day, after yet another long cemetery hike (yes, I enjoy them, as a nature lover, as a historian, and as a someone who is strangely morbid!), I dropped into the infamous Schottzie’s Bar and Grill, hoping to have their most famous item — the brain burger. But I was told they were out of brains until later in the week, so I left very disappointed.

I actually was planning to head over to the Illinois side of the river so I decided to stop at another well-loved BBQ institution in the area, Big Mama’s BBQ. Now everyone knows East St Louis is not exactly a fun place to be and it’s certainly that. This small eatery sits lonely in a large parking lot with a state prison right across the road…

I was already smelling the food from that fine smoker outside. I wonder how that aroma must drive the inmates crazy across the street…seems almost cruel… I ordered one of their specials, the snoots and 1/2 rib-tips.

snoots-rib_tips

Yes, snoots. Fried snoots. Pig snout. You gotta love it, this method of prep (frying) makes it very much like crackling. Excellent. And the rib-tips were excellent, almost as good as yesterday’s at Roper’s — though too much unnecessary sauce. The smoking was fabulous. Actually worth a trip to East St Louis!

Later that evening, still enjoying the aroma of those ribs and snoots, I headed out to grab some chicken. I chose Old Standard Fried Chicken, a new hip place catering to hipsters that does cocktails, bourbon and fried chicken. I didn’t want to drink much so decided to take half a bird away. Waited with a cocktail and then took the stuff home.

fried chicken

Nice box, kept the heat in the food definitely. But the chicken was really not that impressive. It lacked a kick or a distinguishing taste in the wide world of fried chicken. Worse, I suspect the different pieces came from different birds and prepared at different times — despite the long prep time. The wing and drumstick were underdone (the wing was bleeding badly), while the breast was good but thigh was fried internally to a crisp. For what they charge, not worth it. Mediocre at best.

So the lesson for St Louis? Go to old school places like Roper’s Ribs and Big Mama’s BBQ — and take a pass from the hipster, trendy places that overcharge for mediocre products that get all that media (and Eater) attention for no reason except they have craft beers and bourbon and are filled up with dudes with craft beards.

Roper’s Ribs
6929 West Florissant Avenue
St Louis, Missouri

Big Mama’s BBQ
5900 St Clair Avenue
East St Louis, Ilinois

Old Standard Fried Chicken
1621 Tower Grove Avenue
St Louis, Missouri

Review: Libertine

3 May 2015

My first dinner in St Louis on a very, very busy Sunday, was destined to be at The Libertine, located in the suburb of Clayton slightly west of the centre. I was staying not far away, so it was an easy drive. That’s good, cuz for all the hiking I did today (yes, before you ask, at another cemetery, and it was 5 hours of very hilly terrain and I got a nice tan too) I needed to enjoy a good meal to soothe away all my aches.

It was not very busy this Sunday evening. The Libertine bills itself as a local, family friendly restaurant, and sure it was — and the joys of dining alone when there’s a loud child on the next table… In any case, a cocktail later and I chilled.

I ordered my food and they brought out some roasted chickpeas as a snack. Wee lacking in flavour but no biggie. I enjoyed my drink as the first course arrived, the pig tails.

1-pig_tails

Hmmm. I usually love pig tails, but one of my pet peeves is unnecessary saucing — and this time, the sauce I hate the most on this planet, buffalo sauce. I tried to wipe away as much as I could (as I had planned since I ordered it), but it was not really possible. The sauce just eats so much away from the food I could have been having wings. Utterly unnecessary. Oh well, my bad for ordering.

I switched to a rose and tried to tune off the noise around me as my foot and calves were still strained, before my next course arrived.

2-she_crab_soup

Hmmm. I usually love she-crab soup, but there’s a distinct bitterness to this version. Not a shellfish-based bitterness, but something I couldn’t really put my finger on. It also lacked strength, almost like a shy turtle soup you’d get in Charleston when they didn’t have enough turtle… The rolls on the side, with crab meat, was nice, but I wanted a she-crab soup that knocked me out. Oh well…

I ordered another wine waiting for my final course, which was a special of the day. It soon arrived, a bluefish from Boston.

3-Boston_blue_fish

Hmmm. I usually like fish like bluefish that has good oil but for some reason it didn’t do much for me. Part of it seemed overcooked, which really defeats the purpose of all that awesome fish oil. I am starting to sense the curse of the Sunday kitchen…

I was not blown away by this dinner at all, but I was talked into a dessert — a banana pudding.

4-banana_pudding

Well, I wish there was more banana. That was nice, as was the gelato. But all that roasted meringue was not very edible after all this food. Probably not on an empty stomach too. Just kinda took the focus away from what was supposed to be a banana-centric dessert. This was nothing like what you’d expect from the menu description…

Oh well. I paid and got out of there and limped back to my car. Another long hike tomorrow, and this meal didn’t really help. Perhaps I ordered badly and got the Sunday evening curse, but sadly The Libertine did very little for me. Too bad, cuz Josh Galliano is a huge talent, but tonight? Sigh…

The Libertine
7929 Forsyth Blvd
Clayton, Missouri