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.
Lunch is, paradoxically, the most laid-back meal of the day and the most stylish.
Why? Because we’re adults and adults have jobs (for the most part) and those jobs require a modicum of style (for the most part) to meet dress codes. Yes, there will always be jerks like me who get to wander around life in T-shirts and jeans and socks that don’t match any other part of their wardrobe, but even I like to get gussied up on occasion.
I mean, it’s nice to look nice. And looking nice is, in its way, a sign of respect for those around you. That’s kind of why businesses have dress codes to begin with—it’s a sign of respect for your co-workers and any customers or clients with whom you might interact.
Lunch can be a lowest-common-denominator meal. I have seen many a well-dressed man and woman grabbing fast food from a drive-thru or tempting fate at a messy barbecue restaurant. But options for an upscale lunch in Oklahoma City are few and far between, which is why I was over the moon when Ludivine announced it would be serving lunch in their fancy new space adjacent to R&J Lounge and Supper Club.
The high-end market has grown enormously in Oklahoma City over the last decade, but if you’re looking for a catalyst in our emergence as a “food city,” you really have to talk about Ludivine. Chef and owner Russ Johnson opened the hyper-seasonal, ultra-local eatery with then-partner Jonathon Stranger, who has since left to open En Croute, St. Mark’s Chop Room, Osteria, etc., and the impact on Okie palates cannot be overstated.
Were you eating bone marrow before Ludivine? Were you paying attention to where your beef comes from or how the changing seasons impact the quality of your salad? Because I wasn’t. And food is literally 95 percent of what my brain does. Sometimes I think it’s concentrating so hard on food that several of my higher functions fall by the wayside.
Can you go get a gyro in a ballgown? Yes. Are burgers still delicious when you’re in a tuxedo? Of course they are. But there’s also something really lovely about having a server bring you immaculately plated dishes when it’s still bright outside. You know what makes for really great Instagram food pics? Lighting. It’s almost as important to making food look good as making good-looking food.
The new Ludivine space is gorgeous, too. There’s a lovely long bar top that wraps around the kitchen and plenty of two- and four-top tables for an intimate tete-a-tete or an informal business lunch while you’re dressed to the nines.
If you haven’t had the bone marrow yet, get the bone marrow. It’s $12, it comes with toast points and pickled shallots and whole-grain mustard and it’s an experience you will come to cherish. “Meat butter” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot with bone marrow and that’s about as accurate as it gets. The roasted bone marrow is meaty and creamy and spreads easily on toast. Pop a pickled shallot on top and enjoy the interplay of richness from the marrow and the sharp, vinegary pop of the shallot against the crunchy toast points.
Soup de moment
Soup de moment ($8) is Russ Johnson’s play on the old soup du jour (aka soup of the day, as the old joke goes), except you’re never sure when the moment will end. I had a tureen of smoked tomato and garlic soup that was so precisely what I needed that I was taken aback.
Tomatoes are full of water, which means that thin membrane is just aching to take on smoky flavors. Pair that smoky acidic bite with the sweetness of roasted garlic and you’ve got a perfect rainy day treat. The only thing that would have made it better was a grilled cheese sandwich cut into triangles.
Ludivine’s lunch menu has four different salads and I’d happily eat any of them, but given my druthers, I’d go back to the arugula, blue cheese, and walnut salad ($11) in a heartbeat. Arugula is a seasonal delight, but if it goes too far out of season, you’re stuck with tough, bitter leaves. That’s not something you have to worry about here. Ludivine’s chefs are some of the toughest critics around. They’re not going to let a tough, bitter salad leave the kitchen.
Arugula, blue cheese, and walnuts salad
What arrives at the tables are tender leaves, fairly well coated in a very tangy housemade blue cheese dressing with toasted walnuts. There’s still a bit of bitterness—that’s just arugula—but it balances well with the sweetness of baby leaves and the big, bold punch of blue cheese.
The handmade noodles ($12) come with your choice of pesto, cacio e pepe, or putanesca sauce (though the GM told me they may be changing putanesca for a different sauce). You can’t go wrong with cacio e pepe, but any of the three are a delicious option.
Speaking of burgers (you know, from, uh…10 paragraphs back), the Wagyu burger ($16) is made with trimmings from Ludivine’s excellent Wagyu steaks they get from Ironhorse Ranch in Macomb. It’s a different preparation daily, but if you’re worried that the kitchen at Ludivine can’t handle cooking a delicious burger then I can’t help you.
Wagyu steak sandwich
More wonderful beef?! Of course! While the Oklahoma Wagyu bavette is a dinner-only dish, you can get some more Wagyu via flank steak in the steak sandwich ($16) or the steak frites ($22). The steak sandwich comes with arugula, shaved onion, and chimichurri sauce on a nice hoagie roll with a side of truffle fries. The steak frites is a bigger piece of meat with truffle fries and chimichurri. So either way you’re getting fries and delicious chimichurri sauce with your achingly tender Wagyu flank steak, which means you simply can’t go wrong.
Chicken schnitzle ($15) is a pounded-thin cut of chicken breast coated with buttery bread crumbs and fried, served with a lemon-y caper sauce and a side of sauteed spinach. Capers aren’t for everyone, but they are definitely for me. The meat is juicy and the breading is rich and satisfying, which plays well off the tartness of the lemon and capers.
The galette complete ($16) is a buckwheat crepe wrapped around a core of rosemary-flavored ham and a mix of emmental and raclette cheeses, with a farm-fresh fried egg on top and a side of chef’s perfect little salad. This is such a lovely little dish, with a delightfully tender crepe and seriously wonderful savory fillings. If you’re looking for something both light and satisfying, this is it.
Ludivine is both very local and very seasonal (and, thirdly, quite picky) so if you go in and the menu doesn’t have something on it that I’ve reviewed here, well, it’s because they took it off the menu for a while. They aren’t going to serve something that sucks and a lot of foods suck when they’re not in season, so if it’s gone, it’s because they decided to make something better. Please choose something else and don’t throw flaming over-ripe tomatoes at me because of a menu change.
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.