8 Oklahoma City restaurants we wish would reopen for Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Day is nigh and reservations at Oklahoma City’s most exclusive restaurants are disappearing fast. If only we could call for reinforcements. Here are 8 local restaurants I wish we could reopen just for Valentine’s Day.
Fine-dining in Oklahoma City was born beneath the building that still bears Frank Hightower’s name in downtown Oklahoma City.
Originally a tea room, Hightower commissioned culinary legend James Beard to help him convert The Cellar at Hightower into a modern French restaurant in the early 1960s. Beard hired John Bennett, a recent graduate of the fledgling Culinary Institute of America, as its first chef. Bennett grew up in rural southern Oklahoma and graduated from Norman High School before heading east for his culinary education.
The Cellar introduced Oklahoma to classic French technique, flavors and service. Bennett’s clam chowder and chocolate mousse, served in a silver bowl with fresh flowers, were legendary. The Cellar closed in 1984. Chef Bennett lives in semi-retirement in Oklahoma City.
While James Beard was busy overhauling The Cellar at Hightower, Jacques Orenstein introduced French cuisine to Oklahoma City in 1963.
Orenstein abandoned a career in sales to buy a restaurant at NW 50th and Shartel to realize a dream spending a portion of his youth in New Orleans. Dimmed lights, an accordion player gliding table to table, and Veal Orloff were common sights at Jacques’.
The space started out as a tearoom “for little old ladies with hats” before he converted it into Jacques' Internationale in 1964. That was the same year Orenstein began a weekly cooking segment on WKY-TV’s “Dannysday.” The restaurant and the show continued until 1971.
Orenstein would open Jacques' Sign of the Ram (1968-74), and The French Revolution on Northwest Expressway (1974-76). He died at the age of 81 in 2000.
Chef John Vernon was the sous chef at The Cellar before opening Chez Vernon in a small strip on the southwest corner of Classen Boulevard and NW 30th in 1971.
Vernon was known for his omelet skills and popular cooking classes. Vernon had stand out pastry chefs in Rosemary Grave and Richard Welte, and a charming dining room that showcased local artists.
Vernon sold the restaurant to Henri Chansolme in December 1977 before moving to Van Nuys, California. Vernon became well-known in Orange County for catering and as a frequent political candidate for the Libertarian Party. He died in 1993 at the age of 53. The restaurant closed in 1979.
In 1965 J.C. and Ruby Wood began opening their home in a wooded area near what is now Will Rogers Park to diners. After the Woods retired, sons Larry and Jerry carried on the tradition and built it into one of the city’s most elegant restaurant, overlooking a small pond and large pasture populated by horses.
For two decades, its Coventry Lounge became a popular spot for touring performers. The Interstate 44 development cost Christopher’s two acres when it was built, but Christopher’s was ultimately felled by a personal decision.
After nearly two decades of letting the good times roll, Larry Wood became a born-again Christian. When liquor-by-the-drink passed in 1985, Woods decided to close the bar rather than change, citing his newfound faith.
The restaurant closed the following summer. Both Larry and Jerry are alive and well and living in the Oklahoma City area today.
Founded in 1985 by Chris Lower, The Coach House would become Oklahoma City’s standard-bearer for culinary arts for three decades under chef Kurt Fleischfresser.
Home to an apprenticeship program backed by the U.S. Department of Commerce that produced dozens of chefs, carrying with them Fleischfresser’s commitment to local farms and ranches, that populate the market today.
The end of February marks two years since the last Dover sole was sold.
Fleischfresser is director of culinary operations at Vast and has a stake in Western Concepts restaurant group. Lower still owns The Metro Wine Bar and Bistro, Big Truck Tacos, and Pizzeria Gusto. They remain part-owners in Irma’s Burger Shack.
Val Gene Associates Restaurant Group opened more than 30 concepts in the four-plus decades of operation, but none stood taller than The Eagle’s Nest.
First the Chandelle Club in 1964 and currently 3Sixty Restaurant and Bar, the restaurant space atop Founder Tower was called The Eagle’s Nest from 1979 to 1996. Chef Martin Van Stolk created a dynamic menu that drew throngs to the still-rotating dining room for proposals, anniversaries, and assorted special occasions.
The Eagle’s Nest became Nikz at the Top in 1996, The George Prime Steakhouse in 2014 and the current 3Sixty Restaurant and Bar last year.
Despite the macabre back-story, Valentine’s Day was always the busiest night of the year at Art and Marian Thibault’s Haunted House restaurant, Halloween a close second.
The grand old Carriker home was the scene for three deaths – one murder, one natural, and one suicide – became legendary for intimate dining and special occasions for the next 50 years.
Art Thibault died in the early 1990s, but his wife Marian kept the place open to the day she died in 2015. New owners bought the restaurant at auction shortly after but were only able to keep it going through the end of 2016.
Paul Seikel (Pearl’s Restaurant Group) has been involved in dozens of restaurants in his career, but none were more opulent than The White House.
Established in a home originally built by Harvey Everest in 1931, he sold it first to Henry Bellmon who used it as a law office until he was elected governor in 1972. The restaurant opened shortly thereafter.
Ostentatious dining ensued for nine years in the two-story, 8,500-square-foot home with a portico fronted with white, Corinthian columns on NE 63rd Street. Seikel was brought onto The White House team towards the end of its run by mentor Bill Shumate.
After The White House closed, Seikel helped turn the mansion into an Italian concept called Sarducci’s. (Yes, it was named for then-famous Saturday Night Live character Father Guido Sarducci.) After Sarducci’s closed, the building was sold to another law firm.
It burned to the ground in an arson fire in 1988 and immediately renovated to recapture its original glory. The structure is currently home to the Abel Law Firm.