Now more than a decade old, The Museum Cafe, 415 Couch Drive, has built a reputation as one of downtown's top spots for dining, day or night.
Located on the east tip of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the Cafe is a hot spot before events at the Civic Center Music Hall and, according to a recent report from OpenTable.com, one of the best 100 brunches in America.
Chef Henry Boudreaux took over as executive chef for Cafe general manager Ahmad Farnia a little more than a year ago. Boudreaux served as sous chef under Gayland Toriello in 2011 before taking a four-month tour of Italy.
Boudreaux describes the Cafe as a fusion of classic French techniques with the spirit of New American cuisine.
“I'm not doing as many beurre blancs or beurre rouges,” he said. “I'm going more with gastriques, but I'm focusing more than anything on being seasonal.”
Spring has sprung, so that's the season he's focused on now. He's particularly excited about sharing one ingredient.
“Fiddlehead ferns,” he said. “I'm getting these from Oregon ... They're tightly coiled when you get them in season, but when they come uncoiled, they become poisonous, so what I did, is when I got them in, is I pickled some of them so I will have them available the whole season.”
He said he did the same thing with ramps, which are wild onions with garlic breath.
Inspired by Italy
He plans to make seasonal changes to the menu every three months. That decision is directly linked to the four months Boudreaux spent in northwestern Italy in the Piemonte region, only half an hour from the white truffles of Alba. He stayed in a village made up of about 75 farmers. Boudreaux worked at what he called an agriturismo, at a restaurant with a menu that changed daily.
“Everything was from scratch,” he said. “It wasn't like you went to the store. You went outside.”
He said eggs for the pasta came from a nearby farm, and the goat cheese was made by a neighbor.
He said his job was to decipher the daily menu scrawled in Italian on a board then venture into the fields to find the bounty needed to fulfill the menu's promise.
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Boudreaux said he also learned how to make a proper risotto while in Italy.
“I thought I knew how to make risotto when I got there,” he said. “So I showed them how I made it, and they said, ‘no.'”
To Boudreaux's credit, he deferred to his Italian mentors and took note.
“I made it every day while I was there,” Boudreaux said. “And the old Italian grandmother would yell at me in Italian if I did it wrong, so I think I've got it down now.”
So much so, that Boudreaux, 24, added risotto to the daily menu at the Museum Cafe.
About the menu
Anyone interested in eating risotto the way it's served in northwestern Italy can now get it at The Museum Cafe. The spring menu includes a venison entree with spring onion risotto, fresh peas and strawberry-balsamic demi glace that sounds inviting.
“Our brunch is one of our busiest times. It's pretty much reservation only,” Boudreaux said.
And why not, with mimosas made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, pulled pork hash made of fennel-braised pork and Duck Confit Polenta, to name a few.
On my most recent trip, Boudreaux made grilled quail with bamboo rice, gooseberry vinaigrette and sauteed tomatoes. The quail was succulent, and the rice threw me floral notes from the plate and a nutty finish on the palate.
He also made pan-seared scallops with Boursin-whipped potatoes and a honey beurre blanc. The scallops were delicate in the center with just enough crust, and the potatoes, well, let's do the math: Boursin cheese + butter-whipped potatoes = more please. And then dab either (both) in honey-tinged whipped butter sauce, and conversation might disappear for a while.
The spring menu shows plenty of fiddleheads and ramps, but also a lot of quinoa and celeriac.
Boudreaux recommends the sweet breads he prepares with sage, lemons and prosciutto. For spring, he's going into the way-back machine and stopping off in France to present escargot in garlic-butter.
“I'm doing it real traditional,” he said.
He thinks no meal is should commence without fried-green tomatoes with poblano cream and corn relish. I concur.
About the Cafe
The Museum Cafe opened in May 2002 under the management of now-defunct Restaurant Resource Group. Chefs Robert Black and Chris McCabe were first at the stove and have since become stalwarts for A Good Egg Dining Group.
The Museum Cafe grew into a downtown standby under Farnia. The menu has always been based on classic French techniques while reflecting the creative spirit of the museum.
Those going to see a film at the museum can get on the fast track with a prix fixe dinner and a movie for $28, which includes two courses and tickets to the movie.
To check out the full menu and make reservations, go online to okcmoa.com/eat.