Posted on

En Croute

Written by Greg Elwell

Stylish Eats reviews are brought to you by Steven Giles Clothing, the menswear store for those with discerning taste. Style extends well beyond the confines of clothing, so Steven Giles is teaming up with I Ate Oklahoma to bring you reviews of eateries with a refined palate across the state.

One of the first places I thought of when I started writing #StylishEats reviews was En Croûte, in part because I think the restaurant truly shares an ethos with Steven Giles. Both know that style is nothing without substance, but that substance is made better with style.

If you’ve never been to En Croûte (or, heaven forfend, you’ve never heard of it), let me set the stage for you. It’s not a particularly large restaurant, but it never fails to accommodate large parties. When you walk in, you are immediately confronted with the cheese case and I wouldn’t blame you if that’s where you stopped.

Le Loupe plate

Cheesemonger and managing partner Crosby Dyke knows her stuff. Oklahoma is no longer the cheese backwater of the world, thanks in large part to her former employers at Forward Foods, but she’s going above and beyond with daily cheese plates and paired charcuterie. And if you want to buy a slice of fancy fromage to take home with you, she can help you find just the right semi-soft washed rind Alsatian sheep’s cheese for your next wine-tasting/Dungeons & Dragons party.

If your group of half-elf thieves somehow makes it past the Lair of the Cheese Ogre, you’ll be faced with an epic decision: belly up to the bar or grab a table along the wall? I hope you brought your 20-sided die with you, because this is one choice I cannot make for you.

That said, if you’re more interested in keeping your quest to find The Great Meal of +5 Charisma secret, the privacy of a table is ideal. But if you’d like help from the tavern keeper in choosing the Flagon of Drunken Invisibility, the bar is a great choice to get advice on the best wines of the night.

That…that’s about all I know about role-playing games, so I’m just going to go back to the review now, if that’s cool with you.

The Food

It’s not that En Croûte is outrageously expensive that I tell you to save your pennies before making a reservation, it’s that the menu is a top-to-bottom nightmare of difficult choices. If you’d like to see your heroes fall from grace, take them to En Croûte and tell them they have five minutes to order. You will see the kind of breakdown I’ve come to expect from my daughter when I explain that braiding skills are far inferior to her mother’s.

Knowing this was coming, I did the only thing I know to do in impossible situations: Cheat. I brought a crew of seasoned foodies and we all ordered something different, knowing we’d be able to share and taste and pass plates around.

Wagyu beef tartare

Even then it was a struggle. You’ll see why in a minute.

First up, you should get some cheese. That’s just common sense. If you’ve got the coin, I highly recommend Le Loup Plate ($35), with cheeses and meats chosen by the cheesemonger and a variety of condiments to smear and dollop and scoop up with house-made olive oil crackers.

I don’t know much about magic, but I suspect sorcery was at play in selecting the meats and cheeses for the plate. How else can you explain how perfectly each flavor paired with another? Skill? Years of practice? An intense study of cheeses and meats? Psh, yeah, it was clearly the work of the dark arts.

If you think you’re done with the appetizers after a cheese and meat plate, think again. There’s a gauntlet to run before you even think about main courses.

The Wagyu beef tartare ($15) was lovely. Served in a little crock, you get a crazy tender pile of chopped and minced raw Wagyu beef, studded with pickled onions, a dollop of garlic aioli and toast rounds for dipping/scooping/shoveling the meat into your mouth.

Mushrooms with truffle on toast

I know not everybody is down with eating raw beef, but I certainly am. There’s something so decadent about gently stirring the chilled meat with the rich aioli and sharp, crunchy slivers of onion. It feels transgressive, in some way, as if you snuck in the kitchen and couldn’t wait for the meal to be cooked before you tucked in.

Texturally, it’s a knockout. The chilled meat is creamy and soft because there’s no heat to coil up and stiffen the proteins, which gives the onions and micro greens on top the platform for their delicate crunch.

If it’s your first time at En Croûte, you really need to try the mushrooms with truffle on toast ($16). Why? So you can keep getting it every single time you come back. (I apologize for the pictures. I’ll retake them and replace them, I promise.)

The toast is soaking in a bath of tender mushrooms and melting cheese, which form an intoxicatingly rich gravy. On top, a perfectly fried egg, waiting to spill its yolk all over the dish. I could eat this for breakfast, lunch, dinner, an afternoon snack, brunch, fourth meal, you name it. It’s so good, I can’t see it ever leaving the menu.

Lobster-stuffed fresno peppers

The lobster-stuffed fresno peppers ($14) are beguiling. The lobster and lemon herb aioli draw you in, sweet and mild, before the slow build of the fresno pepper takes hold. Fresno peppers are very similar to jalapenos in size and heat (though they can be a little spicier), but their delicate walls hide a sweet, smoky flavor. Eat them, but carefully.

Will you still be hungry after all those appetizers? It really depends on the size of your party, but my guess is still “yes,” because the entrees are even harder to sort through.

No one will blame you for just getting the En Croûte cheeseburger ($15), except yourself, because as good as that cheeseburger is, you passed up some truly exceptional dishes you won’t find elsewhere.

The prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast ($18), for instance, is the rare chicken breast I’ll order in a restaurant. Tender and juicy, each bite is snugly ensconced in a crispy piece of prosciutto, which adds a salty, fatty richness to the meat. The plate is covered with fried artichokes, mushrooms and olives in a sherry pan sauce, which makes sure none of the flavor of the seared meats is wasted.

Prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast

I wanted to love the braised short rib en croute ($20), but it just didn’t come together for me. The beef was ultra tender and flavorful, but the puff pastry wrapping didn’t add much in the way of texture. It needed a bit more moisture, which I’d had in an earlier iteration of the dish. That said, the pomme puree, roasted carrots and peppers were all lovely. It would have been nice to have some au jus to tie it all together.

The cioppino with garlic bread ($26) was a surprise. Rather than going with a tomato-based broth, the liquid with this seafood stew was more golden and fragrant. I savored each bite of bay scallops and greedily pulled clams and mussels from their shells, dipping each in a spoonful of broth for maximum flavor. The bread is the last defense, so don’t eat it too early. You’ll want to soak up every last drop of that broth.

Cioppino with garlic bread

It feels like cheating to recommend steak frites (4 oz for $22 or 8 oz for $34), but we’ve already established that I cheat.

En Croûte shares a kitchen and a staff with St. Mark’s Chop Room (another #StylishEats spotlight restaurants), so of course they know how to treat a steak. The tenderloin came out a gorgeously dark mahogany color, but cut through the center and you’ll find it just as pink and/or red as you ordered. It comes topped with maitre d’ butter (compound butter with lemon, parsley, salt and pepper), which melts generously over the meaty tower and soaks into the nearby french fries.

Stuffed as we were at this point, nobody could stay away when a slice of pistachio and honey cheesecake ($9) made its way to the table.

Steak frites

Goat cheese + cream cheese + chopped pistachios + honey + balsamic berry compote + a pistachio crust = one of the most decadent and unforgettable desserts I’ve had. The form factor is so familiar that you’re a little shocked when the twang of goat cheese hits just a little harder than the usual sour note of cream cheese. It’s glorious and kind of an ideal end to a meal that started with fine cheeses.

Stylish Eats are sponsored by Steven Giles Clothing, a high-end men’s fashion store in Classen Curve providing expertly tailored suits, timeless casual wear and everything in between. Visit them online at stevengilesclothing.com to schedule a fitting or stop in at 5850 N. Classen Blvd. to browse their selection in person.

Read more of Greg’s reviews at http://iateoklahoma.com/reviews

Posted on

Paseo Grill

Written by Greg Elwell

Stylish Eats reviews are brought to you by Steven Giles Clothing, the menswear store for those with discerning taste. Style extends well beyond the confines of clothing, so Steven Giles is teaming up with I Ate Oklahoma to bring you reviews of eateries with a refined palate across the state.

It blows my mind that Paseo Grill has only been open for 12 years. Not that anything in the building seems old or worn out; I just can’t imagine the Paseo Arts District without it.

The restaurant is a fascinating paradox. Step inside and you’ll see old friends meeting for lunch, a romantic rendezvous, a business meeting over drinks and everything in between. It’s not a place where you’re required to dress up, but it definitely makes one want to look nice. Paseo Grill is comfort fancy. And that extends to the food, as well.

Portion sizes are spot on. You might have some leftovers if you order too much, but generally you’ll finish what’s on your plate and leave sated. I know lots of us enjoy giant portions, but it’s also nice to eat somewhere where you’ll leave happy with how tasty everything was and not miserable because you ate so much your belt is not cutting off the circulation to your legs.

Yes, I am speaking from experience.

And, of course, you can overdo it at Paseo Grill if you so choose. Just follow the patent-pending Elwell Method:

1. Go alone.

2. Order like there are three of you.

3. Finish everything.

4. Dessert? Oh, well, I shouldn’t, but let’s just look at the menu.

5. Repeat forever.

Before we get to the food, let me make one more recommendation: get a reservation. And if you want one of those nice curtained tables, the ones where you get a little extra privacy and romance, ask.

The Food

Some dishes remain on the Paseo Grill menu ever after more than a decade in business. That’s a pretty good sign you’ve got a classic on your hands.

Gazpacho with shrimp

While they’re certainly not afraid of keeping beloved items around, the restaurant is always working on new specials and seasonal meals. If you go this summer, I highly recommend the gazpacho ($7) with an added shrimp ($3).

Gazpacho is what happens when somebody says, “What if you could drink salsa?” It’s a chilled, slightly chunky fresh tomato soup with lots of cucumber and red bell pepper and garlic and garden-y goodness that finds that sweet spot between big flavors and small form factor. You can fill up on gazpacho, but it takes a lot of work.

Paseo Grill’s version includes some lovely slices of ripe avocado, which adds a creaminess and a little balance to the tomato’s acidity. There’s also some poblano chile flavor, but none of the heat, which is a nice trick. All in all, I think it’s one of the best gazpachos I’ve had in quite a while.

The shrimp isn’t mandatory, but man, it’s good. The restaurant uses U-12 shrimp, which are enormous.

In shrimp, much like in golf, a smaller number is preferred. U-12 shrimp mean there are less than a dozen shrimp in a pound. They big. If you got three of them and stuck them between your fingers, they’d look like a delicious version of Wolverine’s claws. SNIKT!

This shrimp was cooked perfectly. Just the right amount of snap without any rubberiness from spending too much time in the boil.

This is a specialty of Paseo Grill. These folks know how to cook shrimp, as I found when I tried the shrimp and crab johnny cake appetizer ($6) alongside the scallop and crab johnny cake appetizer ($9).

Diver scallop with crab johnny cake

These aren’t on the menu, but I wish they were, because more people need to try them. But now you know, you smarty you. You’ll stroll in to Paseo Grill and casually say to your server, “Hey, I heard about the shrimp and scallop johnny cakes. I’ll have one of each…OR ELSE.”

Johnny cakes are thin, corny pancakes, and they add a mild, hearty sweetness to each bite. Each one is topped with either a U-12 shrimp or a diver scallop, which is then stacked with lump crab and drizzled in beurre blanc (aka white butter sauce).

Shrimp with crab johnny cake

The scallop is buttery and smooth, but it’s a mild flavor that lets the sweetness of the corn and crab to come through strongly. The shrimp is a bit more briny, more assertive, but it’s gorgeously seared and has more texture, too.

I absolutely gobbled these down like a monster and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. My pal Elise told me they can even fashion it into an entree of sorts for those who request it and, you know, I endorse that decision unreservedly.

But, if you’re looking for something a tad more filling, might I recommend the duck breast over a raspberry bourbon sauce ($27)? Of course I might. I just did and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!

[flashing lights and sirens take over]
Sauteed duck breast with raspberry bourbon sauce

It’s too late! The cat’s out of the bag and I wish you’d stop putting him in there to begin with! It doesn’t matter how many cops you send it, they can’t stop me from telling everyone about sauteed duck breast from Maple Leaf Farms. You can get it medium rare or medium (or more done, if you’re crazy). It’s such a lovely flavor. Duck is often accused of being “gamey,” but this is nothing of the sort. It’s a singular taste and I think you ought to try it both with and without the sauce to really get to know what good duck is like.

The raspberry bourbon sauce is rich and darkly fruity — it’s a nice sweetness that plays off the richness of the duck without becoming saccharine. You’ll see some crisp, almost Cheerio-looking garnish on top. Those are slivers of the duck skin that have been deep fried. Oh, yes. Try one on its own and then pair it with a piece of the meat.

On the side you get sauteed green beans, tender but with a nice snap, and a toasted pine nut orzo that adds more subtle flavors to each bite.

This is the kind of mix-and-match plate that I love. Every element is great on its own, but as you test each one in concert with another, you really develop an appreciation for the thought and care that went into its creation.

Crème brûlée

If you think you’re done, haha, no you’re not. Paseo Grill’s desserts are not something you’re allowed to miss. I got the crème brûlée ($8) and I’m happy to report it was an excellent decision.

Crème brûlée has long been one of my most-favorite indulgences, and considering my entire job is about indulging myself, I hope you understand the weight of that statement. It’s not always the easiest dish to serve, however. It requires skill and precision, lest you end up with a runny custard or, worse, a dish of sweet scrambled eggs.

The vanilla custard here is set perfectly, lightly quivering in anticipation of your spoon. On top you get a perfect shell of caramelized sugar to crack open. Scoop up some crunchy sugar, custard and a slice of tart strawberry and take your taste buds for a ride.

Paseo Grill might seem like a place of effortless class, but I know for a fact there’s a ton of effort going on behind the scenes to make everything feel stress-free and spectacular for diners. That attention to detail is why the restaurant feels timeless and timely all at once.

Stylish Eats are sponsored by Steven Giles Clothing, a high-end men’s fashion store in Classen Curve providing expertly tailored suits, timeless casual wear and everything in between. Visit them online at stevengilesclothing.com to schedule a fitting or stop in at 5850 N. Classen Blvd. to browse their selection in person.

Read more of Greg’s reviews at http://iateoklahoma.com/reviews

Posted on

The Drake

Written by Greg Elwell

Stylish Eats reviews are brought to you by Steven Giles Clothing, the menswear store for those with discerning taste. Style extends well beyond the confines of clothing, so Steven Giles is teaming up with I Ate Oklahoma to bring you reviews of eateries with a refined palate across the state.

If there’s a single problem with the oysters at The Drake, it is this: They are far too easy to eat. And since they are purchased by the oyster, that can quickly rack up a hefty bill.

Which is why, in those fleeting daydreams in which I’ve won the lottery, I tend to imagine walking into that establishment, removing my monocle and ordering shell after shell of freshly shucked oysters until I am at risk of being arrested by Aquaman.

A colony of oysters

It’s not that The Drake is the only place in town to get oysters — if anything, since it opened in 2015, I’ve noticed more and more restaurants serving them — but it’s the only place where you can get a variety of types to try.

Is that important? Imagine if every bar in town only served one kind of wine. It might be a good one, sure, but it’s hard to imagine finding a deep and abiding love for wine if all you’ve ever had is cabernet sauvignon.

And much like we talk about “terroir” when it comes to wine — aka, the taste of the land — when we discuss oysters we can consider “merroir”: the taste of the water. Different species of oysters look and taste different, but it can also depend on where they’re grown and how.

You might not delve that deep into it while sitting at the oyster bar, but for people who are interested in expanding their palates, dining at The Drake is a real opportunity. (That said, if you want to split a dozen gulf oysters with me at Brent’s Cajun or Pearl’s, just say the word.)

The oyster selection is part and parcel of being A Good Egg restaurant. Owners Keith and Heather Paul have a golden touch when it comes to opening new eateries. In the past several years they’ve expanded from Cheever’s Cafe to a portfolio that runs the gamut — RedPrime, RePublic, Tucker’s Onion Burgers, Kitchen No. 324 and others. The thought and care put into their establishments is renowned.

You can see and feel that eye for detail all over The Drake. The long oyster bar. Sparse decorations. Wide, circular booths designed for parties to share plates. While that “family-style” aesthetic has quietly faded into the background, I still firmly believe this is a restaurant that begs you to taste and trade with your friends.

The Food

I’m not going to pretend to be an oyster expert or imagine that I can cajole you into trying them if you aren’t into it. That said, I am pretty obsessed with trying the oysters at The Drake.

Look: oysters are weird. They’re slimy and briny and you’re not supposed to chew them really. And I think that’s amazing. I legitimately cannot fathom how we came to eat so many different foods, but to drag this one up from the bottom of the sea and pry it open and then decide, yep, I’m going to suck this slimy thing out of this rock is bonkers.

They’re also good with horseradish.

I tried the quilcene, sunset and emerald shoals oysters last time I was there. I’d give you a bunch of recommendations, but there’s a very good chance they’ll have different oysters when you go in. What I will recommend is that you eat at least one of these sans any accoutrement and just taste what an oyster really is. Then you can go crazy with the hot sauce and horseradish and mignonette sauces offered by the restaurant

Shhhhh. Hushpuppies.

If you simply cannot bring yourself to dine on mollusks, there are other worthy appetizers for you. Lona Faye’s 4 ‘H’ Club ($13) are crunchy hushpuppies served with hot sauce, ham and honey butter.

Our server recommended either breaking the hushpuppy in half and making a ham, butter and hot sauce sandwich or wrapping a hushpuppy in ham and then dragging it through the butter and sauce. Of the two, I think the former is the best method, because you get to enjoy the flavorful skin of the hushpuppy unsullied before you get into the savory country ham and the sweet butter.

For entrees, we first tried the lobster roll ($23) with fries and, I mean, this is hardly fair. Think of all the rolls you usually encounter — Tootsie, dinner, my stomach, cinnamon if you’re lucky — and then imagine a tender, buttery sandwich roll stuffed so full of lobster slathered in tarragon mayo that I’m sweating even thinking about it. And that’s before you get to the shot glass full of drawn butter.

Lobster roll

Look at this thing! There’s a claw! This is really good lobster in a sandwich! Oh, it was heaven. I’ve had lobster rolls here and there, but this one took the cake. The meat was tender and light with enough mayo to keep everything well lubricated, but not so much as to overwhelm the delicate taste of the lobster. $23 is a lot for a sandwich, yes, but I don’t think anyone walks away from this plate feeling less than satisfied.

People often think blackened means hot, but that’s not always the case. Blackened spice is a) not black and b) more focused on flavor than heat. A blend of onion, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne (among other variations), it certainly can give your tongue a jolt, but it all comes down to the proportions.

The Drake’s blackened redfish ($27), for instance, has tons of flavor — necessary on a mild fish like this — but I didn’t find it particularly scorching. Ditto for the lovely dirty rice that accompanied the fish.

Blackened redfish

Redfish is ideal for those who don’t like their fish too fishy and blackened spice lends it a lively warmth. The fish itself is firm in texture, but yields readily to the fork, flaking apart into big chunks. Load up a fork with a nice piece of fish, be sure to get some garlic herb butter and pile on the dirty rice.

While I generally eschew ordering non-seafood items at seafood restaurants, this is Oklahoma, which means The Drake is bound by law to offer chicken and beef, as well. My personal weakness is for the black mac and chicken ($15), which has been a stellar menu item since opening night.

Unlike the blackened redfish, black mac gets its name from the squid ink pasta — which is actually spaccatelli, instead of macaroni. Don’t worry about your noodles tasting like squid, however. The flavor of this dish comes from big chunks of chicken, red pepper flakes and Grana Padano cheese.

Black mac and chicken

Oh, Grana Padano. I will forever love Parmigiana Reggiano, but this Italian cheese is truly captured my heart. It has the same nuttiness as Parmigiana, but it melts so much nicer, coating the pasta to form flavorful sticky clumps of noodles and chicken. My friend Megan bravely took a few bites, despite my growling, and she seemed to enjoy it before I grabbed the dish away from her and began licking it.

At this point, even the waitress only jokingly asked, “So did you save room for dessert?” because we obviously had not. Saving room is not one of my skills. But stubbornly forcing more food into my body than should be able to fit is one of my skills, so we split a slice of lemon cloud pie ($8).

Lemon cloud pie

The crumbly crust is made of crushed Biscoff cookies — a gourmet touch that is much appreciated — which gave the pie a lovely sweet and salty base. On top is a blend of limoncello and whipped cream that has a tart sting followed by a gentle, sugary embrace. It’s like getting slapped and then immediately kissed. And then going back in for another slap. Truly, it’s no wonder this has become such a staple at The Drake.

And The Drake, in its short time, has become a staple in Oklahoma City. Seafood will never be the norm in our landlocked state, but I’m glad to have places like this to give us fine dining options beyond beef.

Stylish Eats are sponsored by Steven Giles Clothing, a high-end men’s fashion store in Classen Curve providing expertly tailored suits, timeless casual wear and everything in between. Visit them online at stevengilesclothing.com to schedule a fitting or stop in at 5850 N. Classen Blvd. to browse their selection in person.

Read more of Greg’s reviews at http://iateoklahoma.com/reviews

Posted on

St. Mark’s Chop House

Written by Greg Elwell

Stylish Eats reviews are brought to you by Steven Giles Clothing, the menswear store for those with discerning taste. Style extends well beyond the confines of clothing, so Steven Giles is teaming up with I Ate Oklahoma to bring you reviews of eateries with a refined palate across the state.

Eating a meal with me making several concessions.

  1. We will 100% order too much food. Like a suspicious amount of food.
  2. Despite attempts to make conversation, I will spend a fair amount of time scribbling into a notebook.
  3. I’m there the entire time, which isn’t ideal for most people.
  4. The camera is coming out and it’s not going back in its case until I have a halfway decent picture of everything on the table.

The first three generally don’t bother the other patrons, but taking out a DSLR and standing at the table making vague grunts at every picture I take can get grating fast. And I was especially worried about it at St. Mark’s Chop Room.

Taking a bunch of pictures at Taco Bell will draw confused looks and creating a photo shoot at a casual sit-down restaurant might raise some eyebrows, but here’s the thing about St. Mark’s: there are only six tables.

I turned on my little ring light to get pictures of my steak and legitimately hoped none of the other guests would get up and try to take a swing at me.

Not that the clientele at this Nichols Hills steakhouse is prone to fisticuffs, but I don’t want to be the jackass messing up someone’s special night out.

Make no mistake: St. Mark’s Chop Room is absolutely a special night out, whether you’re celebrating something or not. There’s something very intimate about the sparsely decorated room. You cannot get away from anyone in the restaurant. At best you might hide around the corner of the bar, but everyone can hear everyone.

It’s not a loud restaurant or an uncomfortable one. It’s small. But that’s by design. It’s cozy, but it retains an air of sophistication.

Everything feels precise and thought out in a way many restaurants aren’t.

The Food

The prices at St. Mark’s demand thought, not just from the kitchen but on your part as well. They want everything to be worth your money as much as you do. So you should choose carefully and listen to your server.

Eleven times out of ten, your server is going to know exactly what you should order. Ask their advice and take it — and that goes for just about everywhere.

My friend Megan bravely threw herself on the Greg-shaped grenade and joined me for an evening of indulgent gluttony. She was there for the food. I wanted her there to avenge my death in case any of the other patrons got mad at me for meticulously documenting everything in photos.

Before ordering, our server brought out fresh popovers with butter and jam. I’m not terribly familiar with popovers, but the best description I can think of is like a very eggy dinner roll that you probably need to eat with a fork. Megan compared it to a savory bread pudding, but instead of being wet it was pliable.

“Don’t fill up on bread!” yells the voice in my head, well, sorry voice, but I love bread. I’ll fill up on bread all the live-long day, doo-dah, doo-dah. The jam was delightful, but I was more than content than to just drench the whole mess in butter.

Next came a plate of truffle-glazed wagyu beef bacon ($16) and I think it’s a good time to tell you about St. Mark’s beef.

Lots of steakhouses talk about getting prime beef, which means that the meat is in the top three percent of graded beef. (Not all beef is graded, however, and some producers have to pay to get meat graded, so there’s some pay-to-play involved in the system.) To get prime beef, restaurants source it from all over the country.

St. Mark’s gets their beef from one place: Iron Horse Ranch in Macomb, Oklahoma. It’s wagyu beef, which literally translates to “Japanese cow.” Wagyu are four breeds of Japanese cattle. It’s probably most famous because of Kobe beef, which comes from wagyu raised in Hyōgo Prefecture. We don’t need to get into the weeds here, but wagyu is a much sought after beef and, considering Jonathon Stranger is part of the team at St. Mark’s, you can be sure it’s locally and ethically raised.

Beef bacon, like pork bacon, comes from the belly. The marbling makes this fatty cut very juicy and tender. Honestly, if it had just been a plate of bacon, I probably would have been happy. I mean, I love bacon.

But the truffle-glazed beef bacon comes coated in a slightly sweet, umami-rich sauce along with a wedge of high-end bleu cheese and a peppery cocoa puree that had the texture of coffee grounds, but spread easily onto the bacon.

I know it’s my job to describe this to you, but my mind is going in every different direction because the flavor went everywhere. It’s a rollercoaster you want to stay on almost as much as you want to take every piece of it apart and figure out how it works. The cheese is tart and funky, but mellows quickly. The coca puree is spicy and sweet and dark and rich. The bacon has a gently chew to it — more substantial than carpaccio but not quite as sturdy as steak.

Megan and I did the polite dance in of constantly leaving a little bit more for each other, but when push came to shove, we both wanted that last nub of cheese and it quickly became clear she was prepared to cut a bitch.

We split a house salad ($12), which was described as all locally foraged. The base of the salad were microgreens tossed in a blackberry vinaigrette with thinly sliced pear, pickled egg, heirloom tomatoes and cheese. This is another instance where you’ll want to take it apart to taste every item separately and then combine them to find out what you like so much. For me, it was the peppery greens, the sweet-tart dressing and pear. The texture was phenomenal, crisp and tender, with a lovely fruity flourish.

“ARE YOU EVER GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE STEAKS?”

Easy, baby. Let’s not rush. Just like a great steak, this review is meant to be savored. Light a candle. Turn on some Enya. Let’s get romantic and discuss the importance of side dishes.

Okay, yes, it’s not a steakhouse without steak and St. Mark’s is definitely focused on the meat. But without great sides, even a top-notch steak can seem one note. So please, please, please do yourself a favor and order the roasted seasonal vegetables ($12).

A plate of Brussels sprouts, carrots and asparagus might not flip all your switches, but these were exceptionally done. The sprouts had a delicious crispy char. The heat opened these mini cabbages up and caramelized the sugars throughout to create a roasty salty treat. The carrots were…unbelievable. I’m not someone who gets effusive about carrots a lot, but good lord, great produce handled carefully and cooked minimally can be eye-opening good. Asparagus is always a joy, frankly, and these tender spears were full of that fresh green spring flavor balanced with roasted oil and gentle seasoning.

The rustic charms of the roasted vegetables balanced well with the bold punch of truffle parmesan pomme frites (aka fancy french fries). Delicately shredded parmesan and bits of greens decorated thin, crispy fries that I would have grabbed by the handful and shoved into my mouth in any other setting. The truffle oil is applied judiciously, thank goodness, which means you get a hint of it without getting completely overwhelmed with mushroom flavor.

For that, you should get the roasted maitake mushrooms, which are exactly what they sound like. Maitakes are commonly known as hen of the woods mushrooms and they are multi-chambered, giving them lots of surface area for roasting to have an effect.

You know how people say mushrooms taste meaty? I don’t always agree. But these tasted meaty as all get out.

Okay, let’s talk steaks. I had the 14-oz. ribeye ($48) cooked medium-rare. A ribeye is a fattier cut than just about any other steak I can think of, but that means a lot more flavor. It’s the beefiest of steaks and quite tender, thanks to all that fat that soaks into the meat as it cooks.

The crust was phenomenal, crisp and dark, but it easily gives way to the rich, red meat underneath. When I say this was the definition of medium-rare, I mean it was edge-to-edge perfection. And even when I got a particularly fatty bite, it wasn’t chewy — it just melted with each bite.

Megan got a 6-oz. tenderloin ($42) that was so tender it dated a girl for a year before giving her a chaste peck on the cheek. She got it rare, because she’s awesome and a little scary, and it was also cooked to the perfect temperature. The crust was flavorful, which is big on a filet. Tenderloins are exceedingly mild thanks to a very low fat content, but this was an all-around excellent steak.

These aren’t steaks that require a lot of sauce, but if you’d like to order one, let me recommend perigueux sauce ($7) made with Madeira wine and truffles. It’s rich and adds another savory, umami note to your meat. (It’s also pretty awesome for dipping pomme frites, in case you were wondering.)

For dessert, we shared the seasonal blueberry cobbler with ice cream and, despite being so full at this point it was basically a prequel to the scene in “Se7en” we could hardly stop eating this. The fruit was sweet, but balanced with a mild tartness. The creamy ice cream paired well with the crunch of the crust and granola scattered on top.

I think it’s perfectly okay to St. Mark’s for a glass (or bottle) of wine and a dessert. In fact, I’m kind of planning on it in the very near future.

Stylish Eats are sponsored by Steven Giles Clothing, a high-end men’s fashion store in Classen Curve providing expertly tailored suits, timeless casual wear and everything in between. Visit them online at stevengilesclothing.com to schedule a fitting or stop in at 5850 N. Classen Blvd. to browse their selection in person.

Read more of Greg’s reviews at http://iateoklahoma.com/reviews

Posted on

Stella Modern Italian Cuisine

Written by Greg Elwell

Stylish Eats reviews are brought to you by Steven Giles Clothing, the menswear store for those with discerning taste. Style extends well beyond the confines of clothing, so Steven Giles is teaming up with I Ate Oklahoma to bring you reviews of eateries with a refined palate across the state.

Before you ever set foot inside, Stella Modern Italian Cuisine makes a statement. Alongside some other buildings on North Walker Avenue, the restaurant seems to stand taller with a rounded entryway stacked high with layers of glass. Inside, guests are treated to a circular waiting area with a view of the pizza oven blazing away. Past curtains to the right and a hallway to the left, there are a few well-appointed dining rooms to accommodate parties big or small.

But when the weather is right, the best seat in the house is actually slightly outside the house. Stella recently installed a new patio area, replete with outdoor fireplace, and it’s a really lovely spot to enjoy Oklahoma City’s too-few spring days with a glass of wine.

Grilled lamb T-bone

There’s an easy elegance to Stella, or at least it looks easy. I’m sure owner Lori Burson puts serious work into making the restaurant as welcoming to those dressed for a night at the symphony as it is for schlubby food writers and their ilk.

It’s kind of cinematic, if that makes sense. Something about the way the light filters through the windows and the servers share conspiratorial smiles with patrons and the long, cool bar make it seem like you’re living in a movie…or at least in the background of one.

But whether or not the cameras are on, the star of the show is executive chef Melissa Aust’s menu. Time slows down when the server approaches the table, because you know you’re in for a treat.

Aust is definitely a believer that we eat first with our eyes, because she doesn’t let less-than-appetizing dishes escape her kitchen. Her palate is matched with her eye for color and design, ensuring the plates that are set in front of you will be as visually appealing as they are delicious.

The Food

The menu at Stella isn’t expansive, but fewer choices don’t exactly make it easier to choose. One luxury you can enjoy, at least, is the understanding that whatever you get, it’s going to be good.

As an appetizer, I can think of few I’d rather share (or keep to myself) than smoked salmon rillette ($14). The plate is like a lovely Italian picnic of lightly pickled vegetables, mizuno salad, toast points and a jar of salmon rillette.

Smoked salmon rillette

What is a rillette? I’m glad you asked! It’s similar to a pate in some ways, but instead of liver, it’s meat that’s slowly cooked in fat until it’s so tender it can be shredded. It basically becomes a textured pink paste, perfect for smearing on toast.

Everything on this plate is wonderful. The green beans, caper berries and red onions are tasty, but the carrots absolutely blow me away. Perfect texture. The pickling gives it a mild fruity sourness and the crunch is entirely satisfying. I’m kind of obsessed with those carrots. I keep checking Facebook to see if they’re in a relationship with anybody.

The roasted veggie pizza ($13) is another great meal for one or a starter for two or three. The crispy, crackery crust has a satisfying snap and pairs well with the gentle sweetness of the charred artichokes and onions and bell peppers.

Have you ever tried vegetables? I ask that semi-seriously, because there are a lot of people who don’t, as a rule, ever eat vegetables. Ease yourself into this bold new world of food with vegetable risotto ($12 at lunch/$18 at dinner).

Vegetable risotto

First thing you’re hit with is a serious pop of umami flavor — the rich taste usually associated with meat — followed by a gloriously mild green sweetness from sweet peas and asparagus. The slow-cooked rice releases its starch into the broth to create a creamy sauce that ties the dish together. Marscapone adds a salty burst that compliments the overall nuttiness of the risotto. It’s incredibly satisfying, but not heavy on the stomach.

Maybe it’s because of my toxic masculinity or because I was born without a soul, but I’ve never been particularly conflicted about eating cute animals. You don’t need to dress it up with “game” or “venison” or “mutton” for me. I’ll eat a deer. I’ll eat a lamb.

And I did eat a lamb at Stella. If the lamb T-bones ($32) trouble your conscience, that’ll end shortly after the first bite. The perfect fatty, juicy, meaty goodness of the lamb will push your worries to the baaack of your mind.

Kudos to Aust for this dish. The char is glorious and the blend of seasoning, including a touch of fennel in the vinaigrette on top, is perfection. There’s a lot going on there, but not in a “this is a jumbled mess” kind of way. It’s a lot of layers of flavor that are all pushing the dish in the right direction. Everything is distinct, but it works together.

The lamb is served atop a bed of red pepper quinoa. It’s mildly sweet and warm and hearty and it soaks up every bit of stray juice that escapes the T-bones.

Also, let’s talk about etiquette: If you don’t have the self-confidence to pick up this bone and strip all the meat off of it, you better take it home. I’m not a big believer in judgement, but wasting any little bit of this is definitely a sin.

Wild boar bolognese

New to the spring menu is wild boar bolognese ($14 lunch/$18 dinner) and I hope chef Aust can find a way to keep it around for a while. The pork has a soft sweetness to it and a touch of spice that I found comforting. The fettucine was tender and soaked up the herbaceous sauce for a beautiful bite.

For a more straightforward meatiness, the long-lived braised beef short rib pasta ($14 lunch/$22 dinner) is as tender as a sonnet written by a teddy bear about its favorite blanket. The rigatoni is a great base for the spicy pomodoro sauce and piles and piles of succulent fall apart beef. There’s a reason short rib is so beloved by chefs. It can become anything from pot roast to Korean barbecue to this deeply flavorful and complex beefy delight.

I’m going to tell you right now that you probably don’t have room for dessert. I didn’t. But you can’t let a little thing like being physically unable to move stop you from the Stella candy bar ($8).

The Stella candy bar

It will not look like a candy bar, I should warn you. There will be a long rectangle of chocolate ganache, but then there are swirls of peanut butter mousse and a scoop of sea salt and caramel gelato and crisp pieces of vanilla honeycomb. Mix and match as you please, but here’s the upshot — it’s like eating the most decadent Snickers bar ever. Share this with someone. Do not try to take it on yourself. Grab your half-elf and your mage and roll a 20 and just hope you can handle this level of richness.

Burson has built a stellar restaurant in Stella and under the inspired hand of Aust, this has become a must-visit spot in Midtown and all of Oklahoma City.

Stylish Eats are sponsored by Steven Giles Clothing, a high-end men’s fashion store in Classen Curve providing expertly tailored suits, timeless casual wear and everything in between. Visit them online at stevengilesclothing.com to schedule a fitting or stop in at 5850 N. Classen Blvd. to browse their selection in person.

Read more of Greg’s reviews at http://iateoklahoma.com/reviews