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.


Inca Trail

I have only recently been introduced to Peruvian food, but I am already a devotee.

I have had other South American cuisines and have always enjoyed them, but Peruvian cuisine has one thing that sets it apart. In most other South American food you can see two major influences; the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors bringing their style and flair from Europe, and the long history of African Slaves brought across the ocean, all seasoned by the available native ingredients.

Peruvian food most definitely incorporates these aspects into their food, but they also have Chifa. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many immigrants from China settled in the capital, Lima, and its environs, seeking work. They brought with them all of the technique and recipes of their homeland, but not their ingredients. Just as they did here in the U.S., they improvised.

Chifa is the term given to the cross of Peruvian and Chinese foods, and is strongly supported by the Peruvian government as a defining aspect of their culture.

If you read most anything I have written before, you have probably discerned that two of my favorite things to dine on are Central/South American  (not tex-mex) and Asian. This is the perfect blending of the two. Now I just want to know why no one told me about this sooner.

I have recently tried a few different Peruvian establishments, but my first, and still favorite, was Inca Trail on North May Avenue.

Immigrants themselves, the owners of Inca Trail came here seeking opportunity, and judging by the number of people eating here each time I visit, I believe they may have found it.

It is very difficult for me to decide what to tell you about without this post turning into a play-by-play of the entire menu, but I will do my best.

If I had to choose a place to start, it would probably be with the Palta Rellena. A whole avocado, peeled, pitted, and split in two and then stuffed with a cold chicken salad consisting of shredded chicken, corn, peas, carrots, and mayonnaise. This was surprisingly good.

One of the restaurants specialties is Pollo a la Brasa, a charcoal roasted chicken slathered in South American seasonings, and I have an (unconfirmed) suspicion that some version of this, or at least that seasoning, is used in the chicken salad.

One of my favorite entrees, so far, has been the Lomo Saltado. A very common Peruvian Dish, and a good standard for comparison, this dish is reasonably simple, delightfully flavored, and a good example of Chifa. Strips of sirloin steak, or chicken should you choose, stir fried with tomatoes, onions, and red bell peppers in a garlic soy sauce, and white steamed rice.

Traditionally, Lomo Saltado would come with large potato wedges. Here they use thick cut French fries, but I will forgive them, because when mixed into the rest of the dish they add just the right amount of starch to balance the dish. Sweet, salty, and savory all at once.

Another dish I would suggest is their Tacu Tacu. A mix of rice and refried beans stir fried and formed into a thin patty, accompanying a grilled sirloin steak with spicy criolla sauce, and fried plantains.

Some people I know are not fans, but any restaurant that serves fried plantains has pretty much won my heart before I go in the door.

They also serve a wide variety of seafood dishes, with a special section of the menu set aside for ceviche, another dish native to Peru.

The restaurant itself is decorated in Peruvian and Incan designs, and a full wall mural Machu Picchu and the jungles of the Andes mountains. A calm atmosphere pervades this restaurant, and is only amplified the overwhelming hospitality of the owners themselves.

And if you’re lucky, they will bring out a bowl of their chicken soup before your food arrives.

Good as a quick-lunch spot or as a nice dinner out, I give Inca Trail my full recommendation.

If you have any other recommendations of places or foods for me to try, or know of any more Peruvian places around Oklahoma (I’ve already been to a few), then let me know.

Meyer Lemon Bars

Last night my wife tried out a new recipe for lemon bars and they came out good. Shopping in our local Wal-Mart we came across a bag of Meyer lemons, something never before seen in our rural version of the big box store. Being more in the country than in the city in my town, our selection at the store is somewhat limited, and while it is easy to drive into Oklahoma City and pick these up at other stores, it was quite the novelty to see all the way out here, and in the spirit of bringing new and varied selection to our town, we had to pick some up.

This was a complete impulse buy, which left us with the problem of how to use these little gems. While there are dozens, if not thousands, of recipes to use with lemons, we wanted something that would show off the unique sweet, tart flavor combination of this fruit. Meyer lemons are the result of cross-breeding between oranges and lemons, and were popularized in the kitchens of California’s Chez Panisse back in the seventies. I have a strange taste when it comes to citrus, my tastes coming and going, and I had yet to have a lemon bar that I actually enjoyed, while those same bar recipes made with key limes could be some of my favorite snacks. That being said, it may also be best to reveal my love hate relationship with pastries and baked goods as well. In general I am not a fan of most pastries, cakes, or breads, but I will try them when offered, and the times that I occasion upon ones that I actually enjoy, they are all I want to eat.

I was hesitant at first when my wife suggested lemon bars, but she is a fantastic cook and I trust her in these decisions most of the time. Then I became even more hesitant when I learned that the original inspiration came from a Paula Deen recipe, because if there are two things I can’t get past they are too much butter and too much salt. Luckily this recipe only called for two sticks of butter per pan, y’all. I will link to the original recipe below, though I won’t be including the changes made here; a chef must have some secrets. The crust is a simple butter, flour, and sugar mix, and all of the actual lemon flavor resides in the icing itself. Needless to say, as with all my wife’s desserts, they were wonderful. I sucked up my fear, tried them, and actually enjoyed Paula Deen’s butter bread. I’m probably about to eat one now as they are almost all gone, and like all deserts I decide to like, I can’t help myself.

The unmodified recipe is available here: