POSTED ON NOVEMBER 7, 2007:
SE Asian cuisine on the plate and Buddhist monks on the wall
By Katharine Kelly
KEO 3524 S. Peoria
Asian-style dining continues to soar in popularity, and KEO on Brookside is the latest restaurant to follow this trend in Tulsa. This time, Southeast Asian dishes are featured, with gourmet touches, including Cambodian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and a touch of French for good measure.
Owner Bill Hyman, together with his chef wife Zahidah, created KEO, which is Zahidah's maiden name--with the accent mark adding interest to the name.
"Zahidah's family came to America in 1975, and she has been here since she was five years old," said Bill.
And she never lost her love of preparing and sharing food from her family recipes, as well as some of her own recipes. For this reason, he says, her ingredients are the best.
"Nothing comes out of a bag or box," Hyman said. "Everything is fresh. We have just one freezer, and gelatin is the only thing we keep in there."
A friend and I dined here for lunch and found that the food was very savory and satisfying. Once seated, we began admiring the décor, somewhat minimalist with warm touches.
Hyman says he put much thought into the interior design.
"We wanted to have a modern Asian décor, so we hired an interior designer to accomplish this," he said.
He pointed out some of the subtle nuances of the restaurant, the slight, but significant touches--such as the colors. Most noticeable was the deep orange color of the ceiling swags, which point to the photo on the wall of Buddhist monks. He says he did not want to have Buddha statues sitting around, so this was one way to have the Asian influence without overdoing the effect. He selected limestone, a common building material in Asia, for the base of the bar.
My friend and I began our lunch sampling a few of the small plates as appetizers. Offerings include Fresh Spring Rolls, KEO Cakes, Street Vendor Skewers, Shrimp Dumplings, Spring Rolls, Ahi Poke, Curry Wonton, Papaya Salad and Steamed Mussels.
We immediately ordered the Steamed Mussels, but they were not available this particular day, so we settled on Ahi Poke and Street Vendor Skewers.
The Ahi Poke ($10) was excellent. A delicious onion and soy sauce complemented the very fresh Ahi tuna. Almost every bite was soft and had an expressively fresh taste. There were a few fish cuts with membrane that were cumbersome to chew, but we maneuvered around those.
The exotic name drew our attention to the Street Vendor Skewers ($7). We chose chicken over beef. Two wooden skewers held thin, marinated chicken. While good, my friend and I were a little surprised by the small serving of just one small piece of chicken. The peanut dipping sauce was a delightful touch to the chicken. No street vendor we've known as been so stingy.
For our main dish, I selected the Malaysian Style Fried Rice ($9) and the Tom Ka soup ($9); my friend ordered the Thai Sweet Basil ($10). My soup came first, and the instant aroma was remarkably enticing. Pieces of chicken, mushroom and tomato added bulk to this otherwise loose soup, which also had a base of coconut milk, lemongrass and lime leaf. White rice was served on the side to be added if desired.
My friend and I shared this soup and found it to be one of the best soups we have ever tasted. The richness of the flavors created a taste like no other. I would come back to KEO just for the soup!
I asked for tofu to be added to my Fried Rice, which also came with egg sprouts, peas, carrots and onion. This was very delightful as well--it was a nice portion of savory and approachable flavors all blended in harmony. I found the tofu exceptional--very soft and very much absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients.
Hyman reiterated that he and his wife searched to find the best ingredients, and he said the tofu and coconut milk were two that they had to have just right.
"My wife searched high and low for the best tofu," he said, and it is definitely observed in the Fried Rice dish.
My friend's Thai Sweet Basil--fresh basil, garlic, onion, bell pepper and chili--came with rice as well. He chose the brown rice, and together with the sauce, his meal was very fresh.
A few other dishes include Salads: Cambodian Beef, Vietnamese Chicken, Vermicelli and Thai Chicken. Additional Soups include Tom Yum, Pho and Seafood Tom Yum. A few Specialties are Shrimp Crepe, Vietnamese Baguette, KEO Burger, Tofu and Asparagus, Shrimp & Baby Bok Choy, Red Curry, Thai Green Curry, Me Siam and Pad Thai.
Hyman mentioned that evening offereings include specialty dishes, such as Rib Eye steak and a whole fish, such as a Red Snapper, and overall the portions are larger. A note of importance: prices do not match the to go menu, which Hyman says is slightly higher than the lunch menu because more food is served.
"Four years ago we were thinking about opening an Asian restaurant," Hyman said, "and as recent as eight months ago, we knew we were onto something with Asian food. People's taste buds are more educated these days, partly because many people in Tulsa are well traveled, and it is reflected in the fact that they are venturing out to new restaurants with different cuisines."
3524 S. Peoria
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