Coriander Cafe


Two years ago something fantastic happened; Norman got (good) pho.

If you don’t know about pho, now would be a good time to check out my previous lectures.

Coriander Cafe on Campus Corner is the brain child of Owner Christopher Lê and Chef Jeremiah Caldwell, and when I am working in the Norman area I now know that I can get reliably good Vietnamese fare.

While I have almost always had good luck with pho in Oklahoma City, it seemed that none of the attempts being made in Norman were working out.

Coriander can be found at the northwest end of the Campus Corner area, at White and Buchanan; unlike most of its raucous neighbors, Coriander is notably calm, a good place to slow down.

The menu here is simple, but well executed.

You start by deciding between five choices; bahn mi sandwich, rice bowl, pho, lettuce wrap, or vermicelli noodle salad. Then select from nine or so meats (or tofu). Voila, your meal is on its way.

If you are the type of person that desires appetizers, they can help you there as well. Springs rolls, both the cold kind and the fried kind, are always a good bet, as well as their shredded green papaya salad with mango.Two dollars more adds shrimp to that salad, making it a meal in its own right.

They offer several teas and coffees, including large mugs of Ca Phe Sua Da, and even a few domestic beers, if you so choose.

The quality of the food has always been good, probably because of the care they take when selecting their ingredients. Many of their meats are sourced from Artisan’s Pride, right in Norman, and their Tofu is made in Oklahoma City, by Thanh-Son Tofu, so everything is always fresh.

This is one of the few places in the area where you can find both vegetarian and true vegan menu options, clearly stated and without fuss, as well.

Coriander is open every day but Sunday, for both lunch and dinner.

If you are looking for good pho south of the metro, or just want to try something new, I can say with confidence that you will have a good meal, timely service, friendly staff, a casual atmosphere, and pho(od) that can’t be beat.

I don’t like to be negative when I am writing about food. If it’s bad, I just won’t write about it. I will, however, say that although there are currently two places to eat Vietnamese on Campus Corner, I only eat at one of them.

If you disagree, let me know why. I always like to hear people’s thoughts on food.

Find out more at Coriander Cafe’s Website.

Local


Some of you may know this already, due to my recent propensity for shouting at roof tops, but I have a new favorite restaurant. In the past, I may have been afraid to dedicate myself to such an idea as a single favorite place, but last week that all changed, because I found a place in Norman called Local.

An unassuming name for a surprisingly well enacted idea, that combines a wide range of flavors and food types, with locally sourced ingredients. Not every ingredient you need for a dish can be found in your back yard, but if you look real hard you might be surprised that a lot of them can be found closer than you think. The idea behind Local is to use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, in the best way possible, showcasing what Oklahoma has to offer.

The brain-child of local restaurant magnate Chef Ryan Parrott, Local has recently set up shop in a shopping center at 24th and Main in Norman, just East of I-35 (right behind Rusty’s and Panera Bread). A multiple award-winning chef, Parrott is well-known in the Oklahoma City area for his work at The Boulevard Steakhouse, 501 Ranch, The Mantel Wine Bar and Bistro, and Deep Fork Grill; as well as operating the 9th street favorite, Iguana Grill (review forthcoming).

Local’s food was amazing, to say the least, and I was impressed not only by the wide range of fare, but also by the staff’s knowledge of that food and its origins. If you are running a restaurant based on local ingredients, it bodes well that they know where the food is coming from. Their menu can please any appetite at any time with food ranging from Asian to Southwest to All-American at any given moment, though their menu is subject to change due to the regional nature of ingredients and availability.

Walking in the door, the first thing I noticed was the decor, and seeing the dedication to design and style already had me thinking well of the place before I ever sat down to eat. But then, I saw the menu, and I knew I had found my place. Before we get to the food, I want to tell you a little more about the restaurant itself, as it stands apart from many others for several reasons. One is the gift shop up front where you can pick up Local shirts and accessories, as well as many made-in-Oklahoma items, and even pre-prepped food if you are in a hurry. Second is the nursery area, with staff on hand to take care of the little ones while you eat, they offer a play area, reading room, movie cave, and more; all to make your life easier. Third is the bar, where you can stop in to relax, spend and evening, or just wait for a table; they are open until two in the morning on the weekends and offer many original drinks with locally sourced ingredients, specialty small plates, and a chef’s choice of late night sweets as well. Walking past all of these fine distractions, you finally reach your table, where you are presented with that menu I mentioned earlier.

I expected something good, but at first glance I was hit with that dilemma I so often have, where I cannot pick a meal. Normally, I fight that off quickly by picking out a certain ingredient or type of food that sounds good at the moment. That didn’t work here, mostly because I wanted to order one of everything and spend a few dozen hours sampling anything they would bring me. Eventually I settled for ordering more food than I could reasonably eat for myself, under the auspices of bringing some home for my wife, which I did.

I started out with the Truffle Chips, home-made potato chips in truffle oil, alongside three home-made dips, pesto, tomato ketchup, and garlic sour cream; and they were executed perfectly without letting the truffle oil, which can be known to be a little pushy flavor-wise, take over the dish. Now, to save my fingers here, I’m going to stop saying home-made from now on, as that seems to be a core principle of the restaurant and we should just assume that every menu item is indeed made from scratch in-house, or at least as much as they can do so.

For my real meal I settled on the carpaccio, because I figured that if I could only have one dish I had better make sure it was different from anything else I planned to eat that week. Carpaccio is an Italian dish created in the 1950’s to accomodate the diet of a Venetian duchess (I wish I could talk people into inventing foods for me), and is traditionally made from thin sliced raw beef that further pounded out flat, usually topped with a mustard sauce.  Local’s version was just that, but taken even further with an Asian flare, adding julienne green papaya, red bell pepper, onion, and carrots, mixed with peanuts and a spicy Thai style peanut sauce. I cleaned the plate. The meat was tender, the vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce was spicy, tangy, and nutty all at the same time.

Finishing that off I knew I could not pass up dessert, and so, I ordered a dish that I am fairly certain you have not tried before, butternut squash cheesecake. It sounds weird at first, but hear me out, because the butternut squash’s flavor is not unlike a pumpkin, though a bit sweeter and more savory, but its difference in texture also made it lighter and fluffier than a pumpkin cheesecake. One word, Delicious; capital D.

Unequivocally the best meal I have had in a restaurant in quite some time; but had I the stomach, I would not stop there by any means, because I saw wonders that day. One stand-out dish was the meatloaf cupcakes; meatloaf packed in a cupcake pan and baked into a muffin shape and then topped with piped mashed potato “icing” alongside goat cheese rolls. And the dessert menu may have been the most difficult thing to decide about, with apple tarts under mint-apple compote, or banana-split bread pudding with vanilla gelato in caramel sauce, and cookies with house-infused milk (that day it was peanut butter milk).

Another reason I will be going back is the fact that their dinner menu has a lot of options that were not available to me at lunch, but have since been calling my name in my dreams, beckoning my return. Overall, Local does not fail to impress, with its dedication to concept, originality, fantastically thought atmosphere, and the knowledge and professionalism of the staff. I would feel comfortable here in any circumstance, from a casual lunch, or a late night hang out, to a professional meeting, or a romantic dinner; so go whenever and however you want, I don’t think they will mind.

If you look below, you’ll note the cheesecake is so light it is trying to float away.  Check out their menu at eatatlocal.com

Truffle Chips at Local

Truffle Chips at Local

Butternut Squash Cheesecake at Local

Butternut Squash Cheesecake at Local

Carpaccio at Local

Carpaccio at Local

Sweet Basil


An oldie but goodie, this place has been in Norman’s downtown on Main Street for quite some time. I first tried the place about six years ago when my wife and I were still dating and the experience was not a good one, although I think that had little to do with the restaurant or the food. My wife does not like Thai food. This fact was set in stone long before she ever tried Thai food, and I doubt it will ever change, but on that one occasion she gave in and went with me. Since then I eat those sweet curries and stir fries on my own. I recall having some sort of Pad Thai and peanut sauce concoction that evening that was alright but probably not their best dish to begin with (it is no longer on the menu). My, at the time, girlfriend settled on fried, butterflied shrimp on a stick. This is the point where things went downhill quickly. The shrimp had been battered and fried on the stick and had become fused with the wood itself. When we tried to remove one of them, it flew across the restaurant, much to our embarrassment. That was when Heather decided that she was never again eating Thai, and the meal ended shortly thereafter.

For this visit I was alone and it went much better. I don’t know if the two are related. Just the same, I have to say that the lunch menu was very, very good. The prices are a little steeper than your regular lunch, so maybe more of a special occasion place, but it’s worth it. The full menu also had slightly higher prices to account for higher portion sizes and more side items. They had four Thai style curries that are regularly available with a special fifth type for that day. They also had traditional Pad Thais and cold noodle dishes, as well as several stir fry options, one of which eventually won my favor, but everything on that menu looked so good that it took me a while to eventually decide on a course.

I went with the beef Pad Ped and I would definitely recommend it. A stir fry mix of steak, red bell peppers, bamboo shoots, onions and haricots vert (crispy French style green beans), that normally comes in a red curry sauce made with coconut milk. They were kind enough to switch it out with the same type of sauce, but made with Panang style curry. The stir fries and curries came with a side of steamed jasmine rice, but my scoop was a little overcooked, making it tough instead of light and fluffy. All of their dishes had a choice of vegetable spring roll or Tom Yum soup made with your choice of chicken or tofu. The soup was delicious, but for those not familiar with Tom Yum, it can vary wildly between restaurants and sometimes even between visits to the same place; the soup is a blend of spices, such as Chili, lemon-grass and coriander, among others, mixed in a clear broth, with aromatic vegetables and mushrooms added later, and not every place includes proteins so it might be good to ask. The meal was delicious and the portion was large so I didn’t have enough room to try dessert. I was a little sad because some of those desserts looked pretty different, like fried banana lai, or mango rice. If anyone tries dessert there let me know, because I am definitely interested.

I can think of at least two other Thai places that are equally good and a little cheaper, but they definitely try hard to fill you up at Sweet Basil. If you are in Norman and looking for authentic Asian this place does a pretty good job, and in the nice quiet atmosphere the high-backed booths give you a very private feel while eating.

Sorry for the graininess of the photo, but the low lighting did not agree with the camera on the iPhone.

Beef Pad Ped

Beef Pad Ped