OKC Eats: From Yum to Ho-hum
OKC Eats: From Yum to Ho-hum
Been wanting to do a food post for a bit as OKC has gotten on the foodie train along with the rest of Food Network-watching world. Though not all of these places are in OKC proper, the metro is sort of a small world so OKC Eats pretty much covers it.
I’ve mentioned I’ve been dining out as part of my trying new things thing. Mostly this involves me finding a new sushi place every week. Occasionally I find new Pho. I’ve also tried this fusion place that’s spectacular though it chose a silly part of town to plant itself. Actually, I love the area as there is little traffic and nothing else around it, but as far as restaurant openings go…tis a silly place. Hopefully it still gets found because it’s delicious and I don’t want it to fold. It’s called El Toro Chino (The Chinese Bull) but more on that in a minute.
I am easy to please and eager to eat and I pretty much like all the foods. Except for liver, soups made from blood (why…?) and chicken-and-dumplings. Not that I am an adventurous eater but I’m not boring. Lots of color on my plate signals nutritious, fish makes me feel healthy but I love me some meaty meat too. For example, I’ve tried eel a few times but don’t really like as I find it too meaty (heavy?) for seafood. It’s like the pig of the sea.
Now pork? However you want to cook that, cure that, slice that, I am there. Never mind that I really want to own a pig someday. Like a pet pig, one I can train to walk on a leash (omigod, adorable!), sit for a treat (such a good boy!) and never get eaten by anyone. Until that day I will enjoy bacon. After that day…well, we’ll see if I ever own a pig.
Fried food pretty much tastes like fried food to me. I wouldn’t eat dog or kitty (knowingly…) because it seems LIKE SO TOTALLY WRONG but I’m game for the wild fuzzy friends. I mean, I’d like to be a vegetarian as much as the next bleeding heart but it’s hard and boring and I get fat really quick because of the pasta. And cheese. Also I’m always tired and weak and cold.
So give me all the edibles and I’ll try it once. Maybe not brains or eyeballs, I’m not that adventurous, but tongues and guts and ball sacks? Maybe. Are you daring me? I’ll show you, punk. (This is how I ended up eating various dog treats, grasses and raw meats as a kid. And I’m still alive.)
But for now, raw fish rolled in seaweed and rice is as crazy as it gets. And I’ve been getting crazy with it. I have three new favorites from not cheap, to mid-range, to a really great value.
The high-end joint is Sushi Neko, located in midtown OKC. There is probably a price markup simply because it’s in midtown but it’s worth it. This restaurant has been around a while and has a great rep as both a date-night and a family place. I sat on the patio with my delicious big beer and much-needed glass of water. (It was steamy and brilliant me sat right in the sunlight, like a damn cat.)
I ordered two hand rolls not knowing what a hand roll was. They came, beautifully wrapped, and you better believe I googled that shit to see how to eat the darn thing. I felt less stupid when my “how to eat hand r-” automatically brought a bunch of pages on how to eat hand rolled sushi. I am not the only naïve chick out there. Turns out, eat it with your hands, like a taco. Unlike a taco though, eat it quickly because the nori gets chewy and the roll starts to lose integrity.
The roll on the right is a spicy salmon roll and it was amazing. (Related: why are the “spicy” rolls never spicy?) The roll on the left is a scallop roll and it took a couple of bites to get used to the texture. I’m not a big mush fan (which is why I don’t like chicken-and-dumplings) but once I knew what I was eating, it was great. I love me some seaweed and hand rolls seem to have more than rolled sushi so I’m a convert. And now I know how to eat it so I can conquer the world.
Another midtown sushi stop is GoGo Sushi, a counter service place with a slew of sort-of servers walking around. I wasn’t sure what to do with this concept as I tipped 20% at the counter but didn’t have cash to tip at the table. That better be a shared tip since all the cashier did was push buttons and hand me a cup but the two guys on the floor brought food twice (edamame, I’m a sucker, and my roll) and prebussed my crap. Not many would care but I’m a server so I’m sensitive to this sort of thing.
GoGo’s menu is extensive and varied. I’m glad I got bored and read it beforehand because I would have panicked when I realized it was counter service. Probably walked away with a damn California roll and a water. But no, I was prepared and ordered the Lifesaver Roll, some salted soy pods and an iced tea.
The roll was a party in my mouth, with salmon, tempera shrimp, and tempera bacon (!) and about 7 other ingredients. I almost got the Incredible Hulk roll too because it’s vegetarian, the opposite of the Lifesaver, but my belly was full of beer and I decided on the edamame instead. Good thing, look at that girth.
They have beer but I was beered out at this point having spent a Saturday afternoon at a gastropub planning my upcoming hiking trip to the Ozark National Forest. (So excited, I leave in three days!) FYI, there’s a GoGo Sushi in Moore now too so it’s much closer to home. Though it is on I35 and 19th which if you live around Moore you probably just decided to pass. That area is stupid busy.
Back to the pub for a minute. McNellie’s Abner Ale House on Main Street in Norman has an extensive selection of beer, And some great food but I was there for the beer. I already partook in a biggie Sapporo so I went with a Founder’s All-Day IPA. IPA’s are my happy place, especially if they have that nice citrus finish that balances the bitter. This ale wasn’t too strong (4.7%) which is probably where the moniker comes from I was going to try another IPA when I saw “Beer Mixes” on the menu and checked it out. Then, on principle, I had to have a Black Velvet.
See these guys listed it right, and I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into over Snakebites vs. Black Velvet and which one gets what. To be fair, originally the BV had champagne but cider is acceptable. I asked the bartender if people try to fight with him about it and he said yeah before I even got the question out. He blamed it on a local Norman bar that is trendy AF so a bunch of kids learn to drink there thus… But I’ve googled it a couple times over the years and even the internet has it wrong. Though I hate that bar I don’t mind blaming them.
There’s a place on main, about two or three years old, called 180 Meridian Grill and Sushi. It’s fusion, but less about fusing dishes together as offering a variety of Asian cuisines. I’ve been there a few times and it’s a great value. The food’s good too. It’s not the best sushi around but it’s tasty and they offer chef choices and monthly specials. I’ll say the first time I had the sushi here it was about the width of a soda can, quite hard to eat. But that made it an even greater value, yeah?
I mostly go for lunch and the lunch special is a pick two for $6.95, up to $10 for the premium rolls or select sashimi. You get a cup of soup (I love me some miso) and a soda/tea too. Or a draft Sapporo will run you $4. A 22 ounce can’s only $6.50. They’re losing out on some markup there but I’m not going to tell ’em.
I’ve also had the Pho and it’s good you just don’t get a lot of meat, like three slice of round steak.
I should say that I pretty much only get Pho to go because I’m a mess when I eat it. I just get so excited, it’s like my candy store, and I feel like a queen. But I have dined in here a couple of times and the service is fantastic. Fast, courteous and everyone has the requisite accent. (I’m just saying, it’s authentic.) It’s also cheap. An order of Pho with two meats, extra sprouts and a side of two shrimp summer rolls runs me under $12. And that’s two meals of Pho.
(Related: Can’t the English speakers pronounce it with a long “o”? It sounds like I’m stunting a curse and people who don’t know what I’m talking about either think I’m an idiot or pretentious. Or a pretentious idiot. No, you’re right, I must persevere…)
El Toro Chino calls itself Asian/Latin fusion and it’s an experiment worth trying. Let’s talk about wonton chips instead of tortilla chips. So. Good. Or pairing carnitas with Hoisin BBQ. Why hasn’t this been done!? Brown-sugar soy sauce? On any meat now please. It’s different and delicious.
We started with the Fusion Nachos, a heaping pile of those wonton chips (they are so good!) with all kinds of fixings on top. I had the Slow Roasted Pork Carnitas Pappardelle (did I mention my weakness for pork?) and got to try the Chicken Stir Fry (a classic with fried jals for a Latin Twist) and the Prime Brisket with that brown sugar-soy sauce. For once I saved room for dessert: the Churro Bowl. Yes, it’s a bowl shaped churro with ice cream and sprinkled cinnamon. Yum, yum, and yum.
There’s an extensive craft cocktail list but I’m a beer chick so I skipped on that. I should go back with my sister who loves her some alcohol that tastes nothing like alcohol. I take one sip and I’m over it, usually a waste of ten bucks.
Another thing, El Toro Chino is focused on service and atmosphere. (And it better be because it’s not the cheapest place in town.) They do things like replace silverware with mise en place, de-crumb the table, and serve open-handed. These are reasons I would never work there but I appreciate the gestures! Book the private room, patronize the bar for happy hour, or just dine alone and stare at the water art serving as a wall.
So go support this place, it’s worth it!
It’s not in OKC but I’m adding this in because I finally got to try it though I’m not terribly impressed. At long last I had a famous Meers burger, a seven inch burger with some fixings and no side. I’ll be quick and merciless. It was okay but I have no idea why it is famous, except for the fact that it’s a $12 burger. With no side. So, infamous would be more appropriate. I added some fired okra for $4 (delicious) and a $2 iced tea (refreshing) so I basically spent $20 on a burger meal.
It wasn’t bad by any means but the bread seemed to make up the bulk of it and I made the mistake of reading the menu too intently. This thing said to order it with mustard, not mayo as that is the “Yankee” way, and definitely not ketchup as that is the “sissy” way, and certainly not a mix of these condiments as that is the schizo way. (My words, not theirs.) So even though I like mayo if I like anything, and if I’m going to have mustard it better have some ketchup too (the McDonalds way) I went with just mustard and it tasted like, you know, mustard. My fault, whatever. But I can eat pretty much anything and I had just spent 2 1/2 hours hiking so edible should have been amazing. I guess the build up was just too much as I was let down.
To be fair, there is a regular size burger for a more normal price but it still doesn’t come with a side. (What restaurant serves burgers with no side? This is America!) Also note, this place only accepts cash. Like, “there’s an ATM over there, buddy, we don’t like those newfangled things ’round these parts” only accepts cash. Weird. It’s a hundred years old and in a tourist town. Weird.
One thing I loved? This little diatribe on the menu-front:
Now that’s staff appreciation. And the servers were great, really great. Sweet, worked as a team, prompt and knowledgeable just like it should be. So yeah, tip ’em, and tip ’em well.
Not noted? The fact that said staff only gets $2.13 p/h and they probably don’t see a paycheck past their first check of training hours. That’s also why you tip. Oprah told everyone this years ago but it’s not locked into the collective consciousness. I’d be happy to do this job for $15 p/h plus benefits and no tips but that’s not going to happen…ever. Plus kids serving these days think the standard tip should be 25%. Friggin’ kids these days…
So those are my collective food excursions over the past few weeks. A decent mix of great, good, and at least I can afford to feed myself. But if you don’t get some ho-hum every so often how can you appreciate the good?
What should I try next? Any other interesting fusion out there?