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Chef Rick Bayless' visit to Oklahoma benefits more than tornado recovery efforts

The Food Dude shares news and notes from around the Oklahoma dining scene, including a surprise visit for chef Rick Bayless.
by Dave Cathey Modified: July 2, 2013 at 5:46 pm •  Published: July 3, 2013

While S&B Burger Joint's attack on the local hamburger market increases, the city lost one of its most precious resources, Saigon Baguette, which closed June 24.

Also known as Bale Banh Mi, it was owned and operated by Nhung Ngoc Nguyen, who also goes by Mona. She opened in the wedge-shaped building best known as the Townley's milk bottle roost back in 1999. Charging $1.85 for a French baguette stuffed with meat of your choice, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro and jalapeno, it was the best value in town every day it was open. Saigon Baguette's sausage-stuffed egg rolls were so good my normally vegetarian wife was happy to flip-flop her culinary principles for one. Sometimes two.

Nguyen's role in the rise of the Asian District is immeasurable. Hers was one of the first restaurants to draw folks of all colors, sizes and shapes from all over the city. Well done, Mona! ...

Chef Cally Johnson never does anything small. From cheffing up tacos and hot dogs to social media, Cally goes big or goes home.

The current focus of her attention is Cafe 501 in Classen Curve. Johnson worked for owner Peter Holloway and his wife, Sherie, at Boulevard Steakhouse before leaving for Cheever's and then on to Taco Twindom with Kathryn Mathis at Big Truck Tacos.

Cally is still a partner in Big Truck and Mutt's Amazing Hot Dogs, but she wanted to return to her cooking roots and push herself and took a job helping out at Oak Tree Country Club.

“I learned a lot,” she said of the experience, which was done mostly to help out a friend. “I learned I never want to be a country club chef again!”

She said the challenges were enormous and helped center her attention on her cooking skills. So, she took a job with the Holloways to fulfill her desire to push herself as a chef. Since she's joined 501 at Classen Curve, the restaurant has ditched its fast-casual service at lunch time and is now a full-service restaurant full-time. She's also made changes to the menu to fit that style.

On July 11, Cally will take her famous plancha out onto the patio for a live cooking event with special cocktails. She's got wine-and-cheese pairings scheduled with Whole Foods on July 14 and Aug. 11. Also, just in time for the dog days of summer, the Classen Curve location will host Yappy Days — pooch-friendly meal service on the patio from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Cally and the Holloways are working on plans for a major concept downtown, but details can't be released as no deal is official. ...

Meanwhile, speaking of Classen Curve, there's a lot of construction going on where extra parking once was promised. But the work being done looks a lot more like new construction than simple paving and painting. One might even get the impression a restaurant was planned for the spot.

Could the longtime rumor of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse come to fruition? Stay tuned. ...

Matthew Kenney was in town last week for the reopening of his Classen Curve space as Tamazul Modern Mexican Kitchen and Mezcal Bar, an upscale Mexican food concept with chef Ryan Parrott in the kitchen.

Named for a piece of artwork by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo, the restaurant seeks to bridge the Tex-Mex traditions so popular across the country with ingredients and techniques traditional in Mexico.

The restaurant is open but not fully operational. For the next week or two, Tamazul will open for dinner only, and portions of the menu might not be available. Kenney's leadership team, including director of culinary operations Rob Crabtree, general manager Vivian Wood and chef Parrott, opted to soft open the restaurant gradually to prepare for full launch by mid-July.

I attended a preview dinner last week and left anxious to return. The restaurant has all the earmarks of greatness: interesting decor, a strong bar, familiar food prepared in a unique way and an energetic, enthusiastic wait staff.

by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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