Culinary scavenger hunt.

April 12, 2010

My last scavenger hunt was 40 years ago. Somehow I rigged the assignment process to ensure my partner was sixth grader Paul Egers.  He was a tall, blonde Dutch boy.   We were as much an item as two can be at 11 and 12 years old.

We lived in Sungei Gerong on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.  Our quaint ex-pat compound had no restaurants, no TV, no shops.  We entertained ourselves in much the same way as our parents, filling hours sharing meals (getting paid to eat frog legs), playing games (remember Twister, multiple solitaire?), listening to music (I swooned over Davy Jones and the Monkeys), reading books (below, above and at our grade level), bargaining with toucans (peddlers), swimming and drifting around the camp on foot or bicycle during the cooler hours of the day.  The Musi River separated us from villages, like Palembang, to the west.  The Stanvac refinery delineated residential blocks from work areas and the jungle stretched out beyond fence borders to the east and north.  Days were simple but full.

I fell back on that kind of resourcefulness Monday night last week in Tulsa and decided to make the evening with a friend a bit of a “culinary” scavenger hunt. We were hunting for something new, something familiar, good service, tasty food, good value…NOT frog legs.

Yelp suggested Tei Kei’s on Utica Avenue for happy hour.  We arrived at six o’clock and were offered our choice of almost any table in the exquisite, multi-million dollar Asian-inspired building.  My companion mumbled something about a not-so-recent food poisoning story that seemed blown out of portion.  I chalked it up to many food establishments hitting a bit of a lull between Easter Sunday and tax day, something I learned representing Polo Grill Restaurant in the 1990′s . “Happy hour prices ended at 6:00,” our waitress declared.  It was 6:05.  We ordered wine, deciding to save our appetites for the next stop.

We pointed the car north toward Trula in the recently reopened Mayo Hotel,   a Tulsa icon that fell to rack and ruin for over 20 years.  In September it opened as a mixed-use downtown destination after $40 million in renovations.  Part hotel, part residential, the stately building at 5th and Cheyenne Avenue hosts a restaurant, Topeca coffee bar, the historic Crystal Ballroom and a new rooftop bar, dining room and outdoor terrace.

The last day the hotel was open in the early 1980’s my parents treated my sister, her family and me to Sunday champagne brunch.  Stepping inside the lobby this week was almost like falling into a rabbit hole.  I could remember that January afternoon as clearly as brunch at Philbrook this past Sunday.  A small group was camped out in the bar, looking happy, but we shared the restaurant with only one other couple. Nonetheless, a waitress who lived nearby assured us, “Things are happening down here.”  The formula for rejuvenating a city’s core is the same town to town.   The risk taker, the visionary, the optimist establishs the order in which it all comes together – residents, retail, entertainment.  Thursday was proof of that when the new Driller stadium opened for its inaugural game to a sold out audience.  Cains Ballroom co-owner Alice Rodgers excitedly captured the community enthusiasm with the tone of her post on facebook, which read, “25,000 people were milling around downtown last night!”

After a salad course (the fried green tomatoes were both visually appealing and filling) we were off to the Chalkboard, an uptown boutique hotel restaurant developer Paul Coury brought back into existence about 11 years ago by enticing John Phillips to return to Tulsa .  Somehow fate smiled on both the Mayo Hotel and the Ambassador Hotel and spared both from the wrecking ball when floods, fires and rodents did their damnedest to accelerate the affects of years of neglect.

At the Chalkboard Restaurant we found fellow diners and many familiar faces.  Three generations of a local family toasted a grandfather’s birthday, couples leaned close, and businessmen plotted and planed, paged through text messages and the like.

For a night cap we traveled slightly south to Vintage 1840, a wine bar on Boston Avenue  for the home-like comfort of an overstuffed antique sofa and nostalgic, recorded music.  From there we followed the allure of live music across the street to Mercury Lounge where the crowd was friendly, the musicians engaging.

As we found on Monday,  life is a banquet.  Sample as much of what your city has to offer as you can and tell me what you find.  Maybe get a group together and each pick a destination.  VooDoo Doughnuts is on my list this week and I anticipate LOTS to share with you about that Portland icon!

Bon appetite and happy hunting, Trix

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