September 27th, 2013 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (1)
Bodean is a treasure. It just might be the best restaurant in Tulsa. It is certainly the most important restaurant in Tulsa, in terms of its influence on the Tulsa dining scene. The Tulsa World once compiled a list of chefs, restaurateurs and other restaurant people who once worked at Bodean, and the list just went on and on, filling the page. Tuck Curren. Tim Inman. Tim Baker. Michael Fusco. Chris Dodge. Tim Richards. Even Buzz Dalesandro. Though the manager at Bodean told me that no one ever knew if Buzz, a slick Fonzie type in a black leather motorcycle jacket, actually had a job there or just hung around the kitchen. Back in the 80s and 90s, Bodean was the sort of place where that could happen. Casual, fun, and chefs staff and owners were one big family. But they were very very serious about the food they served. Ask any one of those chefs and he’ll tell you that his training at Bodean made him the chef he is today.
Somehow I got the impression that the glory days were gone and Bodean was over the hill. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Early in June I got the call from Oklahoma Magazine. They wanted an article on Bodean. I waited by the fish tank in Bodean’s impressive lobby — they used to be in a tiny space across the street but four years ago they moved to these spacious and beautiful digs — until Trevor Tack came to meet me. I’d known Trevor for quite a while. He was chef at one of my favorite hangouts, R Bar, and he did impressive work there. And he’s a great guy too. Trevor and I walked through the restaurant, through the spotless, well-organized busy kitchen with its four stations (apps, salad, saute, grill)
and into the market.
If Bodean is a miracle, the market is what makes it happen. There’s fish from all over the world and it’s so fresh! There’s wild salmon and halibut that was happily swimming in Alaska yesterday morning and it’s ready for your plate this evening. Flights from all over the world arrive in Tulsa several times a day, carrying fish from the north Atlantic, south Pacific, anywhere you can think of where fish are swimming. They put them in rows in the market’s glass cases.
But they save the best for the restaurant. “The restaurant always gets the best,” says Trevor, and each day Trevor has his pick before they go on sale. Maybe that’s why each time I see him he has the stunned amazement look of a little street urchin who is suddenly put inside the world’s biggest candy store and told to take as much as he wants.
After that I wanted nothing more but to eat at Bodean. It was two months before I did. The girls I go out with hate fish! So it wasn’t until late August that I finally entered Bodean’s beautiful, elegant dining room.
I never thought I’d have my first taste of Bodean on land, but I couldn’t resist the seared foie gras ($15).
Unctuous, smooth foie with explode-in-your-mouth goodness accented by a lovely sauce made from fresh Porter peaches.
“Top Chef Jeopardy for $1000, Alex.”
“He is one of the best chefs in Oklahoma.”
“Who is Trevor Tack?” CORRECT!
That’s what I wrote when I uploaded a photo of the foie and peaches. And it’s true. Trevor was so good at R Bar but somehow when he moved to Bodean he moved from good to great. It’s a whole new game. And here he is carrying our next course. His transition to greatness makes him look a bit ghostly to mere mortals.
It’s something he made just for us but it’s often on the menu. (And did I say that the menu at Bodean is printed daily, and changes daily, to reflect what species of fish are fresh that day…)
Crab salad ($16). On the sides are fried green tomatoes. But the crab is star of the show. It’s from Alaskan King Crab and all the meat is from the knuckles. That’s the best meat, Trevor told me, so we use just that. The flavor was incredible. Pure crab goodness. I barely tasted the saffron aioli, it served to bring out the crab flavor. But, good as it was, it was only a prelude to this. Black sea bass had just arrived at the market. It’s a rare and precious fish. Here is Trevor coddling it like a baby.
He made it into one of the best dishes I’ve ever seen… or tasted.
Pan seared Atlantic black bass ($39). This is the perfect Asian fusion dish. In appearance it mimics a famous Cantonese treat, steamed fish with scallions in a lake of soy sauce. Here’s a photo of that Cantonese dish from a Chinese restaurant.
But each element of Bodean’s dish is completely different from that delicious Cantonese standby. The black sea bass was cooked in a nage made of sake, soy and butter, which not only steamed the fish but also poached and seared it. What looks like scallions is julienned green papaya, like a Thai papaya salad, except that instead of the standard Thai dressing Trevor used Vietnamese nuoc cham, made from lime juice, vinegar, sugar and nuoc mam, or fish sauce, an Asian delight which is made from rotting fish like the ancient Roman garum. No, you don’t taste the rotting fish. It just adds umami. Lotus root and straw mushrooms completes the flavor profile. It deserves a closer look.
Meanwhile my companion Dandra — and let’s have a photo of her as a reward for her kindness in accompanying me
– didn’t dare try fish, so she ordered steak ($32).
It’s a 14 ounce New York strip with stilton butter. If you have a date who won’t eat fish, she has no excuse not to try Bodean!
The meal was beyond excellent. I was eager for more. The next Monday I went back with Cathe. Every Sunday and Monday Bodean serves a $35 three-course dinner. Usually it’s designed by the sous-chefs to help train them, but that night it was designed by Trevor himself. The theme was bacon.
The first course was a pork belly confit. Trevor spent days making this. Pork belly poached in goose fat then seared is paired with melons imported from Israel. Delicious, incredibly tender… another win for Trevor.
Meanwhile, Cathe, who didn’t want the three-course meal, got a salad.
A great deal for $7! And for her next course she got salmon ($26).
Regular farm-raised salmon is made sublime by a rich, luxurious beurre rouge sauce. It’s topped with arugula dressed with saffron aioli. Meanwhile, my bacon meal continued.
Grilled halibut, spinach salad with a bacon dressing, and Trevor Tack’s famous 6 minute egg. A simple dish, except for the egg (how does he make that egg so good?), but delicious. And, for dessert, bacon ice cream.
It was another month before I returned. This time Dustyn took me. But I’m not having fish! she warned me. Trevor sent us out a delicious treat made of the fresh melon wrapped with prosciutto. It didn’t quite taste like Italian, so I asked the waiter. (And by the way Bodean’s waiters are as good as any in Tulsa… or anywhere else.) We make it in house, he said. This is incredible. I know of only one store in New York that does this, an obscure Italian grocery in Corona Heights, Queens. It takes much skill and many months. There was also a subtle, sublime dressing on the melon, made with citrus fruit and pepper.
What fish is best? I asked. There was a “market fish” section of the menu with names of fish I’d never heard of. That section changes daily and reflects the freshest fish. I noticed halibut cheeks. Yes, cheeks from the face. Quite rare — a big 500 pound halibut doesn’t have much cheek meat. I’d had fish cheeks before in New York Chinatown, steamed with black bean sauce, and loved them. So I ordered that.
I asked for it to be made the same way they made the halibut on the regular menu. Pan-roasted with parmesan risotto, roasted red pepper vinaigrette, and crispy spinach. It was delicious. A subtle, delicious flavor, different from the regular halibut. And the regular halibut was delicious too.
How do I know? Because Dustyn ordered it. Trevor talked her into it. And she loved it! Anyone want to take me back to Bodean?
3376 E 51 Street
Open daily from 5 PM to 10 PM and also Monday through Friday from 11 AM to 2:30 PM, when a separate lunch menu is served.
Brian Schwartz: Author
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.