Even though civilization hasn't yet been able to pinpoint the soul, we know it's irreplaceable.
But that's just what Shaun Fiaccone and Kim Dansereau attempted to do when they took over the restaurant space previously occupied by Galileo in late 2009.
Galileo was an eclectic restaurant and bar in the heart of the Paseo Arts District, principally owned and operated by Craig Roche.
Galileo hosted poetry readings, open mic nights and local musicians while offering a better-than-necessary menu to locals who embraced the 1990s resurgence of coffee bar culture. Roche and his partners built a centerpiece to the Paseo with an aesthetic built for its time. The goateed and flannel-clad had a mutual meeting place to discuss love, art and the whole Karmic enchilada over coffee, cocktails or both.
So when Roche died in November 2008 and Galileo followed shortly after, it was a missile to the solar plexus for the arts district known almost as well for its many comebacks as its annual Memorial Day festival.
Not long after partnering with Dansereau to open Picasso Cafe in the fall of 2009, Fiaccone said, “Galileo was the soul of Paseo.”
Fiaccone knew it was risky trying to replace Galileo, so instead, he and Dansereau reimagined it.
“We knew we had a built-in audience,” he said.
So they gave the quirky space a fresh coat of paint, a new name and simplified the menu.
Flying through its freshman, sophomore and junior years, Picasso Cafe, 3009 Paseo Dr., hasn't even graduated its senior year but has successfully completed a soul transplant in the Paseo.
Simplicity was and is the plan. The menu features entrees that don't exceed $14, but the items flying from the kitchen of chef John Madore are far from expected. Madore, who took over the stove at Picasso Cafe after just a few months as a line cook, serves artfully interpreted Americana.
Madore, who joined Picasso after a year in the kitchen at Rococo, brings a fresh, enthusiastic attitude to the table with winners like the ahi tuna Indian taco.
The Indian taco haunting State Fairs past, present and future get a welcome makeover with seared sashimi-grade ahi. The chili is not only vegan, but better than most versions of chili ever ladled over a square of fry bread. Madore has transformed a legendary Oklahoma gut-buster into dish that plays light and fresh without losing an ounce of octane.
Other standout entrees I've had include airline chicken with bacon, blue cheese cream, and risotto, and a three-cheese macaroni and cheese with chicken, onions and tomato.
My favorite sandwich is the lobster po boy with Creole aioli, but the burger is fantastic, too. I'm told the blackened tilapia sandwich should be my next order.
You also will find twists on familiar dishes, such as chorizo and mushroom risotto.
Using the same dough made for the Indian taco, chef John Madore serves a handful of specialty pizzas, plus a build-your-own option. I'm partial to the prosciutto, fig mozzarella and bleu cheese version.
Speaking of figs and prosciutto, Madore's standout appetizer menu offers a Medjools wrapped with the same prosciutto and stuffed with the aforementioned bleu cheese. The house-made pretzel with bacon bleu cheese cream is a crowd-pleaser. The seared tuna with candied garlic, rosemary and soy is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. The quinoa tacos are cool like Sunday morn and delicious to boot. The white queso with chorizo is as good as it sounds.
Perhaps Picasso's greatest strength is its vegetarian-friendly offerings. Let's face it, the vast majority of us consume too much meat of one kind or another. No, dear friends with councils concerned with beef, pork and poultry, I'm not suggesting the general population picket your products. Far from it. I am advocating balance, which has been proven to be the path to enlightenment on many levels. Picasso Cafe does the unusual in that when you do opt for a meatless meal, they offer one that is thoughtful, filling and delicious. Note to my many restaurateur and chef friends, there is more to vegetarian meals than the seasonal vegetable platter.
Picasso offers the previously praised Indian taco without tuna and a chicken-fried Portobello with vegan soy gravy. There also is a pesto-mushroom pasta with caramelized onions, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and feta. How about a Fritos chili pie with vegan chili, red pepper, jalapenos and provolone? Madore also makes a cheeseless vegan pizza with garlic puree, marinara, Roma tomatoes and basil.
Madore also offers six salads and a quiche of the week. The arugula-beet with fried goat cheese and toasted pine nuts is divine.
All this, and I can get a Pimm's Cup, too.
On Sundays, Picasso offers a brunch menu including crepes, frittata, French toast, breakfast sandwich and burrito, an omelet bar and selected regular menu items from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Fiaccone and Dansereau have not only rekindled the spirit of Galileo but elevated it.
Also operating The Other Room, formerly Isis Bar, Fiaccone and Dansereau offer the full Picasso menu in the narrow watering hole that is open until 2 a.m. every day.
Picasso Cafe continues the Galileo tradition of presenting live local music Wednesday through Saturday.
The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; closing at 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and operates 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
For information about catering and private parties, call 602-2002 or go online to picassosonpaseo.com.