The Berkshire pork chop with apple brandy cream and sweet potato au gratin at The Hen Bistro & Wine. Photo by Brandon Scott.
When they say it’s in your blood, literally it is.”
Kathy Bondy should know. She was born into the restaurant business, and despite the best efforts of her restaurateur father, who tried to steer her toward a “safe” profession like accounting, she’s stayed in the business all her life. Starting as a waitress at the age of 14, with time off for college and nothing else, she worked her way up, partnering with Culinary Institute of America grad and master chef Richard Clark, to open Table 10. A few years later, she became owner of the French Hen where, for the past 35 years, some of the finest haute cuisine in Tulsa has been served amidst hushed, wood-paneled elegance. A few months ago, she achieved the restaurant world’s highest statewide honor; she was chosen to be Chairman of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. Now, waifish yet intent – a lot like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway come to life – she surveys her latest venture, the Hen Bistro & Wine.
“I wanted to open a new French Hen on Brookside,” she says, “but this place” – she gestures toward the sleek, spare lines, glowing copper surfaces and soaring plate-glass windows – “isn’t a French Hen at all.
“And then I realized,” says Bondy, who often thinks of her restaurants in terms of blood, love and family, “it’s the French Hen’s naughty little sister. She’s hip, she’s cool, but she has the same high standards.”
Those standards mean gracious, elegant service. They mean cuisine “made from scratch. Nothing is in that kitchen that’s not made by us.” As for the menu, it’s a “blend of my two loves,” French Hen and Table 10. Table 10 featured a gourmet take on American comfort food, and The Hen has a whole menu section for the table, devoted to the sort of rich, gooey treats that bring words like “decadent” and “sinful” to mind. The instantly addictive Veal Meatloaf Sliders capture the shameless crave of a White Castle burger, but they are made respectable with jalapeno jus and delicately fried onions. There’s Seafood Cheesecake, Crawfish Cakes and Sweetbread and Waffles with mushroom brandy cream. There’s also fried chicken, dressed up with gravy that’s really a French cream sauce with hints of mango and vanilla bean.
The entrees pay homage to French Hen. It’s French haute cuisine, but not quite. Bondy never lets herself get hemmed in by tradition.
“I’m a trial-and-error chef,” she says, and she devises her recipes and menu in collaboration with her four chefs, all trained by Clark and veterans of French Hen. They talk, they experiment, they swap ideas back and forth.
Out of this collaboration emerges stellar dishes like the Berkshire Pork Chop with apple brandy cream and perfectly grilled duck breast with a sumptuous, creamy sauce of brandy peppercorn.
The menu is ever-changing, and every day there are one or perhaps two new specials. Once a month, both here and at the French Hen, there’s a special dinner designed with over-the-top creativity. Why put in so much effort?
“I’m always learning,” says Bondy, “always trying to make things better. ‘Don’t worry,’ my friends tell me. ‘Just serve good food, and they’ll be happy.’ But they just don’t understand. I could never be satisfied with that. I may fall short, but I aim for perfection.”