Member of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association / April 2015
By Greg Horton
Bruce Rinehart, chef/owner of Rococo Restaurant and Fine Wine, built his “little island” on N. Penn and NW 28th in 2004, and for almost 10 years, that was Rococo. Rinehart said that regular customers never complained about the drive south from the May and Memorial area, but many hinted over the years that a Rococo somewhere near Quail Springs would be great.
In 2011, Rinehart had the opportunity to purchase the restaurant space at the north end of Northpark Mall. Three times larger than the original Rococo, Rococo Northpark occupies the spot where Tommy’s served up Italian food and live jazz. Rococo Northpark is a fitting update for the location. Rinehart’s and executive chef Jason Bustamante’s “east coast style” menu includes enough pasta to keep the Italian lovers happy, and it includes nearly every delicious item from the original Rococo’s menu.
However, Rinehart didn’t want an exact duplicate of his little island; that, quite frankly, would be impossible. You simply can’t recreate the same ambience in a building three times the size of the original, so Rinehart opted to create another unique island, this one admittedly larger. Intentionally or not, the distinctive feature of Rococo Northpark kind of plays off the island theme.
From the beginning, Rinehart planned for a cruise-line style brunch for Rococo Northpark. Rather than the more traditional approach at the Penn location, Northpark’s brunch is big and sprawling. Stations, much like those on cruise ships, are scattered throughout the restaurant, featuring freshly carved meats, omelets made to order, fresh fruit, and peel and eat shrimp. It’s a feast for the eyes and stomach.
Rinehart has always cultivated a neighborhood hangout feel to the Penn store, so he brought that same approach to Northpark. The signature fireplace is there, as are the chairs and couches where friends can gather to eat, talk, and order wine or cocktails from Northpark’s bar. The wine list is different from the Penn location, but still populated with excellent choices.
Regular denizens of the Penn store should not fret about one thing: the crab cake is still on the menu at Northpark. The best crab cake in Oklahoma, made with Maryland jumbo lump crab meat and Thai chili cream sauce, is a Rococo fixture. It even has its own twitter account.
Both locations have a gluten-free menu, but Northpark also boasts one of the city’s best (and only) vegan menus. It’s incredibly rare to find this sort of commitment to vegan and vegetarian fare in fine dining, but Rinehart said he wanted to create dishes so that vegan and vegetarian friends would feel comfortable dining at his restaurant. The menu includes appetizers, entrees, and pasta dishes (made with whole wheat linguine).
Many of Rococo’s signature items are on the menu, including cookies, oysters on the half shell, Love salad, and fishermen’s stew. In other words, if you love the Penn store, you’ll love Northpark, and if you have never been to either, both are fantastic.
Finally, part of what makes Northpark different is the availability of a large private dining room that is available for special occasions. Northpark also boasts two bars, one of which can serve the private dining room, and if you’re a total food nerd, feel free to reserve the chef’s table in the kitchen and watch the staff prepare your food from just feet away.
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