I was only in Oklahoma City for about 36 hours, as everything that could have gone wrong for me on Wednesday did, but I at least salvaged the day with an outstanding experience at Ludivine, a farm-to-table restaurant in downtown OKC.
Ludivine’s menu changes daily depending on what ingredients they’ve acquired, with everything except seafood and a few cheeses sourced locally. The dishes are highly creative in the way they layer flavors and use ingredients in unconventional ways, such as the rabbit liver vinaigrette on my salad, or the blueberry thyme bread pudding served with the crispy sweetbread (which I didn’t try).
I started with a charcuterie plate – they make most of it in-house, and I spotted Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie on their bookshelf – including their pork rillette, duck speck, and house-cured salmon. The rillette was very tender, held together with bacon fat, but a little underseasoned for me, so it needed help from the whole-grain mustard and homemade pickles provided on the plate. The paper-thin salmon needed nothing else, not even the hit of acid I usually crave when I eat cured or smoked salmon, among the best dishes of its kind I’ve had. Speck is a smoked product usually made from the pig’s hind leg or thigh, like prosciutto, but Ludivine uses duck breast instead; the resulting product was salty and very smoky, pairing well with the blackberry-tarragon “marmalade” also provided on the platter but too strong to eat on its own. (Nitpick: It’s not marmalade without citrus rind, unless we’re speaking a language other than English.)
The aforementioned salad had the freshest mustard greens and arugula I’ve ever had from any place other than my own gardens – they defined the color “green” – as well as half-inch wide lardons (chunks of bacon) that had been quickly fried to crisp them up and a generous shaving of grana Padano cheese (Parmiggiano-Reggiano that was made in the Padua region, so it must go by another name). The rabbit-liver dressing had a peculiar texture, not grainy, almost muddy, but it may have simply stood out because I’d never had a dressing like it before. The flavor was very subtle, and next to the bacon, cheese, and two peppery greens, the vinaigrette was just a background note.
I went with another starter rather than a full entree, trying bone marrow for the first time – which means I have nothing to which to compare the dish. The marrow bone was cut in half the long way, roasted to brown the top but leave the interior pink, and served with more whole-grain mustard and a lightly pickled shallot; the marrow meat was luxuriously soft, obviously fatty, but bright and mild in flavor, more like a fresh butter than a heavy meat. I have no idea if this was a great marrow dish or not, however, only that I enjoyed it.
For dessert, the salted caramel crème brulee was tempting, but even I have my limits when it comes to saturated fat, and went instead for the fresh strawberries (lightly sugared) and blueberries … served in fresh cream, of course. The strawberries were good, but the blueberries were perfect, and that cream was a reminder that the stuff we get in paper cartons in the store is a mere facsimile of the genuine article. (Organic Valley’s pasture-raised cream comes fairly close, though.)
I’ll give Ludivine bonus points for that bookshelf as well, since it also included The Flavor Bible and my friend Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I felt like my own cookbook collection was partially validated.
Total cost of the meal was around $50 including tip but no drink (I was too tired for alcohol), well worth it between the meal and the chance to support the local food industry. This is real food, sourced right and prepared right.
To the links…
A WSJ piece on the rising use of “spent grains,”, the solid matter left over during the brewing process after the wort is strained. They apparently make excellent bread.
From the New York Times, a mini-memoir piece called “All I Wanted Was for Alice Waters to Feed Me,” excerpted from author Daniel Duane’s new cooking memoir.
Slate’s Josh Levin argues (correctly) that colleges shouldn’t be allowed to yank athletic scholarships.
TIME‘s Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians and one of the two minds behind their top 100 novels list in 2005, argues that genre fiction is disruptive technology, in an essay of which I think Jasper Fforde would approve. Indeed, Wilkie Collins was among the earliest practicioners of what is now called genre fiction, and his mentor was none other than Charles Dickens.
Should a university – or anyone, for that matter – be allowed to patent a cut of steak? Obviously not, although I find it more galling that a public university is trying to do it. Then again, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been busy approving nonsense patents for about fifteen years, so I’m not optimistic that they’ll reject this one.
Bonus link, from my friend Rene Saggiadi: ten “Italian” food facts that aren’t authentically Italian. I didn’t know about the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but we also didn’t have that tradition in my family.