POSTED ON MAY 27, 2009:
Think Outside the Box
Brookside hotspot offers contemporary American cuisine inspired by its executive chef Michelle DonaldsonSubhead
Flavor Flow. Lava brings to Brookside a bistro full of contemporary American cuisine with a twist. chef Michelle prepares straight-forward food full of flavor.)
The experience at Lava is like few in Tulsa: the starkness, almost antiseptic-look could be for some a rejection of classic beauty, while others may fully embrace the sleek lines, minimalistic color and design.
A ceiling to floor waterfall greets customers entering Lava, a calm greeting from the sidewalk outside but soon diminished by the large flat screen TV on one wall. Fully enclosed lampshades with red lights provide soft illumination at night. Outdoor dining is also available.
Whatever the style that moves the mind, body or soul, the appetite is a continuous quest for culinary satisfaction, and Lava Noshery provides a dining experience for both body and soul.
Located in the heart of Brookside, Lava serves contemporary American cuisine inspired by its Executive executive Chefchef, Michelle Donaldson, a culinary graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, where she graduated Top Toque with outstanding achievements in community service. Donaldson calls Tulsa her home having lived here since she was 8eight years old, and she said she has "grown up around all facets of food my whole life." She came to Lava as chef in November 2008.
"My menu is definitely a reflection of the influences of taste I have been fortunate enough to experience," said Donaldson of her choice of foods. "I try to offer straightforward, simple food that's, full of flavor. When I write my menus I think seasonally as well as things people are familiar with, and then I put my own twist on it, always trying to open people's palates to something new and interesting.," she explained.
"I always pay attention to the balance of flavors, the appearance of the dishes, the smells, and the overall experience of everything I cook. My heart and soul is reflected in every dish that leaves my kitchen."
Few diners were at Lava the evening my friend and I dined inate here. In fact, for a brief time we were the only diners. We were promptly greeted and seated. "Spring Dinner" featured, as Chef Donaldson said, both the familiar and the not-so familiar. For example, how often does a menu begin with "Cheese Selections" for one ($6), three ($12) and five ($15)?
Donaldson used to run the cheese department at Wild Oats (now Whole Foods) at 41st and Peoria. "I was given the opportunity to taste so many fantastic cheeses, that I like to give our patrons that opportunity and offer a cheese plate like no other in town. A lot of people know me as the 'femme de Fromage,'" she said. The selections included Herbed Chevre, Manchego, Double Cream Brie, Greenheart 1600 Day Gouda and Bleu d'Auvergne.
As good as this looked, my friend and I opted to begin with a Starter special for the evening, Duck Nachos ($10). The cheese was minimal, but with the other toppings of tender grilled duck pieces, grilled onion strips, roasted red pepper, cilantro and a balsamic reduction zigzagged over the top, the cheese wasn't missed. We found these very good, enjoying the sweet and salty combo.
We thought a nice glass of wine should accompany the meal; I chose a glass of Angeline Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($8) while my friend chose the Big Ass Cab, Napa 2006 ($5)--both remarkable choices for the taste and price. Chef Donaldson pointed out, "We have totally revamped our wine list," adding that it is "fun and eclectic." ," said Donaldson.
My dinner entrée was the Balsamic Chicken Breast with Braised Artichokes, Basil Pappardelle with Roasted Tomato Sauce ($22); my dining companion ordered the Filet special ($27). Both were quite good. The flavors of my meal were fantastic--the balsamic sweet echoed from the nachos and permeated the breast. The breast was thin, though; I prefer a plump breast. The Basil Pappardelle was very impressive. This very wide and thin pasta was saturated in a rich pureed tomato sauce; the four hearts were soft with a mild tart tasteness.
The stately filet was presented on a white plate with mashed sweet potatoes below it. The steak was prepared rare as ordered, tender and flavorful. Thick, long sprigs of fresh asparagus came with this dish, grilled al dente.
Other entrees on the menu included the Herbed Veal Burger ($14), Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Brandy Cream Sauce ($16), Seared Black Pepper Duck Breast ($22) and Roasted Rack Baby Back Ribs ($12). Chef Donaldson said some favorites include the wild Wild Mmushroom ravioliRavioli, saying they make all their pastas in-house. With this dish "you get a wonderful meld of earthy mushrooms with brightly flavored tarragon and light cream sauce to even it out. Crispy onions top it off to add some texture."
She also mentioned the ribs as a crowd favorite. "We oven roast them on a low heat so they're very tender. We make our barbeque sauce in-house." The ribs come with a light slaw and a potato salad that "is almost sinful to talk about. We use bacon fat and brown sugar," she said.
So, what sets Lava apart from other restaurants in town? "I think, maybe because of my experiences, age and gender," Chef Donaldson explained. "I'm offering food no one else in Tulsa is. I pair my flavors so differently. I don't make the food intimidating or weird. I just take things people love and put a new spin on it." She said she would love to see more "women running kitchens in Tulsa.; "Wwe just add a different layer of soul to our food,." she said.
Our service, although it dragged a little before our entrees arrived, was very pleasant and accommodating. Donaldson has a few other women there who see that all runs smoothly. "Natalia [Banjac], our front of the house manager, is key in choosing wines, making signature cocktails and being the dominant presence in the dining room." The third person is owner Candace Conley.
Donaldson said, "I think there are definitely some misconceptions about Lava. We don't make snobby food for stuck up people. We make good food with flavor and passion, for anyone who wants to eat it,." said Donaldson. She also admitted that,
"the white building is a bit off-putting, but once you get inside, it's a comfortable surprise. And yes, please, wear your blue jeans, and bring your dog to sit on the patio."
3512 S. Peoria
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