Dong-A Style

“Unlike almost every other food culture, the Koreans seem to have f****ed up their food the least.” – Anthony Bourdain

Who's that handsome guy?

Who’s that handsome guy?

Well said, Tony. It’s true. It would seem that nothing is sacred in the world of food once it hits our shores. Our so-called “Chinese” cuisine has birthed things as perverse as egg rolls and fortune cookies. Tim Ferris (another of my spirit animals) points out in The 4 Hour Chef that chains in China have had big success selling “California beef noodles.” You know the Japanese were probably scratching their heads at “California rolls.” We’ve even managed to Americanize something as humble as traditional Mexican food. Was the world really made a better place by the invention of the chimichanga?

Crouching Kimchi, Hidden Rice

Crouching Kimchi, Hidden Rice

Korean food is served in America without alteration. They have not dumbed down their complex, spicy flavor profiles for our vulgar palates. Kimchi, their famous fermented cabbage? Sure. Drink-able sweet potato? Why not. Beef intestine stew? It’s all there. If you’ve eaten Korean food in this country, it’s very likely you would find the same things in any Korean home. And if you haven’t ever eaten it, you’re about to find out that living near an air force base has its perks.

Meet Anastasia: Native of Seoul, good friend, and hairdresser extraordinaire.

I’m lucky to know Anastasia, and especially lucky that she knows her way around Korean food. As luck would have it, Tinker Air Force Base and its surrounding hamlets (Midwest City, Del City, Moore) which straddle Oklahoma city are a hotbed of Korean cuisine. Anastasia’s favorite place (and now mine) is Dong-A in Moore, a short journey down I-35 from Oklahoma City. The restaurant is located in a strip-center next to an other-worldly Korean grocery store which carries colorful, indecipherable packages of things like squid jerky and cylindrical rice dumplings. The whole things smacks of the kind of authenticity you’d expect from a side-street in Seoul.

Spicy Kimchi Stew

Spicy Kimchi Stew

Together with our friends Louden and Igor, we trekked South for an enormous, unforgettable meal. Anastasia conversed with the restaurant’s Korean owners and got us a seat in the barbecue room. Cordoned off from the larger dining room, this chamber of secrets is like having your own private kitchen for the evening. Each table has a built in grill which allows you to––you guessed it––cook your own food. And by food (and this is the best part), I mean meat.

A meal for 4???

A meal for 4???

We had only a small sampling of what the menu has to offer, but the three meat dishes alone probably could have fed the whole Romney family, sister-wives included. Before our beef-stravaganza we had pork belly, the fatty king of all the meats. Brought to the table raw and seared on our personal grill with garlic and a menagerie of side-dishes, the sweet meat allowed us to taste the whole spectrum of Korean flavors. You could try the meat on its own, or add a little bite of spicy vinegar lettuce. Or maybe you’d prefer kimchi, bean sprouts, or a little dip into sesame oil and chili paste. The whole idea is to mix and match and try new combinations, all of which are add new strong flavors and textures.


Step 1


Step 2

Following on the heels of the pork was Bulgogi, Korea’s quintessential marinated beef. Sweet and rich like teriyaki, the beef was nicely complimented by the salty sesame and the tang of kimchi.

Bulgogi. A little rare for my taste.

Bulgogi. A little rare for my taste.

Finally there was Galbi: one beef to rule them all. These are the short ribs, bone in, which allow you to gleefully tear at the meat with your hands (that is, if you enjoy eating like a savage as much as I do). Marinated in soy before we grilled it, this was definitely the meat with the most flavor, even if eating it required a little more fortitude.

She's a beef stylist too.

Watch out, she uses scissors for more than styling your hair.

To say Korean food is “different” is a massive understatement. I mean, where else do you get to use scissors as a utensil? It is indeed un-f***ed up, offering meat dangling with tasty fat and fermented vegetables pungent and spicy enough to make your hair stand on end. This is not food for wimps. But it is a seriously distinct cuisine, like Vietnamese or Indian, which developed its own way of using ingredients and spices. Dong-A is as good as it gets in the Oklahoma City area, offering a fabulous menu beyond what you grill yourself. Not only that, the portions are huge, and everything comes with the obligatory Korean side dishes, all for very reasonable prices (think <;$10 per person).

So if you’re not squeamish about raw meat (why are you reading this?) and you want to try something totally, unapologetically unique, then take the drive down to Moore. I promise there’s nothing else like it.


Dong-A is open Tuesday-Sunday for Lunch and Dinner.

Dong A Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Mad Meal


How bout a bite of… cocktail?

A trip to New York always yields a million things to write about: Sights, experiences, adventures that are just too numerous to recount in the detail they really deserve. I mean, I saw Phillip Seymour Hoffman play Willy Loman in the broadway production of Death of a Salesman AND brushed shoulders with Emma Stone in the same theater. Why aren’t I writing about that??

Well friends, it’s because I wanted (more like needed) to write about my last meal in Manhattan. I needed to commit it to paper while the memory is still fresh, before it fades into that ephemeral, warm recollection of something life-changing but long since passed. That last meal was at none other than Eleven Madison Park. It is indeed located on Madison Park in the flatiron district of Manhattan.

The dining room is a grand, high-ceilinged art deco lobby of a great, unfinished skyscraper, intended to be the headquarters of Metropolitan Life as well as the tallest building in New York before being cut short by the great depression. The restaurant began as a creation of the infamous Danny Meyer, it is now run by executive chef Daniel Humm. An impeccably executed farm-to-table blend of nouvelle cuisine and molecular gastronomy, it sets the standard for chef-owned restaurants.


Goat butter, cow butter, sea salt.

Did I mention it has three Michelin stars? Oh, and it was also named among the top 10 restaurants in the world this year. Getting these accolades is no easy feat. Not only does the food have to be delicious, inventive (which basically means something “weird” needs to be in there nowadays, with the advent of molecular cuisine), and beautifully plated, but if you want to get that third star instead of just two, the service must be perfect. The staff needs to know the menu and wine list inside and out, the tablecloths must be spotless, and even the water holding the table’s flowers must be crystal clear. Aside from not having flowers on the table, Eleven Madison Park goes above and beyond these requirements.

The menu is beautiful in its simplicity. I mean just look at it:


You get four courses, picking your dish based on its main ingredient while the prep on each remains a surprise. But if you ask me what to get at a place like this, I’ll tell you go big or go home. And that means the chef’s tasting menu.

No quantity of adjectives can convey the experience of a meal there. My most humble attempt will simply be to take you through the 13-course tasting menu that occupied a rapturous and unforgettable 3 hours:

Hors D’oeuvres


The meal begins with a mystery: What’s in the box!? But faster than Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en, my curiosity got the better of me. Voraciously tearing into the neat package, I discovered our first course: black and white cookies. Although they looked like the classic New York bakery sweet, equal parts chocolate and vanilla, there’s a twist: these are a savory take on the pastry. The “black and white” are truffle and Parmesan, sandwiching a small dollop of goat butter over brioche. Savory, buttery, just a small bite to tease the palette and anticipate what’s to come.




Ahh, nothing like waking up to a nice, warm cup of tea with some eggs and toast. The next course was precisely that: neatly arranged little sunny-side-up quail eggs, no bigger than my thumbnail, on brioche with sea salt and bacon. To balance out the savory, the eggs are accompanied by a small cup of warm, herbal apple tea and a sprig of thyme.


Yogurt and Chickpeas


Ice-cold Greek yogurt lollipops with curry were sweet and a little tart, with crunchy shells dotted with fried lentils around a soft, creamy yogurt filling. For contrast, the chickpea panisse with a dab of yogurt were warm and savory.


Smoked Sturgeon


This was actually a smoked sturgeon “sabayon” (served in egg shells, no less). Know what sabayon is? It’s okay, I betray my own ignorance by admitting I didn’t know what it was either. Turns out its an italian custard made from egg yolks and whipped until light and fluffy. So this was a fish version of that dessert? Yes. Yes it was. It was the essence of smoked sturgeon in a warm, airy liquid that wasn’t quite foam but wasn’t quite soup either. With just a hint of chive oil, the flavor was breathtaking. This is the kind of dish which simply bears no comparison to anything else. The ingenuity of molecular gastronomy at its best is in this ability to produce completely new foods which manage to be bizarre in their originality while actually tasting delicious.



Time for another surprise: a modern take on the New England clam bake! What you see is a pitcher of clam chowder surrounded by clam two ways (one with chorizo, another with apple), complemented by savory corn and potato cakes.



Cocktail Hour

Our waiter tells us we’re invited back to the kitchen. Huh? Have they confused us for some important Manhattan real estate moguls? Has my blog really gotten that popular? Well, I don’t want to mess up what could be a fortuitous mistake by asking, so off to the kitchen we go. Inside there’s a small table (standing room only) set up for three, with a view of the entire kitchen. This is no mistake at all, but something Eleven Madison Park does for only a few customers! I guess they thought we were “cool,” or my constant picture-taking convinced them I would appreciate a little extra behind the scenes view.


Family in the kitchen

A very nice pastry chef named Becky makes apple cocktails with liquid nitrogen-hardened pomegranate foam as we watch over 50 staff members meticulously prepare food at their stations (on a peak night there are more employees than customers!) The cocktail is light and refreshing and the kitchen is amazing to behold. After this little treat, it’s time to return to the dining room for more.


Becky and the nitrogen





“Variations” on the almond, to be exact, mainly a crispy chip over a tangy cream. This is mixed among greens (mostly flowers) and a balsamic vinaigrette, as well as a salty cured Mangalista ham.

Foie Gras


Often mispronounced, never unwelcome: fatty goose liver. No upscale meal would be complete without it. This one was thinly sliced and coiled, making for a unique presentation, with a dark, sweet black sesame sauce and duck prosciutto.



Whey and I go whey back (see what I did there?). But this isn’t just a workout supplement. This is the liquid runoff of yogurt, served warm and (appropriately) with buttermilk “curds,” as well as gnocchi and spring herbs to cut the heaviness of the broth.




7 courses and we’re only just now getting to the first entree! This is lobster claw poached in Meyer lemon butter. I think that’s worth repeating: POACHED IN MEYER LEMON BUTTER. Served with shellfish bisque and “burnt leek,” which very cleverly cakes the roots of a fresh leek taking on the appearance of dirt.



And finally, the heavy stuff. This was no ordinary beef, but cured and aged ribeye (the best cut, if you ask me), roasted and served with wood sorrel and roasted potatoes. Need I say more?



As much as my auto-correct wanted to make that “chef lady,” Cheuflada is actually correct. What is it? Well, since it’s not quite dessert, it’s the cheese course, of course! It’s a fragrant (read: stinky) cheese which is actually a thick liquid at room temperature. To give it balance and even a little something to hang on to, it is adorned with pearl onions, potatoes, and pickled whole mustard seeds.

Egg Cream


Dessert begins with another New York classic: Egg Cream. This classy beverage transports you back to the soda fountains of yore, and Eleven Madison even uses an antique bottle to make seltzer. In a fun table-side presentation, I learn their egg cream uses orange oil (where the original used chocolate syrup) with the essence of cocoa nib. Mixed with milk and seltzer and stirred to frothy magnificence, the drink is a sweet and refreshing palette cleanser for what will be an incredible dessert.




New York style cheesecake made with goat cheese. Sound good? Well, it is, especially topped with orange sorbet and a chilled vanilla “snow.”



And now the grand finale: could it be anything other than chocolate? This most beloved ingredient still gets special treatment. The plate is a mountain of crispy flakes of “caramelized coco puffs,” and soft, frozen “chocolate snow” (think Dipping’ Dots). All of this is bordered by a sea of Meyer lemon cream sauce and just a touch of olive oil.

In a final touch of poetic creativity, the end is in the beginning. Another box appears before you containing the sweet black and white cookies which had been so successfully quoted at the outset. They’re at the same time unexpected, self-referential, and an ode to classic New York City food. I can think of no better metaphor for the restaurant itself, and the once-in-a-lifetime experience of its food.


Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Inca Roads, Take Me Home

So, what does the average Oklahoman really know about the Incas? Far too little, thanks to their civilization being all but obliterated by the Spanish Conquistadors. To give them some credit, the Spanish didn’t just bring diphtheria, smallpox, forced labor and unparalleled cruelty to the Americas; They also brought some of their more. . . delicate recreational activities which, coalescing with the rugged new terrain and traditions of the native peoples, formed the unique culture of Latin America we know today. The most obvious result of this (and my personal favorite, of course) is the food. Yes, the Spanish had the foresight not only to preserve some Inca recipes, but also to use the indigenous ingredients to create a whole new cuisine.

For some perspective, Europeans did not eat corn or potatoes until they discovered South America. Yes, before the fifteenth century, most of the world had no corn and no potatoes. Corn and its derived products are everywhere now. It’s a part of the food you eat every day in many ways you’re probably not aware of. But it isn’t just the plant that’s pervaded every continent. The ways in which it was used by indigenous peoples (the tortilla, anyone?) have been immortalized in the familiar staples of the Mexican food we all know and love. Latin America may have been conquered by Europe, but its food, in turn, has conquered the world.

So we arrive at Inca Trail, the restaurant in Oklahoma city (and the only one I know of) which specializes in Peruvian cuisine. The first thing I want to get across about this place is that it isn’t Mexican food. Sure there are similarities, heavy use of beans, rice and corn being among them, but the flavors and preparation are something completely unique. And perhaps the best example of Peru’s contribution to food is ceviche.

Ceviche is a blend of chopped seafood (fish, scallops, shrimp, etc.) marinated in lime. There are many different styles, but the dish and most of its variations originated in Peru. Being such a point of national pride, my parents and I decided it would be the best way to start a Peruvian meal (after a complimentary cup of warm soup.) Inca Trail offers four different preparations, but how could we not go for the one called “Leche de Tigre?” ($7.99) That’s “Milk of the Tiger,” which turns out to be an appropriate name in more ways than one. The base of this particular ceviche is the highly acidic liquid runoff used to cure the fish, made up of lime juice and other seasonings. The glass is filled to the brim with the opaque (yes, it looks a little milky), pink liquid, and densely packed with bits of fishy goodness. According to the menu, the dish is both an aphrodisiac and hangover cure. That’s right Kids! Leche de Tigre can be your drink of choice for prom night and the morning after!

That tiger must be hard to milk

Take your first bite and you’ll see what they’re talking about. A spoonful of the fish cocktail is mouth-puckering tart. Served chilled, it manages to have explosive flavor while still being cool and refreshing. The kernels of corn on top, something I’d never seen used in ceviche before, are actually a great idea, providing a nice crunch for contrast. But even after a couple bites it still has time to surprise you. Yes, it’ll be faint at first, but lurking within the glass is the kind of spiciness that sneaks up on you. When your face starts to flush, you’ll realize the dish’s pink tint comes from a healthy dose of chili pepper. But don’t let me dissuade the faint of heart. I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy food and this is just the right amount; Perfect for getting the blood flowing (hey, it is almost valentines day, isn’t it?)

The ceviche is a hard act to follow, but the rest of the meal turned out to be diverse and just as interesting. My meal was the Parrillada Inca ($17.99), a platter of assorted meats (does this come as any surprise?) so big that the sides come on a separate plate. It covers all of the important bases: steak, pork, chicken and sausages, all with a side of rice, beans and Inca salad. The meats are all tender and juicy, grilled and marinated in what the menu calls “traditional Peruvian spices.” The chicken in particular is cooked in a charcoal oven and has great flavor and dark, crispy skin (just the way I like it).

For meat lovers only

Dad ordered the half chicken as its own dish ($9.99), while Mom had the Tacu Tacu ($10.99), a stir fry of rice and beans topped with sirloin steak and salsa criolla. But the best part of this dish, by far, is the fried plantains. This is the one thing I require you to try if you come here. The firmer, less-sweet cousin of the banana, plantains are a revelation when fried. Crisp on the outside, tender and warm in the center, they’re the best natural candy you’ll ever have.

Do u Tacu Tacu?

The menu is too big and diverse to be summed up with just these three dishes, but everything Inca Trail does, it does very well. The meats are all well-seasoned and fresh, with a wide variety of veggies and starches (Peru has over 2800 native varieties of potato, after all). If the plantains don’t satisfy your sweet tooth, they offer some fabulous desserts such as a traditional Flan custard, or ice creams made from fruits native to Peru (both $3.95). Another distinctly Peruvian treat is Chicha Morada ($2.50), a drink that dates back to Inca times made from sweet, purple corn and a hint of fruit juice. In my humble opinion, this was one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory.

Mmm... Chicken

When I think on my meal there, all I can say is: they’ve done it again. This is city has managed to provide a home for yet another restaurant so interesting and well-executed, so far removed from our own culture, it seems to have dropped out of the sky. Like the fabled vehicle that came from somewhere out there just to land in the Andes? Nah, if the Incas really had aliens on their side, Pizarro wouldn’t have stood a chance. The credit for this wonderful food goes to the hard-working people in every culture who, through pure trial and error, tirelessly worked to discover the different combinations of spices and methods of cooking that work so well, and that we now take for granted; And especially to the people who keep those recipes alive so they can be shared in a city like this one. We’re lucky to have them.

*Inca trail is open daily for lunch and dinner. You can peruse their menu here:

Inca Trail Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Fung for All

“There’s no better Chinese food in this city.” So said our waiter on our second visit to Fung’s Kitchen this week, and I’m inclined to agree with him. As my (perhaps limited) experience with Chinese food goes, I’ve had nothing that quite compares to the variety and uniqueness of the flavors on their menu.

The subject of my first review on this blog, Golden Phoenix (which I was very sad to find out closed due to a fire), was an Asian restaurant that dabbled in everything on its enormous menu: a little Vietnamese, a little Chinese, even some of the same dishes that Fung’s offers. In fact, Golden Phoenix is just a few blocks south of Fung’s in Oklahoma City’s bustling “Asian District.” But those are the only comparison to be drawn. Fung’s is all Chinese. Any question of its authenticity can be settled by looking at its menu. And by that I mean the Chinese menu.

Yes, I found out by a happy accident that Fung’s actually carries two different dinner menus. One is marked with a little “A”, which I assume must stand for “American,” and which they must give to people that don’t quite look, er. . . local. It offers all of the Chinese food you’ve probably heard of before: spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken, moo goo gai pan, even the dreaded egg roll. All I can say is don’t waste your time with that. Ask for the “other” menu and buckle up, because it’s impossible not to try something new and interesting.

On all of my visits, the place has been mostly full, and my good friends (Sophie and Grace) and I have definitely been in the minority of caucasians. It’s easy to see why; When you open the massive Chinese menu you’ll see every dish printed first in Chinese characters, and upon reading the English translation, realize that almost every one is something we have simply never heard of in this country. Take the Frogs Legs in Salt & Hot Black Pepper ($12.95), or the Duck Tongues in Salt & Hot Pepper ($12.95); good luck finding those at P.F. Chang’s. The revelation of this place, something which I’ve never experienced in this or any other American city, is that they actually serve food that people eat in China. Imagine that! So if you feel a little lost in this territory, bring a Chinese friend. Don’t have one? Make friends with one of the waiters!

I’m not kidding about that last part. We had the same waiter (named Ray) on both of our visits, and he was extremely helpful in taking us through the menu. But I’ll go chronologically here, and say that on our first night we knew nothing and decided to play it safe with familiar protein and veggies. Grace and I (both on diets, as fate would have it), after perusing the multitude of meat and seafood options, decided to share three dishes: half of a Roast Duck, Barbecue Pork, and Chinese Broccoli. You know it’s a good sign when the person taking your order says “oh good!” with genuine enthusiasm (this in response to the Chinese Broccoli). And I must say, he had reason to be pleased with our choices.

Duck, Duck, Goose!

To start, Chinese Broccoli ($9.25) is absolutely nothing like broccoli broccoli, making me wonder why it’s so named. Cooked in garlic and butter (or oyster sauce, your choice), The vegetable is dark green, soft and leafy, but with crunchy stems and a slight touch of bitter; something between bok choy and spinach. It was also maddeningly delicious, which is an achievement since, after all, we’re talking about a vegetable here.

Not Broccoli Broccoli

The Barbecue Pork ($7.50) was one of many “Chinese Barbecue” items on the menu. For those who have never had it, it’s not the smoky, cancerous Barbecue we’re used to (and don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff), but simply roasted until crispy on the outside with a sweet glaze. The pork is still tender on the inside, with a lot of flavor under a crackling, red, caramelized surface. I would also highly recommend the Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables ($8.95)

Heeere Piggy!

But the real show-stopper here, what I’ve started identifying as “the reason to come back,” is the Roast Duck (half, $9.95). If there’s any question in your mind about what good fat tastes like, let this duck be your answer. When you walk into the restaurant you can see it displayed proudly in the middle of the room, glistening as it beckons to you in its glass case. After watching a gentlemen come out from the kitchen and hack it with a cleaver behind the glass, you’ll be able to enjoy the layers with soft fat and that tasty, gamey meat all encased in that crisp, golden skin. Sure, it may be a little difficult to eat as you have to extricate the edible parts from shards of bone, but every precious bit is worth it.

Everything but the Tongue

We were also persuaded to try the Fresh Shrimp Wonton Soup ($5.75). An absolutely huge bowl for the price, the soup is rich warm broth with dozens of shrimp dumplings happily bobbing on the surface.

I Want Wontons

On our second night Ray made a couple of recommendations, including changing our vegetable to Snow Pea Tips, claiming “they’re better than Chinese broccoli” (he was right). But ok, here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: I asked Ray about the Pig Intestines ($8.25), to which he replied “They’re my favorite! But try the deep fried ones.”

Intestinal Fortitude

I came, I saw, I tasted. And believe it or not, I didn’t regret it. Intestines are pretty tasty. That’s not to say they’re for everyone, as they definitely have a distinct, musky, animal taste that I could only take in small doses. But served sliced with a spicy sauce, cooked crispy on one side, left soft (tissue-y?) on the other, they were definitely rich and interesting, if not a little overpowering.

So, where do I go from intestines? Not anywhere, as it turned out that night, because this food will fill you up. Four dishes split between three people is more than enough here. Three would probably do it (two meats and the vegetable). Taking that into account, did you notice the prices? You can get half a duck for less than $10! Not to mention some of the best-prepared pork you’ve ever had for even less. So if you come with friends, you’re looking at about $8-9 per person, which for exotic, fun food from a faraway land is pretty incredible. They also bring out rice with the meal, in addition to complimentary orange wedges and the obligatory fortune cookies before you leave.

Orange you happy you read this far down?

Whether you’re an adventurous daredevil, or just want a good, hearty meal, Fung’s Kitchen may just change your conception of Chinese food and become a new favorite. It’s definitely become one of mine. Maybe next time I’ll try the duck tongues.

*Fung’s Kitchen is open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Dim Sum starting at 10 am Saturdays and Sundays. A very good Dim Sum at that (I would highly recommend the Shrimp Dumplings and Barbecue Pork Buns).

Fung's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Simply Divine

Just look at that table. . . It’s waiting for you. But don’t let the austere presentation fool you. The simple place-setting gives no hint of what’s in store when you sit down. In fact, the table is a good metaphor for the whole restaurant. It is in the most unassuming of locations (an old Pizza Hut) on a street which usually does the opposite of excite me (May Avenue). But its out of the way location and bare-bones atmosphere are what they need to be and nothing more, turning your focus to what’s really important here: the food. And make no mistake, The Divine Swine is one of the most important and creative things happening in this city’s culinary scene.

Even the name is perfect in its simplicity. It tells you all you need to know, i.e. that this place specializes in pork. And of course you already know that pork is good. There is no meat more juicy, more flavorful, more layered in varying textures from tender meat, to buttery fat and crispy skin. Has there ever been a nobler ingredient around which to theme a restaurant? Out of the infinite number of things you can do with this meat, and I’m willing to bet The Divine Swine covers quite a few you hadn’t thought of.

Take brunch, the meal I was lucky enough to have with my parents at this Mecca of pork. We don’t often associate the stuff with breakfast (aside from bacon and the ham in eggs benedict, but those are just a given, aren’t they?). But this menu does not shy away from boldly going where no bacon has gone before. Just one example is the Candied Bacon French Toast ($8.00), proof of the time-honored truth that bacon really does make everything better.

In addition to the breakfast items served on the Sunday brunch menu, they have what would be your standard lunch fare of sandwiches and salads, but with pork. They have a Ground Pork Burger ($8.00, with bacon, blue cheese and red onion jam, naturally), a Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8.00), even Honey-Glazed Ribs ($6.00). Mom enjoyed the Chef’s Salad ($8.00), which the menu claims changes from week to week, containing on this particular occasion very thick-cut slices of bacon. Dad got the Chicken Sandwich, the menu’s concession to the fact that it’s not a perfect world, and not everyone is in the mood for pork all the time (though they do manage to slip some bacon mayo in there, at least!).

Really, it makes everything better.

As to what your humble food-blogger ordered, how could I resist something called The Whole Hog? Yes, this dish is the ultimate expression of this place’s genius; made up of sausage, bacon, ham, biscuits (mhmm) with pork gravy (that’s pork four ways!), all with a side of eggs and potatoes. It’s everything it sounds like: decadent, filling and, above all, delicious. The bacon and sausage are still sizzling in their own tasty fat, cooked perfectly crispy around the edges while still retaining their juiciness. Perhaps my favorite cut of meat was the ham; thick, pink slices of that pure, concentrated pork flavor I love. The biscuits are like cake, fluffy and thick, drizzled with gravy made from that same rich pork.

The Whole Hog

How about dessert after brunch? Why not! You only live once. Even if the candied bacon french toast was your entree, the desserts here are so phenomenal they’re worth the sugar crash later. I present as my evidence the Candied Bacon Sticky Buns. I think that’s worth repeating: Candied Bacon Sticky Buns. Just try to think about that for a moment without falling into a salivating reverie.

Unfortunately, they were sold out of the sticky buns by the time we were ready to order them, but we can’t say we weren’t warned! The sticky buns go fast, so the restaurant encourages you to order early. But the dessert we had, the Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta with blood oranges, was not at all a let-down. For those unfamiliar, it’s a wobbly, gelatin-based custard served chilled, usually with some sort of sweet sauce. After trying The Divine Swine’s version, I completely forgot about the disappointment of missing out on the sticky buns. There’s no bacon involved and it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Yes, ever. Pairing the typically light panna cotta with the richness of creme fraiche (the slightly more curdled, more cheese-like cousin of whipped cream) is a smart take on the dessert. And with a tart blood orange to contrast the sweetness, every precious, creamy bite is a perfectly balanced finish to a heavy meal.

Panna Cotta da Vida

From the savory to the sweet, the bacon to the creme fraiche, this place is truly an experience; providing one of those absolutely sensual meals we foodies can only hope to find very rarely. The food isn’t “fancy,” but it is definitely on the level of gourmet in its creative use of ingredients and its richness of flavors. And did you notice the prices? The Whole Hog is probably the best-spent $10 in town, and almost every other entree is cheaper than that. I would argue nowhere else in town offers food this good for anything close to the same value. Chef and owner Josh Valentine has done something very special for the city, providing a stripped-down, concentrated dining experience; a celebration not just of one ingredient, but of all the different and wonderful things that can be done with it. My hat is off to all involved, for creating something so exciting in an unexpected place, and for the proof that food can be something close to divine.

*Follow The Divine Swine on Twitter and Facebook for opening hours.

Divine Swine on Urbanspoon

Prairie Sushi

I admit, at this point, that Japanese food is kind of old hat. You know when any concept has been made into a nationwide chain (Benihana, in this instance), it’s lost that quaint quality of being truly foreign. Now I’m not going to stay on my soapbox for long, because I’ve never actually been to a Benihana. But I have an innate suspicion of huge corporate chains, probably stemming from a traumatic Chili’s experience. I reserve a special animosity for those that try to sell themselves as representing any kind of foreign cuisine. Do you think Olive Garden bears a passing resemblance to anything that really exists in Italy?

Sushi bars, Japanese steakhouses, and teppanyaki grills are scattered around just about every big American city now, but not all of them owe their success to the increasing popularity of chains. Japanese food has a distinct style all its own, no more similar to Chinese or Vietnamese than it is to French. As luck would have it, Oklahoma’s only Japanese restaurants are locally owned. So I decided it was high time to write about this unique cuisine, which is really too important to be overlooked.

The quintessential Japanese restaurant in the city has to be Musashi’s. They cover all of the bases: teppanyaki, sushi, even the robata grill. What’s teppanyaki? Why, it’s the big table that doubles as a flat-top grill! You’ve seen it. I myself have spent many a birthday watching the show where the guy sets the onions on fire and flips an egg into his hat. If you feel like you’ve been there done that, where this place really shines is a little alcove of the restaurant called “The Fire Room.” It’s an open-kitchen bar/grill/patio with a menu separate from the rest of the restaurant. While the main dining room has a Kill Bill vol. 1 vibe, this area is a little more fun and casual, the walls adorned with cases of sake and little wooden “boats” in which sushi is served. Eating here again, I found myself smiling at just how different the food is from anything else you can find in the city.

The Fire Room

I’ll start with what isn’t so exclusive to this place, which is the sushi. Musashi’s is right across the street from (and shares a lot of its menu with) its sister restaurant, Sushi Neko. Can you guess what they specialize in? Now I know what you’re thinking: This can’t be! Sushi in Oklahoma? Before you coastal dwellers recoil in terror, I can tell you I’ve had it on a good many occasions and it’s never made me sick. Thanks to fossil fuels and modern refrigeration, we can have our fish shipped in from the same body of water you get it from, and with the illusion of being just as fresh.

On this particular occasion I had the yellowtail sashimi. Those who have had sushi will understand how hard it is to describe to anyone who hasn’t. All I can say is this was some of the best I’ve had (and I’ve had quite a bit at my university in Norman, OK, scary as that may be). It’s fatty, soft, without any of the rubbery briny-ness you might expect from raw fish, and sublime with a dab of soy sauce and wasabi.


The fire room specializes in small plates, or what they call “Japanese Tapas,” so in addition to the sushi, my mom and I shared some edamame and “Lobster Shooters.” Edamame are whole steamed soybeans, salted, healthy (high protein, folks!), and even a little fun as you pop the beans out of their pods.


Lobster Shooters have a very clever sake-style presentation. Each cup contains a little ball of lobster meat, arrayed neatly around a spicy coconut and curry sauce. Pour the sauce in, then eat each cupful as the name implies: bottoms up!

Shot of Lobster, anyone?

But the crowning dish of this meal, the reason for coming back, was the Black Cod: a buttery, soft white fish that falls apart beneath your fork, its crispy skin charred and caramelized on the robata grill. It’s sweet and rich, without even a hint of salt; about as far from fishy as you can get, standing in stark contrast to the light, chilled sashimi; the fish equivalent of a good seared foie gras.

The Codfather

There’s a lot to The Fire Room I haven’t tried and wouldn’t have nearly enough space to mention here. If you want to have some fun with your food, try “The Rock.” No, not the bemuscled movie star with a facial expression deficiency, but a literal, scalding hot rock brought to the table, on which you can cook your own little sizzling strips of raw meat. The sushi menu is very extensive (keep in mind they can fill a boat with it!) and they have all sorts of grilled goodies to blacken on the robata grill. It’s a fast and reasonably priced place, and perfect if you’re into the tapas-style sampling of many small dishes. Japanese food is truly unique amongst Asian foods, and deserves, chains or not, to be revered in a league of its own.

*Musashi’s is open for lunch Tuesday-Saturday, and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

Musashi's Japanese Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Let’s Go Pubbing

A cold front blew in last night. Sunny Oklahoma skies turned grey within an hour, and by nightfall, snow was beginning to swirl around the quiet streets. Sounds like perfect pub weather to me!

Yes. Yes they do.

We all need a cozy little spot to escape to when the weather (or things in general) aren’t so great. Sean Cumming’s Pub in Oklahoma City goes beyond cozy. It’s the kind of place that could easily become your local haunt (it was basically mine and Cornelia’s). Give it a few years, and we’ll probably refer to it as “an institution.” Nowhere else in the city (or the US, as far as I know) evokes so accurately the vibe of a real pub. Having been to quite a few in England in the past month, I can vouch for its authenticity.

Our Cozy Corner

The first thing you’ll notice, on certain nights, is the musician(s) playing right inside the front door. Sean gets different live music acts for almost every day of the week, most of them guitarists who sing traditional celtic tunes, and sometimes get the whole pub singing old bar songs. The music’s warm lilt will make you feel right at home (except for my girlfriend when they bring out the anti-crown IRA type songs). The place is small, dimly lit, sealed off from the outside world with maroon curtains, and adorned with an eclectic clutter of frames on every wall, mostly cute old Guinness ads and family photos (genuinely Sean’s family, most of them priests). It’s the perfect, home-y setting for some warm comfort food.

And Music Too!

And how about the food? I can’t drink (the magnificent Guinness served on tap), so there must be something to it that keeps me coming back. To start, they bring out some soda bread and butter as soon as you sit down. It’s a soft, thick, mealy bread that’s only slightly sweet, though Sean serves two different kinds including one with raisins. With some creamy butter to counter the dryness, the bread is a great way to settle in and wet your appetite.

Soda Bread

As for the menu, it’s mostly very traditional pub fare. There’s the obligatory Fish & Chips, crispy and delicious with malt vinegar, Bangers and Mash (that’s a very flavorful link sausage called a “banger” served with mashed potatoes), meat pies, and a whole array of sandwiches. For those really cold nights, though, nothing warms you up from the inside like their Shepherd’s Pie. Under a mountain of melted cheese and mashed potatoes is a hot, broth-y mix of beef and vegetables, delicately seasoned and roasted so soft it almost melts in your mouth. It is, in a word, perfect.

But on this most recent trip I got my old go-to. Probably the dish most exotic for our American palettes, and with the most meat (surprise, right?), the Irish Breakfast. It’s a plate heaped with protein: the aforementioned banger, two slices of grilled pork loin, two fried eggs, black (read: blood) and white puddings, and a halved grilled tomato. The banger is thick and super juicy with the most animal flavor. The pork loins are a little more dry, but delicious when they happen to get dipped in a little egg yolk. The puddings, though, are my favorite. The delicious taste of congealed blood with the timeless preparation of pudding? What could be better? White pudding is the same thing, basically oatmeal and ground meat, but without the blood. Though I vastly prefer anything with blood, they’re both the heaviest part of the dish, and it’s interesting to go back and forth between them. The tomato is a nice note to finish on, its tartness a nice contrast to the rich, sweet meats.

This'll break your fast all right

For those less carnivorously inclined, my Dad got the club sandwich on this trip, which is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. They pile it high with fresh-made bacon and serve it with a side of their thick-cut chips.

The Club

What can I say? Sean’s is the real deal. Filling, hearty food in an authentically comfortable atmosphere. It even has non-American “football” on the TV! If you’re looking for a lively place to get away to and have a beer, or just a good meal, Sean Cumming’s should be a spot you go back to again and again. I know I will.

*Sean Cumming’s is open every night. Over 21 only after 10 p.m. on weekends.

Sean Cummings' Irish Restaurant & Pub on Urbanspoon