DEKORA HAS SINCE CLOSED PERMANENTLY.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Dekora. There are several soft spots in my heart, actually, which has my cardiologist very worried, but this specific spot is dedicated to Bricktown’s excellent little sushi shop.
Here’s a little history lesson: Dekora used to be In The Raw, a sushi import from Tulsa. While Tulsans love their In The Raw, Oklahoma City never took to the concept quite so well. There was some serious mismanagement and general laziness over the years that drove many customers away. That was before Anna Mains came in. Anna and her ex-husband Drew purchased the business on the cheap because they knew they could do it better and the partners were desperate to turn things around. Unfortunately, no matter how much progress they made, the taint of In The Raw’s reputation made it a tough slog. Add to that a weird disdain held by many of Oklahoma City’s tastemakers for Bricktown and you might understand why the business needed a rebrand. Now running the business solo, Anna is plugging away in an effort to revitalize the restaurant’s lunch and dinner crowd.
ENTER THE DRAGON
Wait, that might be racist. Sorry.
ENTER THE VUONG
Vuong Ngyuen (pronounced Vung Win) is one of Oklahoma City’s culinary heavy hitters. Ask for a list of the most talented chefs in the state and Vuong is there.
His bona fides include graduating from the Coach House Apprenticeship Program, a stint as Guernsey Park’s first head chef and opening his own restaurant — one of my all-time favorite places to eat — the sorely missed Bonjour. Reopening as Cafe Melange hasn’t happened yet, so Vuong is hiring out his talents as a menu consultant. What does that mean to you? Time to visit Dekora. I was lucky enough to stop in at Dekora as Anna and Vuong were rolling out the new menu, which means I got to try several upcoming dishes.
Just an FYI — this review isn’t going to cover the extensive and delicious sushi and sashimi menu. I’ll go back and tell you which rolls I favor soon (promise), but let me go ahead and recommend Science Patroll ($15). This 10-piece beauty is stuffed full of spicy yellowtail, tuna and jalapeño and covered in more yellowtail, a squeeze of lime, dynamite Tataki sauce, spicy mayo and green onions. This is one of the best raw rolls I’ve had in recent memory and an automatic order every time I visit. One of the first things I tried was the new udon noodle soup ($13). Diners get a big bowl of steaming hot broth that is lightly sweet and clean with a nice tang. Inside you’ll find a bunch of udon noodles and one of Vuong’s amazing perfect soft-boiled eggs. This wonderful creation is tempura fried, but when you crack it open, the yolk is still runny. Is this magic? Science? Is Vuong a Science Wizard? There’s no way to be sure without trying to drown him and I’m just not down with violence, guys. What blows me away are the mushrooms in the dish, which are big and mushroomy and you can’t even taste them in the broth. Is that weird? I feel like mushrooms are so powerful they can overtake a dish and these are just sitting there, waiting for you to eat them if you want and totally fine chilling out in the broth if you like to swipe left on fungi.
Anna is all about giving the people what they want, which is why she is bringing back Dekora’s delicious rice bowls. The one I tried is a sure-fire winner thanks to one key ingredient — pork belly ($13). Gorgeous fatty pork belly, tossed in a classic sweet Chinese sauce, is served over a big bowl of rice with a perfect soft-boiled egg and some lightly pickled vegetables. It’s picture perfect when it arrives, but it’s up to you to mess it up before you start eating. Much like the cast iron bibimbap at Chae, this rice bowl is best when you break the egg, stir everything together and then go to town with a pair of chopsticks. I’m trying to think of a meal that checks off more satisfaction boxes than this one. The rice is tender and fluffy and sticky, eager to absorb the sauce. The pork belly is so tender that teeth are completely superfluous to eating it. Just squeeze it between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and it will melt into a potent savory bomb. The vegetables add a bit of crunch and a tangy balance to the sweetness and fattiness of the other ingredients. If you don’t like this, I worry for you. Vuong is especially proud of the sauce, which he calls DDT for "Dekora DownTown." I'd be proud, too.
Equally intoxicating, but for different reasons, is the ceviche ($12). Sushi chef Tommy is killing the game at Dekora and his take on ceviche is no different. The seafood are lobster, shrimp and crab in a sweet and piquant sauce with a hint of chili oil that will have you licking your lips. It give the dish momentum — that urge after every bite that you need to take another and another and another. One trick, he said, is the addition of orange juice to the usual mix of lemon and lime in the ceviche. The sweetness balances the tart, providing a stage for the toasted sesame oil and chili oil to do their respective things. And if you don’t like shellfish, you are a weirdo. But, you know, weirdos are welcome, too, so he can make a version with scallops and fish, too. The last two entrees I tasted represent different spectrums of what Dekora can do. On the healthier side is grilled tuna ($18) served over an edamame succotash. The fish, goodness me, is cooked to that perfect medium rare tuna craves. The outside is slathered in an umami-rich butter and topped with avocado cream. The seared shell gives it the taste of the grill and the texture of steak, while the interior is meltingly luscious.
Fellow food lover Greg Horton was tasting it, as well, and could not get over the edamame succotash. It’s light, bright and satisfying — a meal that is good for you and doesn’t leave you feeling like there’s an anvil in your stomach. Not quite so friendly to the waist is the Japanese fish and chips ($17), which are big pieces of cod dipped in tempura batter and lightly fried served with an order of Togarashi fries. Fried on fried on fried on fried and all of it was delicious. But the capper on an already tasty pub classic is wasabi tartar sauce. “Mayonnaise, Greg? Really? We expect better of you.” Well stop. I love mayonnaise. I like ketchup, too. Every condiment has a place in God’s great big pantry in the sky. Except for honey mustard, which is the sauce version of Lucifer. This creation of Vuong’s has a hint of nasal heat and a burn that fades quickly thanks to the creamy mayo. The fish doesn’t need wasabi tartar sauce, but it’s pretty awesome with it, too. I got to try a pair of desserts, as well. The Strawberry Swirl ($8) is like a fancy version of a no-bake strawberry cheesecake and it’s a winner. The creamy topping avoids cloying sweetness and the crunch of the chocolate crust gives each bite a satisfying conclusion.
True to Dekora’s pop culture roots is the Dragon Ball ($8), which is a dessert that must be shared with anyone at your table and possibly adjacent tables. It’s a giant ice cream ball covered in a shell of chocolate and minced nuts. It’s not a new idea, but it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. And thanks to Vuong’s tutelage, you can be sure the kitchen staff is sparing no expense or effort to make the dessert better than any counterparts. I have high hopes for Dekora. The restaurant has come so far since it was In The Raw and with the new menu, I really hope new customers give it a shot. I think you’ll find an excellent blend of cooked entrees and tasty sushi rolls in a fun, kitschy environment. Bricktown isn’t going anywhere and I hope the same is true for Dekora.