Dine Amidst Vibrant Tropical Colors at Sisserou’s Restaurant

By on April 11, 2014

If you wish to dine amidst vibrant tropical colors, to feast on creative delicious dishes prepared by one of the best chefs around based on recipes from the tiny island nation of Dominica, you have two choices. You can set sail from Key West Florida and head east through a blue and glittering sea. Days pass, weeks pass, and just when you’ve reached the land behind the back of beyond, you’ll see bright green jungle-clad hills rising from the water. This is Dominica. Dock your ship at the old French settlement of Roseau, just west of the waterfalls and scenic plateaux of the Morne Trois Pitons, and head for the Old Stone Bar and Grill.

Sisserous Interior

The first person to make this trip, long before Roseau was founded, was Christopher Columbus. He hated Dominica. He ignored the gorgeous scenery, the fishing villages, the rain forests full of the brightly colored birds called Sisserous, and on his return to Spain told the King that it was nothing but boring mountains. “He hated it because the local people chased him away,” said Eben Shillingford. Shillingford’s family hails from Dominica and he’s now the proud owner of Sisserou’s Restaurant. Sisserou’s is your second option. Just cruise north from downtown Tulsa, park in the lot just west of Laffa and Prhyme Steakhouse, and walk to a low-slung brick building on the west side of the lot. Through the door it’s another world. Gaudy, festive colors await.

Sisserous Interior

“My sister designed the decor,” Shillingford proudly informed us. “She went to design school in Miami. She wanted to bring the Caribbean to Tulsa.” Dapper, elegant, Shillingford sports a well-tailored suit and starched shirt. Not surprising. He worked for years as Assistant Manager of Mahogany. On nights when General Manager Jake Regier wasn’t there, he’d greet the guests and supervise the service of a restaurant that arguably has the best service in Tulsa. In other words, he’s a genial host and he knows how to run things. Jake Regier told me about Sisserou’s months before it opened. I eagerly awaited my visit. Finding Ben Alexander there was a pleasant surprise. I saw him standing right by the hostess podium near the entryway.

Sisserous Interior

Even through the slack hours of a weekday afternoon, the kitchen is busy. Ben Alexander, the new executive chef, moves from stovetop to oven to prep counter, executing orders with a balletic grace. His energy is inexhaustible; he’s passionate about the food. “I won’t serve it unless I’d eat it,” he says. “And I’m VERY picky about what I eat. Our mantra,” he explains, “is freshness. Fresh herbs, fresh produce, and we source locally as much as possible.”

I wrote this last paragraph half a year ago for Oklahoma Magazine. Ben was working at Wolfgang Puck; he brought the fresh winds of change to a restaurant that, sadly, closed before he could realize his vision. Now he’s helming the kitchen at Sisserou’s. Just as at Wolfgang’s, he was busy in the kitchen. I asked him if what he’d said was also true of Sisserou’s. “It’s even more true here”, he said. “99% of what we use in the kitchen,” he said, “is made in house, and everything is fresh… it’s still our mantra.” Did he create all the recipes? “The owner gave me his family’s recipes for the meals they ate in Dominica,” he said, “and I tweaked and adapted them to a haute-cuisine restaurant setting.”

As I talked with Ben, glad to meet a long-lost friend again, Megan studied the menu.

Sisserous Cartoon

Shillingford strolled over to help us with our choices. “In Dominica there’s lots of fish,” he said, “and it comes straight from the water. They pull it out and cut and gut it on a tree stump by the beach. You can’t get fresher than that. They cook it in a pan and use the juices that seep from the fish to make the sauce. It’s hard for us here to duplicate that freshness, but we’ve found a supplier in Key West who ships the fish by air, so a fish that was swimming in the Caribbean yesterday morning is on your plate tonight. We serve mahi-mahi just like they do on Dominica, seared in its own juices, but we use other cooking methods too.” There’s a tuna salad ($11) with freshly poached tuna and a whole red snapper, big enough to serve 2 people, stuffed with crab, shrimps and herbs, then oven-baked until tender and carved tableside. Tempting, but we decided to stay on land. As we waited, bread arrived.

SisserousBread

The bread is Jamaican-style hard dough, Shillingford explained, made with white flour and baked in a long narrow pan. It’s served with butter imported from England. We all loved it, and we ended up eating three loaves. But I forgot about the bread when my entree came.

Sisserous Oxtail

Stewed oxtail ($16), made with carrots, red peppers, red cabbage and potatoes. In Dominica, one of the favorite foods is brown stew, so named because it’s made with brown sugar which caramelizes to form a brown-colored sauce. This oxtail is indeed brown stew, and the caramelization gave the meat a lovely rich flavor. To me, though, it tasted like the sort of hearty wine-based stew you might find at a good French bistro. “Not surprising,” said Shillingford. “There’s a lot of French influence in Dominica.” France ruled the island until 1763, when the British took over.

Sisserous Curry Chicken

Cathe got the chicken curry ($13). Curry, brought by settlers from India, is popular throughout the eastern Caribbean. In Trinidad and Guyana, it can be hot enough to knock your socks off. But not here. It’s mild, flavorful, and enriched by coconut milk. “I remember my dad getting a coconut off the tree, and cutting it with a machete to make the curry,” said Shillingford. There’s not much sauce here; all the flavor has gone into the chicken.

Sisserous Jerk Chicken

Magen finally decided in Jerk Chicken ($15). They make a spice blend, let the spices sit for 24 hours to release the flavor, then marinate the chicken in the spices and let it stand another 24 hours. That’s what the waiter told me. In general, service is very good, which is not surprising. “I’ve taught them all I’ve learned at Mahogany,” said Shillingford. The chicken was quite good, though the blend of spices was different from the traditional Jamaican. So was the mac & cheese and the beans (though I wish they’d used Cuban black beans and not Mexican-style refried brown.) Magen thought the chicken was a bit dry. Remember, it’s opening week, so perhaps some of the dishes need to be tweaked a bit. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more sauce with the oxtail and with the curry. But what Betty got was as juicy and flavorful as you could wish.

Sisserous Pork

Pork tenderloin ($14), which usually is a dry flavorless cut but which here was bursting with flavor. The sweet and spicy mango sauce is a nice accompaniment, and so was the potato/yam mash. (Usually you get fried plantains, but they weren’t ripe enough.) Magen, meanwhile, had ordered dessert. It’s banana souffle ($10) and takes 20 minutes to make.

Sisserous Banana Souffle

“Crepes filled with a decadent souffle mixture then oven baked, served over flambe bananas and finished off with a drizzle of chocolate rum sauce and vanilla bean ice cream,” is how the menu describes it. It was delicious and definitely worth the wait. It’s not easy to make a good souffle.

But wait, there’s more! I asked Ben what dish he’s most proud of, and he picked the Cuban Sandwich ($13). A strange choice, since that’s not Dominican at all. It originated either in Cuba or Florida and became a popular snack for Cuban workers. You take a Cuban baguette, stuff it with pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese and mustard, and toast it all in a panini press. Ben adds some homemade Habanero mayo for an extra punch. We ordered one to go.

Sisserous Cuban

It’s delicious! What makes the sandwich superior to any I’ve had is the pork. It’s pulled pork marinated in a traditional mojo sauce made from oranges and spices and then slow-roasted. It’s a lot like Mexican Carnitas. So many early visitors to Sisserou’s have praised it. They’re right.

Sisserou’s Restaurant
107 N Boulder (entrance on the big parking lot at Archer and Main in the Brady District)
576-6800
http://www.sisserousrestauranttulsa.com
Open every day except Sunday from 11 AM to 10 PM

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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