Provision Concepts’ fresh take on Middle Eastern and Levantine-Mediterranean flavors.
Chisholm Creek’s newest locally owned concept is Riserva Bar and Tapas at 1332 W. Memorial Rd. — a collaboration between Jeff Dixon’s Provision Concepts (Broadway 10, Hatch, Sidecar, etc.) and James Beard Award nominee Chef James Fox, owner of Phoenix’s Vecina restaurant. Fox made his first appearance in the OKC food scene as the consulting chef at Dixon’s Culprits, the ground-floor restaurant in Bricktown’s Renaissance Hotel.
Dixon struck up his relationship with Fox after a few visits to Vecina and then took his culinary director Edd West out for a visit, a trip that was the groundwork for Culprits and the beginning of what is proving to be an excellent partnership. Riserva is a departure for Dixon, who built his brand on a chophouse, cocktail bar and brunch concept. His concepts melded almost seamlessly into OKC’s culinary landscape because they’re right down the middle of our Oklahoma palate.
Riserva is something else entirely. While we have an abundance of Levantine food in the 405 — especially Lebanese cuisine — Riserva doubles down on the Levantine-Mediterranean genre by expanding the flavor palette and dishes, and not toward southern Europe. Instead, Fox reached deeper into the Middle East and North Africa to create tapas with big, bold and often spicy flavors.
“I wanted to do something new and different for Oklahoma City,” Fox said. “When people think Mediterranean, it’s usually Greek or Italian, and in OKC, Lebanese. I love all of them, but I really wanted to expand the options, and the Provision Concepts team was excited about it.”
Tasting Fox’s food, it’s easy to get excited. The big, bold flavors he loves are there, but so are balance, texture and layers of complexity. Some of the items on the menu will sound familiar to local diners: hummus, tagine, baba ghanoush, etc. However, mixed in with the usual suspects are dishes we don’t see often, the chief of which is muhammara.
The dip is a staple all over the Middle East, but seldom, if at all, found in Oklahoma, despite the ease of finding its ingredients here — pureed red bell pepper and coarsely chopped walnuts being the important components. The nutty bitterness of the walnuts combines with the touch of sweetness and tang of the red peppers to create a beautiful contrast and an addictively compelling opening round. The fresh pita is a welcome addition, too.
“I had muhammara in a few restaurants where I’ve worked, and I love the way the flavors work together,” Fox said. “It was a no-brainer to bring it to Oklahoma City. We’re making modern American food with inspiration from the Mediterranean; we’re not a Mediterranean restaurant, but this is as close to a traditional dish as you’re likely to find.”
The swordfish skewers are sure to be best-sellers. Yes, swordfish. Fox said he wanted to include a healthy fish on the menu, and while it may be healthy, its rich taste may well make diners forget about its nutritional benefits. The dish relies on chermoula — sort of the chimichurri of North Africa — fresh herbs and toum, a garlic sauce or paste common in the Levant. The result is a mild fish with a huge flavor punch that somehow doesn’t overwhelm the star.
The menu is full of flavor bombs like house-made merguez, shawarma and harissa shrimp. Healthy options abound, too, including inexplicably delicious cauliflower. The full bar opens onto the waterside patio, and both cocktail and wine lists are designed to optimize the Mediterranean experience. In Riserva’s case, different is delicious.