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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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