We've got 363 days to make something happen in 2013, and here's a list of things I'm hoping to see or will do my best to make happen in the Oklahoma City area's culinary landscape.
The evolution of Saturn Grill: Chef/owner Joseph Royer might well be the city's most talented chef. Royer used his newest Saturn Grill location in MidTown to begin to nudge the wildly successful concept upward by bolstering the menu with small plates and entrees and adding table service, and a full-service bar. The atmosphere in the new place also fully realizes Royer's artistic spirit with its converging lines and neo-Jetsons flourishes. Servers use iPads to manage orders and complete credit card transactions. Royer intends this to be the new standard for Saturn Grill, which has long been a benchmark for local fast-casual dining. If it improves, competition will have to answer, which is a win for diners. By elevating the goals of Saturn Grill, Royer gives himself ample room to flex his culinary muscles — another win for diners.
Barbecue: I got late word over the weekend that Coach's will close its downtown location, selling back its interest to the RedHawks. That means the place I was most wont to get barbecue is no more. Pitmaster Russ “The Smokin' Okie” Garrett says his barbecue will be available at the Zoo Amphitheatre, where he'll manage concessions for Enduring Brands. We've got some good longtime barbecue brands like Van's Pig Stand and Leo's. Iron Starr Urban BBQ does some terrific stuff, but none of these are currently creating the kind of stir that inspires zealotry. I would love to see people lined up for Oklahoma barbecue so good they're willing to chance waiting an hour only to be told the smoker is empty.
Liquor laws: I hoped for a common-sense approach to updating our liquor laws, but that didn't happen. In fact, we got the polar opposite. I'll say this again: We need a law that protects our best local liquor stores by allowing them refrigeration and license to sell mixers, foods and logical accoutrements like corkscrews, bottle openers and cocktail shakers. The law also needs to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores and eliminate the need for low-point beer. Let's hold our elected official accountable this year.
Wanted: A good Cuban restaurant in Oklahoma City. I am routinely asked where to find good Cuban food in Oklahoma City, and the answer is always the same: in a time machine. The last good Cuban cafe I recall was located in a little house on N Western Avenue, just north of NW 23 Street in the early 1990s. Surely we've got some Cubans in town looking for a way to share their knowledge of pit-roasted pork, fried plantains, pork sandwiches, black beans and saffron-scented rice.
Tabb Singleton: Last week, the “Chopped” champ, who toils in the kitchen of Emeril's NOLA in New Orleans, was in his hometown of Idabel to be given the key to the city and a parade in honor of his triumph on Food Network's top-rated weekly cook-off. What a great way to end 2012 for Singleton. Here's hoping he celebrates the end of 2013 in a brand-new restaurant in Oklahoma City in which he writes the menu and owns a stake.
Josh Valentine: I'm not going to hope against hope that JV reopens Divine Swine, but I am going to wish for a win on Bravo's “Top Chef” with an ensuing guest-cheffing victory tour through Oklahoma City. The show concludes in February, and episodes air at 9 p.m. Wednesdays. The Tasting Room, 4322 N Western Ave., hosts weekly watch parties from 8 to 10 p.m.
102-course service: Speaking of The Tasting Room, I'd love to see chefs Kurt Fleischfresser and David Henry do it all over again — plus one. We're building something in Oklahoma kitchens, and this event, if repeated and topped, is bound to draw even more attention from beyond our borders.
Restraint: I would love to see restaurants move away from monster platter of food in the name of “projecting value.” The best way to ensure customers return is good food and good will. Helping them avoid heart disease is a step in the right direction. On the flip side, as diners we have a responsibility to our own health and the health of our loved ones by not demanding quantity over quality.
Also of note: In my review of 2012, I mentioned I'd love to see continued success and growth for farm-to-fork concepts and an increase in the number of locavores. A great place to get your local on is the Urban Agrarian Market, 1235 SW 2 St. Owner Matthew Burch does a great job of stocking seasonal, local products. ... Yes, I need to lose weight, and this is the year! I hope. ... The Devon Tower's Vast is one of the city's most important restaurants, and I would love to see it justify that designation. As I mentioned before, anonymous Internet grousing lacks credibility, but there has been enough that it's worth addressing. Hopefully the staff can take a step back, deep breath and make things right ... I hope this is the year local fishmonger extraordinaire Delancy Miller can find a way to bring his expertise into his own retail location for Delancey Street Seafood. We lost Avalon Seafood this year, and are down to only Gulfport. Yes, seafood has improved at local grocery stores, but it's impossible to beat a fishmonger who is not only looking out for our needs, but also the needs of our planet's fish population.