Off Menu Special Dishes at Gemma’s are that of a Top Chef Master

By on December 2, 2011

People sometimes ask me how I manage to ferret out such great dining places. Well, it’s mostly intuition. But there’s one sure rule. If Ian van Anglen is the chef, just go. Even if it’s way on the other side of town, go. And now that he’s cooking at Gemma’s, right on Brookside, there’s no excuse not to visit.

Last week at Gemma’s I saw Ian perform a feat that, if you saw it on “Top Chef” or even “Top Chef Masters”, you wouldn’t believe it. He’d made some duck confit for a fancy wine dinner. That’s the traditional French recipe where duck is cured in salt and garlic, then simmered long and slow in its own fat. He had a piece left over and offered to make it for me. He stood there immobile, concentrating, inventing two new, and in fact never seen on Earth before, dishes, and then he prepared them. Each dish used only ingredients that happened to be in the kitchen. Total time for invention plus cooking: ten minutes. And then out this came.

Duck confit two ways, and each of the two “ways” was a masterpiece. On the left, pieces of confit, studded with sour cherries, recline on a bed of polenta flavored with blue cheese. There’s a bit of lovely demi-glace sauce too. On the right, a confit leg has been rubbed with exotic spices, then either seared or grilled to give a BBQ taste. It’s accompanied by a roasted persimmon and pickled onions. The roasted persimmon was genius and it was the perfect contrast to the cumin-rubbed duck. (And by the way, the duck confit offered at the wine dinner was completely different. It was prepared with Greek olives, celery root puree, Feta cheese and local honey.)

You probably won’t find this dish at Gemma’s, though I think everyone should beg and plead for it to be on the menu. What you might find (Ian doesn’t cook it every night), and if you do, you should grab the chance to have it, is foie gras ($19). One night I had a whole lovely lobe of seared foie gras cooked with honey, celery root and walnuts. Sometimes he makes it the same way he did last year at the Kitchen, where one night I watched him prepare it. He used 3 saucepans. One to sear the foie. The second to cook a succotash with black-eyed peas, bacon and peppers, a bed on which the foie reclined, the perfect counterpoint to the foie’s ineffable unctuous taste. The third to cook fresh corn in cream and honey. On the plate, this formed a ring around the foie and succotash. Perfection in a plate.

And let me pause in memory of the Kitchen, that tiny joint on Brookside which Ian and Paul Wilson made into the most exciting dining scene in Tulsa. If you want to see what Ian is capable of, read what I wrote about my all-too-few meals there. http://tulsafood.com/dinner/the-kitchen-restaurant-brookside-tulsa

Back to Gemma’s.

The regular dinner menu offers many delights, though I think Ian’s full range is evident mostly in any specials he offers. There are salads and pastas ($11 to $13) and pizzas ($12 to $14), hangovers from the restaurant’s previous incarnation under Steven Howard. (And a fine incarnation that was! My review quoted Shakespeare to sing its praises. http://tulsafood.com/brookside/gemmas-woodfire-kitchen-with-veteran-chef-steven-howard ) There’s always a salmon special ($22), which Ian changes daily. There’s a wonderful pan-roasted duck breast ($24), its thin but succulent slices forming a teepee over a mound of mashed potatoes, surrounded by a cherry gastrique. There’s roasted game hen ($17), which I haven’t tried but which is probably a lot like the lovely bird pictured in the Kitchen review. And there’s a lot more. But that doesn’t matter. If Ian is cooking, just go.

And when you go, ask and beg and fall on your knees and plead for Ian to cook you a special dish. Of course he can’t if the restaurant is crowded or if he doesn’t have the ingredients on hand. But if the place is empty, he just might make you something like this.

When I returned to Gemma’s on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and this came to my table, I was more or less blown away. The spare elegance of line, space and form, as perfect as a Platonic ideal and as rigorous as geometry, was worthy of a great work of art, a painting, say, by Kandinsky or Miro or Mondrian or a great Abstract Expressionist.

And the taste lived up. That’s a rabbit loin ($30) wrapped in pancetta. Hidden underneath are slices of grilled fennel to add a hint of licorice. The yellow dots are a rich, spicy squash puree and the cubes are feta cheese. The rabbit loin itself is fairly bland but taken all together, the ingredients combine to yield a taste of Heaven.

Gemma’s Woodfire Kitchen
3410 S Peoria Av
289-0800
http://gemmaswoodfirekitchen.com
Open from 5 PM Tuesday through Saturday
Also serving lunch Tuesday through Friday, mostly sandwiches and pizzas

Gemma's Woodfire Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

6 Comments

  1. seikel

    December 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Or, just get the meatballs! Checkout my cousin’s blog. Oklahoma! http://whatthehellaretheymakingnow.blogspot.com/

  2. Pingback: Dear TDT: The New Year's Eve, Italians Come to Tulsa Edition | Tasha Does Tulsa

  3. Edward

    February 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    My wife and I went to this restaurant for a special night out after reading this food review and ended up being disappointed. I tried contacting the manager, chef and owner by emailing them twice (a month apart) but no response. I know some people don’t receive emails for various reasons so I did a test and sent them a fake email asking them a question from a different email address I had, and I did get a response within 2 days. SO they specifically chose not to address my problem Here is what I emailed to them the second time I emailed them.

    Hello Ian and Kale,

    I just realized that I did not hear back from you when I sent this a month ago.

    I went to your website the other day and was pleased to see this:

    Come dine with us and try Chef Ian Van Anglen’s current select entrees:

    Wild Atlantic Salmon
    Feta and artichoke tart, olive puree, oregano vinaigrette

    Duck Confit
    Ginger Bechamel, oregano and fig mostarda

    Braised Pork Belly
    Hominy succotash, smothered onions, backstrap molasses

    This is the reason why we went to your restaurant. Notice the word entree.

    The food and drinks were fantastic, however I was really disappointed that the duck confit came out as an appetizer. I thought it was an entree since it is posted on your website as an entree, the waitress did not make that distinction to me, nor did the chalk board say it was an appetizer. I told our waitress that I was disappointed and that I was still hungry, so she asked if I would like a bowl of soup or salad. I was pleased that she was trying to make me happy, then to find out she charged me. I was pretty irritated but she talked to one or both of you and it was complimentary.

    Our waitress was very nice but was not very good. She only did one thing at a time instead of doing 2 or 3 things on the floor then going to the back. When we first sat down it was 10 minutes and she never said hello or say I’ll be right with you even though she walked by us 3 or 4 times. Luckily your bartender noticed and took our drink orders. I’m sure with some simple training that she can be a very good waitress.

    So overall the food was great but the communication there needs some attention.

    fyi, I chose to email you directly instead of writing a review on tulsfood.com, urbanspoon, google, etc. But not everyone does, so please be careful since people can be quite critical when writing online reviews.

    • Brian Schwartz

      February 4, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Gemma’s is closed, out of business, gone. I’ve always had good service there but personally I’d put up with the smallest portions and worst service ever if I could just get some of Ian van Anglen’s cooking again.

      • Brian Schwartz

        February 4, 2012 at 4:35 pm

        I should add that I am sorry that my review led to your having a disappointing experience.

  4. Edward

    February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am

    No problem Brian. I agree that Ian’s cooking is VERY good! He is a chef and not a cook unlike a lot of restaurants in Tulsa. I not only like good food but I like it so much that I went to Le Cordon Bleu for an entire summer a few years ago just for fun. It’s just too bad that good chefs are not paired up with good owners and managers, but in this case I think the both of them are at fault. I would of gone back many many times and also suggested them to a lot of my friends and family. It was just so odd that I did not get a simple apology. If I was the manager I would of said ” Sorry, come back, we’ll provide appetizers for you and your wife.” Instead they chose not to reply at all.

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