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.

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