OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis – “all things change, and we change with them” – has been a saying since the days of the Roman Empire. And since the Roman-era frescoes that filled the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in its “The Painters of Pompeii” exhibition have departed, the themed pop-up restaurant (itself a temporary replacement for the previous incarnation of the Museum Cafe) closed as well, making room for a new restaurant in the space. Hail and farewell, Cafe Pompeii; bonjour, Centre Bistro.
The vibe inside is a bit elegant but mostly quiet, with a cool, unobtrusive color scheme and high ceilings that make the room feel even bigger than it is. It’s well spaced for quiet conversation, though they might be planning to add more tables if we ever manage to beat the pandemic (speaking of which: Get boosted ASAP, s’il vous plait).
But perhaps the most immediately apposite note on the layout is that diners place their order at a register near the passageway to the Museum proper. If you come in through the external revolving door from the patio at the east side of the building, don’t stand there waiting to be seated; circle around to your left and head for the bar.
This is primarily a lunch spot, and the menu has surprising variety for its comparative brevity, boasting clear French, Italian and Lebanese influences. I’m going to have to try the fried halloumi appetizer next time.
The burger with gorgonzola, pancetta and house-made onion marmalade sounds pretty spectacular … but I decided to aim just a little classier for this first visit, so I asked the cashier for some ideas. The Pava romesco melt was her immediate, enthusiastic recommendation – apparently it’s the breakout star of the nascent menu, and as I was ordering it, both the staff members within earshot assured me that they eat it multiple times a week.
It’s a familiar sandwich concept with enough tweaks and enhancements to make it genuinely special: Warm, tender roasted turkey with a dab of creamy fontina, arugula and a thick smear of exceptional sauce on a soft bun. Romesco has almonds, tomatoes, red peppers, garlic … I couldn’t guess executive chef Michael Haddad’s recipe, but I wouldn’t mind even a little bit were Santa to bring me a jar for Christmas.
My one note – not even a complaint – is that the arugula is dressed with a splash of olive oil, which gives the sandwich a lovely, quiet flavor boost but might be enough to steer you elsewhere if you’re trying to impress your lunch companions with your suavity. It’s just a trifle drippy. I overheard enough of the conversation at the next table to guess that it was a headhunting or job interview, and they were having the pasta carbonara. On the other hand, it did look pretty appetizing.
I lingered long enough to decide on the fleur de sel caramel chocolate tart for dessert; it’s extremely rich, on the verge of overwhelming sweetness were it not balanced out just enough by the namesake fancy salt, and far too much for one person to eat in one sitting. At least, I couldn’t.
With the calendar pages running out on 2021 and the promise inherent in a new year on the horizon, this seems a good time to remember that while change comes for us all, that’s not a bad thing. All things change … and sometimes the results are delicious.
415 Couch Drive, inside OKC Museum of Art
Sunday 11am-5pm; brunch 11am-3pm
Last Updated December 22, 2021, 5:54 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor