Many local restaurants have crab cakes on their menus. But when those crab cakes arrive, they look nothing like those coming from Bruce Rinehart's kitchen. The owner-chef of Rococo Restaurant & Fine Wine is an East Coast guy. He wears his East Coast persona as comfortably as his chef's jacket. He came to Oklahoma City in 2003, looking for a new opportunity, and he quickly learned that regardless of what that opportunity was to be, it would include real crab cakes. "I was asked to stop ordering them by my fellow diners," Rinehart said. In spring 2004, Rococo opened in the space previously occupied by Tony's Italian Specialties, a longstanding Italian restaurant that was gloriously red, white and green with bright red booths and heaping mounds of pasta. Rinehart said that he had a different concept in mind before he got the building and began to hear about what an institution Tony's was. "So many people told us how much the place meant to them that we ended up going in a totally different direction," he said. As an homage to Tony's, Rococo has gangster booths that are bright red, vinyl-lined and highbacked. Whether you sit in a gangster booth, standard table or at the warm, welcoming bar, crab cakes are the starting point for any first-time Rococo customer. "We have Chesapeake Bay blue crab flown in from Maryland daily," Rinehart said. "Nothing against crab from other places; some of them are great. But to make a proper crab cake, these are the only thing we use." When the crab cake arrives, it won't resemble a flattened hush puppy in appearance or flavor. Instead, a mound of lump crab meat, delicately dancing with a couple of kinds of crackers and topped lightly with bread crumbs, will arrive fresh after a brief interlude in the oven. Served with a Thai chile cream sauce and field greens, each bite is dominated by crab - delicious crab. The end will come sooner than you want, not because it's small but because there is no way to get enough good crab cake. But crab is far from the only thing Rococo offers. "It's a big menu," Rinehart said. "We're extremely passionate about food, all kinds of food. You'll see Italian and Asian influences, and I'll stack our steaks against anyone in the city's. If you want to eat light, we've got sandwiches; if you're celebrating, we can hook you up with steak and lobster." Rinehart's passion for food is palpable, and it resonates throughout his eclectic, modern dining room, which includes the aforementioned gangster booths, high tables and a couch adjacent to the bar. Live jazz is offered regularly; there's even a little karaoke from time to time. When asked whether he ever participated, Rinehart, who sounds like an undiscovered voice-over superstar, chuckled, "In another time, after a few adult beverages." As a teenager, Rinehart caught on at the historic Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, one of the most beautiful hotels in the country, and the location where the Marilyn Monroe classic 'Some Like it Hot' was filmed. Rinehart was stuck cleaning and prepping fish - and loving it. "The guy asked me how much I would work for, so I gave him some outrageous amount. He told me he'd pay me five bucks an hour, and I said, "I'll take it!'" From there, he traveled across the country, where he eventually became regional director of operations for Legal Seafoods of Boston. The Connecticut native met chef Jason Bustamante in 1996 and recruited him to Legal. When Rinehart left Legal to open a restaurant in the Mohegan Sun Casino, Bustamante followed. When Rinehart opened Rococo, Bustamante wasn't far behind. Familiarity enables Rinehart and Bustamante to execute the restaurant's diverse menu consistently and with enough flair to stand out in the Oklahoma restaurant community. Once you've tried the crab cake, you'll doubtlessly opt for something in a pasta, such as lobster risotto or a chop. But you'll leave thinking about when you might be able to sneak back by for another taste of Chesapeake Bay. Sundays are a good choice. Rococo serves a brunch menu that includes Crab Cake Benedict. Rococo Restaurant & Fine Wine Rococo offers a Mayor's Menu, in keeping with Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett's weight-loss campaign. Rococo at the Plaza hosts private dinners, cooking classes and special events in partnership with PhotoArt Studios, 1738 NW 16. Rococo is scheduling cooking classes and special events. Where: 2824 N Pennsylvania. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Information: 528-2824 or www.rococo-restaurant.com. Find, rate and review more Oklahoma City restaurants on Wimgo.com
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