First Looks is not a review. It’s your peek inside the newest restaurants in Oklahoma, letting you know what to expect (and maybe what to order) when you go.
I’m starting to think Fabio Viviani likes Oklahoma.
The famed “Top Chef” contestant and in-demand restaurateur opened Osteria in Oklahoma City less than a year ago and he’s already back with his culinary bromance partner Jonathon Stranger in their new Deep Deuce spot, Bar Cicchetti.
A few things to note about Bar Cicchetti:
- It takes over the departed Urban Johnnie and updates the concept. Much as UJ sought to be an upscale sports bar, Cicchetti is a bar first—the cocktail list is bonkers—with a selection of “elevated” bar food.
- “Cicchetti-style” service is very similar to the initial style at The Drake in Uptown 23rd, with small, share-able plates that come out of the kitchen when they’re ready, not as set courses. Because who wants to wait for your friend to finish a salad before your steak arrives?
It’s a two-story restaurant with bars on both floors. The look is gorgeous. I’m especially impressed with their TV workaround—the luminous paintings on the wall can be flipped to reveal TVs when a big game is on, or continue looking otherworldly while you dine on some pretty next-level food.
That said, I went during a soft opening, which is a time of flux for any restaurant. Servers, chefs, bartenders are all learning the ropes at the same time. There was a lot of good and still plenty of room for improvement.
Among the favorites:
Lamb meatballs ($12) are so good it makes me happy that lamb died. Very tender meatballs, subtly spiced, and served with chimichurri that gives it a bright pop of heat, yogurt to cool it down, and mint for that classic lamb flavor.
I was deeply happy my friend Nathan was there with me, because I could mindlessly chow down on these until the sturdy banquette I was sitting on gives way. Really excellent bar food.
Ditto on patatas bravas ($9), which are elegantly fried bite-sized potatoes with rosemary on a bed of garlic aioli. They are not cheese fries. They are much, much better. Seriously great potatoes.
But if there’s one small plate I think ought to be mandatory, it’s the crispy cauliflower ($11) with the lemon aioli and housemade spicy peppadew sauce. What they’ve done to the cauliflower is nothing short of magical. The crispy golden brown exterior gives way to tender, nutty cauliflower. The aioli is great, but that peppadew sauce is burned into my brain.
The Nishyobi Akaushi steak ($26) with sweet potato, Spanish chorizo, and bleu cheese comes to the table pre-sliced, so you don’t have to bother with a pesky knife. Ours was maybe just a tad too charred, but the center was a perfect medium rare and the side dish was a wonder to behold. Like I said, early days, but I think they’ll figure this out pretty soon.
I thought the saffron bouillabaisse ($34) was a winner, but it’s a pretty subtle dish for all its ostentatious presentation. The broth is the secret star—pricey saffron infuses it with a swirl of spice—that sadly doesn’t really penetrate the mix of shrimp, squid, clams, and mussels in the bowl. Be sure to ask for a spoon, because you’re not going to want to let this liquid gold go.
That said, the seafood was all cooked perfectly: juicy, tender shrimp, supple mussels, tasty clams.
Similar to a dish at another Stranger joint, the wild mushroom toast ($18) is a huge piece of bread covered in three cheeses—parmesan, bleu, and goat—with roasted wild mushrooms and a perfectly cooked egg on top.
My only warning on this one is that it’s best to share. This dish is rrrrrrich. Like your great uncle who was born on an oil well and invented The Matrix. A few bites put me out of commission in a very satisfying way.
I also thought the braised pork shank ($21) with fingerling potato salad was excellent. Order it as an entree and I promise you’ll have enough leftover pork to make one heck of a sandwich the next day. Don’t bother using a knife. Just twist your fork into it and pull.
For dessert, I highly recommend the olive oil lemon cake ($8). It was kind of perfect, honestly. Not too sweet. Not too tart. Moist and rich without being heavy or cloying. The macerated berries are a perfect counterbalance. I couldn’t eat another thing, but I might could eat another one of those.
Bar Cicchetti opens to the public on Sept. 18, 2019 and, just a guess, it’s probably going to be busy for a long time to come. Get a reservation or sneak in for lunch and give it a try.