Sunday, February 28, 2010

Restaurant sans Rival

One of the pleasures of my job is eating in some of the country's finest restaurants. What a treat to find one in my own backyard! Oh, there are many fine restaurants in the Oklahoma City area but Friday night I dined (not ate -- dined) at a spot that exceeded all my expectations.

I was scheduled to speak on Saturday morning at the Norman Public Library. Having to make the trek, I decided to do some research in the process. Jennifer Tregarthen at the Norman CVB made arrangements for me to stay at Whispering Pines Inn. The owners, the Kchao family, also extended an invitation to dinner -- including a companion -- in their restaurant. I'll be writing about my stay in the Edmond Sun's next weekend edition but for this post, I want to concentrate on dining.

The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Reservations are required -- they time the baking of their home-made yeast rolls based on the number and time of reservations. Everything is from scratch and the presentation is sheer artistry. Let me describe the meal.

The Whispering Pines main house is a large, Victorian-style structure. There are three dining areas. Two of the three rooms have fireplaces. The lighting is subtle; the linens crisp and white. The seating is limited but, unlike many restaurants, they've provided ample space so you won't feel crowded. And it's quiet. Everything is planned to enhance the dining experience -- to provide an atmosphere of serenity and elegance.

My friend, Billie Lee, and I each started with a glass of wine. We were brought a basket with rolls and dishes with honey/dill butter. I could have made a meal on the rolls alone! But we were in for more pleasures. The soup du jour was lobster bisque -- rich and rosy and garnished with a scribble of cream.

We cleansed our palates with a tiny scoop of citrus sorbet in an icy dish.

Billie ordered salmon and I chose filet mignon. I'm a when-Harry-met-Sally kind of a steak orderer -- "I'd like it medium -- on the rare side -- but not medium-rare" -- and it was absolutely perfect. Billie let me taste her salmon and it, too, was just right -- flaky, moist and flavorful.

Our entrees were served with fresh vegetables -- carrots, yellow squash, zucchini and asparagus spears. Rather than being cut into the usual bits, the vegetables (except the asparagus) were cut into little spheres -- a colorful confetti-look on the plate. Twice-baked potato was piped into a swirly design and browned. And there was a rosebud garnishing the plate -- not just any rosebud. This one was carved out of potato. I've seen tomato roses and radish roses but the potato rose takes the prize! The food was so good that no embellishment was necessary but the hallmark of the Kchao's is the attention they pay to the tiniest details.

In a fit of self-control, belated though it was, we decided to split a dessert. Our choices included a creme brulee, something chocolate and -- cinnamon raisin bread pudding with a scoop of homemade vanilla bean ice cream and fresh raspberry puree. Oh, died and gone to heaven!

The service was impeccable -- attentive without being obtrusive. The price? My steak, at $33, was one of the most expensive items on the menu. Our entire meal, with wine, was about $100. Given the ambience and the experience, it was a bargain.

Whispering Pines is located at 7820 East Highway 9, southeast of Norman. Call 405-447-0202 or 888-876-0202 for reservations.

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