A Day in Oklahoma City

Is Oklahoma a Southern state or a Western state? It might take you all day to decide and when you do, let me know. But while you’re thinking about that, how about breakfast at the best restaurant in downtown OKC?

Kitchen 324

That’s green eggs and ham with prosciutto and arugula over an english muffin topped with poached eggs and pesto and it was just the right combination of fresh and salty with no greasiness. The chefs at Kitchen No. 324 make everything from scratch using fresh local produce and as far as I can tell, this is the only farm to table restaurant in downtown OKC. They also have killer pastries, cold pressed juices and great coffee and they’re open for dinner 5 days out of the week. I ate here three different times and everything I had was stellar.

After breakfast, gear yourself up for a sobering experience and visit the Memorial Museum of the OKC bombing in 1995.

OKC Memorial

I know this sounds like a grim adventure, but the museum is a gorgeous memorial space to those who died in the blast and the bravery of all the responders who worked for weeks to uncover bodies and sort out what happened. They deserve to be remembered and it’s heart wrenching to walk through the Gallery of Honor where photos of the people who died are accompanied by little mementos their families created to represent them. I appreciate that the museum designers focused more on the memorial aspect of the museum and less on the whys and wherefores of the bombing since it’s difficult to absorb the senselessness of  this kind of anti-government protest.

Memorial Fence

This bombing helped shape Oklahoma City and anyone who visits here will see the city differently after visiting this memorial. The Memorial museum is open every day and adult tickets are $12.

If you want something less emotionally rigorous, the OKC Museum of Art has an incredible Chilhuly glass exhibit

Chilhuly

They’re also featuring a “Gods and Heroes” exhibit of Renaissance pantings from the Parisian Ecole de Beaux Arts. This museum is open Tues-Sun with a $12 admission fee but it only costs $5 on Thursdays after 5pm.

The Memorial Museum and the Museum of Art can each be seen in an hour and they’re easy walking distance from each other.

After your morning museum, take a walk over to Bricktown, the entertainment district of OKC.

Bricktown OKC

There’s quite a bit to do in this neighborhood including the ballpark where you can watch the RedHawks play and the banjo museum. There’s also a one mile long canal with water taxis and several restaurant options for lunch. I’d recommend Tapwerks with an extravagant beer list including over 200 beers on tap.

Tapwerks

Get a taste of some of Oklahoma’s finest beers in the sampler above (I was partial to the Dead Armadillo) and order a burger made with pure Oklahoma beef. This is a pleasant pub in which to spend an afternoon drinking way too much beer but I’d recommend getting out before that happens and walking down to the Bricktown river landing along the canal where you can see some incredible full sized sculpture commemorating the pioneers crossing the plains.

Bricktown exchange

And catch a river boat up the Oklahoma River.

Riverboat Cruise

This cruise is about 3 hours long in it’s entirety and traverses several miles of the Oklahoma river through a couple of locks where you can watch the mechanisms control the river depth. The boat cabin is air-conditioned and beautifully appointed with little tables and a bar and it’s very soothing just to watch the water drift past. You could take the cruise in a big loop or get off at any of the 4 landings and pick the boat up again on the way back. Each landing costs $6 for adults and $3 for kids.

We stopped at the Exchange landing and went to see Stockyards City, the Western district inside OKC. In nice weather, walk the 2 mile trail along the river from the landing into the city.

Stockyards City

Stockyards City is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the place to buy western wear, saddles, dreamcatchers and turquoise jewelry. It’s also home to the world’s largest cattle market with livestock auctions every Monday and Tuesday morning at 8am. If you want to hang out here and eat dinner, go to Cattleman’s Steakhouse and try a true Oklahoma Steak.

But I’d recommend getting back on the boat and getting off at the Bricktown landing and walking up to Ludivine at Hudson and 7th (or seriously, catch a cab because it’s already been a long day!)

Ludivine menu

It’s a close call as to whether Kitchen 324 or Ludivine is my favorite OKC restaurant. Both are farm to table restaurants that support local farmers and ranchers and serve seasonal food prepared in unpretentious atmospheres.

Ludivine

That’s the roasted striped bass dinner for 2 with seasonal veggies, roasted jalapeños and homemade tortillas.

I think I might come down in favor of Ludivine where the chefs change their menu up daily depending on the market and their bar serves a blue plate special every Monday night for $10 and donates some of the cash to charity. I really enjoyed my meals at this place and I would recommend ordering the bone marrow and then asking the bartender to give you a “bone marrow shot.” Don’t worry about it, just try it! And make sure someone gets video…

If you still feeling like getting out on the town after dinner, go a few streets north to 16th where the Plaza District is revitalizing an old neighborhood.

Plaza District

During the day the vintage stores and one-of-a-kind boutiques in this neighborhood are worth a look and at night Pie Junkie is open until 9pm on Fridays and the recently renovated Lyric Theatre has a year round season including works by new playwrights. If you feel like a nightcap, The Mule is open late and has a great cocktail list.

Fall is the perfect time to visit Oklahoma City. Try some great local food and get a taste of this Southern/Western city!

Americana along Route 66 and eating at Samar with Stephan Pyles

The end of my day and the beginning of my day belong in different universes. I started my day here:

I’m a fan of the Waffle House and the one I visited in Joplin MO was a particularly good one. Nice and clean, fast service, good food, in and out the door in about 30 minutes, which put me on the road late morning, headed out on the classic American road trip road:

Route 66 is hundreds of miles long and winds through several states and I’ll see parts of it here and there as I head further west. All along this road are pieces of Americana left over from the decades between 1950-1980 when families (including mine) took long road trips. Some of these pieces remain, like this classic:

Hugh Davis built the Blue Whale of Catoosa as an anniversary gift to his wife in the 1970s and surrounded it with a picnic area, a pond and a zoo in an Ark. The Ark has since fallen apart and in the 80’s the whale also fell into disrepair but then some Whale Boosters (I love those two words together) raised money and rebuilt it and gave it a fresh coat of paint.

Now the whale has a curator (with business cards) who remains devoted to keeping this little roadside attraction in good shape.

A little further down the road is another Route 66 attraction:

Recently rebuilt after a fire destroyed everything except the 4 rock walls and the giant iron stove in the kitchen. The owner, Dawn Welch, was the model for the car “Sally” in Cars and the café serves down home food. I stopped and had some great peach cobbler, but knowing what the evening had in store for me I’d have had a cup of coffee and taken a picture and kept on driving.
I did a lot of driving today and didn’t see much beyond those two attractions. I’d have liked to stay on Route 66 but I had to go south to Dallas where friends and dinner reservations were waiting. It wasn’t a frantic day of driving but I didn’t get any yoga in either, so I was happy to get out of the car at 6pm when I finally pulled into town. I got a brief chance to talk to my high school friend Cynthia, her kids and her parents before she and I changed and headed downtown to go to Samar.

Samar is a Stephan Pyles restaurant, named one of Esquire’s 20 best new restaurants of 2010. Stephan Pyles is a James Beard award winner, he’s had his own TV show and he’s the only celebrity chef with whom I have any connection because he happens to be good friends with my friends Scott and Cynthia. Don’t you love it when that happens? I met Stephan the last time I was in Dallas but didn’t get to eat at his restaurants so I wanted to make sure I did this time.
It was Tuesday night so we didn’t have trouble getting a table on the patio. We expected that maybe Scott would join us so we told the waiter to set the table for 3 and she took the 4th place setting away. She then brought us drinks and we ordered the first couple plates. Samar’s food merges influences from India, Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean. Plates are meant to be shared and that means we’d get to taste a lot of different things. We figured we’d order 4 or 5 plates and share them all. The first plate came out:

House made naan with hummus, moutabal (smoked eggplant, like babaganoush) and labne (thick creamy yogurt).

And the waiter brought a 4th plate and said “Scott and Stephan should be here in about 10 minutes.” Oh good, Scott’s going to make it. Wait a minute, Stephan? Stephan Pyle’s coming to eat with us at his own restaurant? We get to eat with the chef? Whoa.

AWESOME.

And then the Executive Chef – Jonathan – came out to introduce himself and say that Stephan had called ahead and asked him to prepare the chef’s tasting menu for us and did that sound ok? He would just have the waiter take the menus because we wouldn’t need them and since Stephan was running late, he said to just start bringing food out. If there was anything we needed, just ask. It was a pleasure to cook for us. Thanks for coming in.

Let’s be very clear that from this point forward I cannot be objective because I’m sitting on the breezy cool patio of a gorgeous restaurant created and designed by a famous award winning chef who will now be ordering for me and eating with me. It simply doesn’t get better than that.

But perhaps a tasting of pictures? How about my favorite subject to start, “patatas y chorizo con huevo organico,” potatoes and chorizo with a fried egg:

Or this called “Tres Vasos” filled with such esoteric things as lemon air, vanilla scented potatoes and foie gras mousse:

Possibly this? “manti maa lehme,” “Lahmacun” and “battah tangine maa couscous” – or lamb “pizza,” Turkish pasta in a yogurt garlic sauce so good you want to drool on yourself and duck confit over couscous:

And that’s just a sampling! We ate things off the menu, we ate things I can’t remember, we ate things I didn’t take pictures of because I was eating. We ate for hours.

And Stephan actually took time from his busy life and the planning he’s doing for an event this weekend called the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Summit and he ate with us. He told us where he got some inspiration for the dishes and recounted stories of hunting for restaurant furnishings in the Damascus markets and fighting with his designer to get them all incorporated. He was charming and lovely and interested in the food and when we finished everything he said “dessert?” then looked around the table and said to the waiter “bring us one of everything.”
Here’s are some of my favorites:

I started with the candied ginger stuffed semolina croquettes (at the bottom right) and put my hands in the air in what Scott called a “Pentecostal moment” because I just couldn’t contain myself over the subtle aromatic flavors. My final bite was the dark dense rich delicious Turkish coffee pot de crème (bottom left) and that small pot seemed to last forever because the flavors were so intense and powerful. Stephan had a bite of everything, seemed to make notes of things he might change and then had to run back to his obligations. But we three stayed while the moon came up over the patio. They lit the firepit and we talked about art, photography, travel and pending screenplays over fragrant licorice tea and a hookah pipe with rose flavored smoke.

Perfectly perfect perfection. Thank you to Jonathan for incredible food. Thank you to Stephan for his unparalleled generosity. Thank you to Lisa for her waitstaff skills arranging the table and smiley patience while I took pictures during her descriptions of all the food. And to Scott and Cynthia for companionship, conversation, smoke blowing, story telling and years and years of shared history.

I’m too stuffed to move and have yoga tomorrow. Pray for me.
See you tomorrow.