Regardless of the institution, an education is only as good as the person who acquires it. Just because someone went to Harvard or Yale, doesn't automatically make them a genius, (no offense to either of you those alumus, I'm just making a point.)
The same holds true, (and maybe even more so) for a grad of Le Cordon Bleu, Johnson and Wales or The Culinary School in Scottsdale, Ariz. While it's true that you have the building blocks and foundation for a great career, how you apply it and what you do afterwards, separates the chefs from the cooks.
So the simple fact that Matt Kelley, owner of Lucky's Restaurant, 1536 E. 15th St., is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, should not be in and of itself, a guarantee that a) he is an excellent chef, and b) that he is a good businessman. There were several kids in my class that weren't capable of washing dishes properly.
What is of paramount importance with any graduate, of any school, is how well they use their knowledge, where they get their experience, and more importantly how creatively they apply that knowledge and experience in practical situations. That is where Matt proves his worth.
The menu, and the business that he and wife Brooke have created, which includes a very comfortable atmosphere and excellent service ethos, all harmonize to create an extremely memorable and first class experience. Long-time partners, (they started dating in 1989 and have known each other since childhood) Matt and Brooke ventured into a business partnership in 1998 -- The New Atlas Grill -- and ran it together successfully for 8 years. The pair sold it to close friends who still operate it to this day. Possibly even more significant, is the fact that they survived owning a restaurant together for so long without killing each other, and even opened a second one, Lucky's, in September 2007. Well, no wonder they called it Lucky's!
Before our appetizer even arrived a plate appeared with a white bean hummus and flatbread wedges. It was a nice, unobtrusive but tasty lagniappe to start the evening. Too much spice or garlic this early is not necessarily a good thing as it can overpower the taste buds for courses to come. This was just the right balance.
Shortly after, a gorgeous plate arrived with a series of long, thin house-made cracker wedges dotted with black sesame seeds. It was very similar to lavash, which is a type of Armenian or Lebanese unleavened bread. Perched delicately on the wide end of each was a beautiful chunk of barely seared ahi tuna. All were neatly arranged like reversed pizza wedges, drizzled with wasabi and ginger crèmes and artfully sprinkled with microgreens. It was a beautiful plate, and even though the crackers were a little tough, (maybe a bit stale, maybe overworked dough -- not sure) it was an awesome appetizer none-the-less.
Our second starter choice was no less spectacular: a grilled flatbread pizza. Certain food items show up time and time again in world cuisines. The pancake is a good example. From the literal pan-cake, a deep dish version with apples and nuts, to the crêpe, a paper-thin variety found in France and Asia etc.
The flatbread is another. This versatile food in some form is found in Scandinavia, Asia and India, to the Middle East and Europe. With little deviation it is quite simply an unleavened cracker bread, like the aforementioned lavash or a matzo or pita. It was topped with an excellent combination of goat's cheese, fresh sliced figs and pears, drizzled with white truffle oil, and finished with fried sage leaves. It was outstanding. One of those perfect combinations of ingredients you wouldn't necessarily expect to work so well. A choice starter. As a matter of fact, with a nice bottle of one of Lucky's "20 for $20" wines, and a couple more choices form this section, you could have an excellent evening. Other selections included a smoked trout (pate presumably) with fresh horseradish, Granny Smith apples and crème fraiche on crispy pumpernickel -- Black-eyed pea cakes with corn relish and chipotle aioli -- Mexican shrimp cocktail -- grilled Brie with mango chutney -- A fried calamari -- A slider plate -- and a chef's choice cheese platter that includes house made sausage, jalapeno stuffed olives and fresh onion jam. With the exception of the last item, which comes in at $15, all the starters range from $10-12, which may seem a bit on the high side to some readers, until it is placed in front of you and you appreciate the quality. Worth the price, I promise.
There's only so much a guy can eat, even if his boss picks up the tab, so we skipped the salad and soup course, even though the Southwest Caesar, a New Mexican twist on the classic Caesar salad sounded intriguing with the addition of fried polenta and Manchego cheese. It listed for $8, but for another $5 you could add pan foie gras, calamari, or grilled chicken and turn it into a nice entrée. Other offerings in the salad section sounded nice as well, and all came in at $8 or $9. A grilled chicken and hominy soup and chef's soup of the day rounded out the section.
Lucky's entree listings present a nice variety of items to choose from.
"When Brooke and I opened Lucky's we took all of our favorite things and put them together on our menu. We really wanted to support local food sources and our friends that have local businesses," Matt said recently. "Lucky's uses organic produce locally grown when possible, local pork, beef, eggs and sustainable fish. Even our wood is local oak and pecan"
In a recent interview, Wolfgang Puck even admitted it is impossible to buy exclusively local and organic, and he lives in Los Angeles, but Matt comes as close as anyone can here in the middle of the country.
Katie opted for the Asian Pork Chop, a thick beautiful cut of pork loin, still on the bone. It was grilled over oak and pecan, and complimented with a wonderful Asian house made mustard sauce, mashed Yukon Golds, (the best idea since refrigerator cookies) and lovely green beans. It was fantastically tender, and cooked a little past medium, just the way she ordered it.
As an aside, and before I get 50 e-mails, the USDA about 30 years ago said that pork no longer had to be cooked till it's very molecular structure changed, which usually took about three days. (Well, almost!)! It is safe to now eat pork at less than shoe leather done, and frankly much more appealing. Having said that, there is a balance between doneness and tenderness. In the 80s and 90s, during the "other white meat" campaign, pork farmers began breeding some of the intramuscular fat out of hogs, and the over all percentage dropped to a too-lean 8-9 percent. In most experts' opinions, not enough to adequately perform the function that marbling should perform -- to melt during cooking and tenderize the meat. They have swung back the other way now, but it can still be a bit chewy if not cooked enough. I suspect this pork chop was brined; a simple process that cooks and chefs now use more and more, most notably on the Thanksgiving turkey! It was excellent! Tender, flavorful and perfect. (OK, I got my teaching moment out of the way)
I, in a double twist, (my wife usually chooses fish and I am generally the carnivore), I went for the Fire Roasted Salmon, which was also cooked to the perfect medium I requested. It was nicely presented on a bed of black bean, roasted onion and corn salsa, sort of a Southwest succotash, and topped with hollandaise verde, or green hollandaise.
Other items include a Trimbach Riesling Chicken with lemongrass and enoki mushrooms for $19, Crispy Sea Bass served with a pesto crème, lentils and white truffle oil at $29, Country Fried Quail with chipotle gravy $26, a hard-to-resist Bacon Wrapped Halibut with spaghetti squash for $28, and others, including several steaks and a rack of lamb with goat cheese grits, maple butter and haricots verts for $32.
For dessert we opted for a flourless chocolate torte that uses ground pecans as the base. We found it tasty, albeit a bit dry.
Lucky's lunch menu offers the same carefully crafted menu items and is actually bigger than the dinner menu. It offers a nice balance of sandwiches, salads, and entrees, essentially from $7-12.
Brunch looks very nice with a good selection of "brunchy" stuff, topping out at $12 for a No Name Ranch Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs. A chicken fry with sage gravy, Spanish home fries, two eggs any style, and toast. A sampling of other brunch items includes Eggs Poblano: two poached eggs with marinated chicken breast, grilled pineapple, fry bread, and poblano hollandaise for $8 and a Lucky's Omelet for $9 with wild mushrooms, farmhouse cheddar and drizzled with white truffle oil. This one comes with a seared foie gras option for another $5. I know where I'm going Sunday!
The Kelleys are particularly proud of their wine list, as well as a regular schedule of wine dinners. And rightfully so.
"Lucky's wine list is very important to me. I really wanted to have a very unique and eclectic wine list. We have had amazing wine dinners at Lucky's. Michael Dhillon from Bindi. Scott and Annie Shull from Raptor Ridge. Peter Rosback from Sineann. Charles Smith from K Vintners. David O'Reilly from Owen Roe. Ehren Jordan from Turley and Failla," Matt said. "We are getting ready to do our 7th dinner on Jan. 18 for Andy Erickson of Screaming Eagle fame. We take great pride in the fact that at every one of our wine dinners the winemaker is in the house."
We are Lucky to have Lucky's in Tulsa, and I recommend you add it to your list of places to go in 2011. It is well worth the trip.
1536 E. 15th St.
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