TULSA, Okla. — The roasted scallop dish at Oren is like something out of a Scandinavian fever dream had in Southeast Asia. They’re served in zingy green curry made with piquant yuzukosho, a citrusy paste spiced with chilis, and a garden’s worth of flavors — cilantro, mint, parsley, kaffir lime leaves, shallots. The dining room is spare and calming, like a Japanese teahouse reimagined for a coastal Norwegian town. And the servers and bartender are so friendly and chatty that all initial impressions of formality quickly vanish.
Oren sits 1,433 miles due east of Los Angeles and 1,350 miles due west of Manhattan. It’s located on South Peoria Street, in Tulsa, and if you go 2.4 miles up the road you’ll hit the Oklahoma stretch of Route 66, where once the only eateries were greasy spoon diners and the state’s famous burger joints. (Legend has it that the burger was first slapped between a bun at Tulsa’s still-operational Weber’s Root Beer Stand, a bit of folklore that remains inconclusive.)
But as I learned on a visit in April, like so many others in the Midwest and South, Tulsa is in the throes of a dining renaissance. You can chalk that up, in part, to hometown pride. Many people who leave their small-town homes for school or any number of other reasons later discover that the tug of their roots is greater than migratory impulses. Or you could chalk it up to gentrification and the rise of living expenses in major cities. Young chefs often work in kitchens of illustrious restaurants in big cities where compensation for line cooks can be meager and living costs are tremendous. But once they’ve shown their mettle and ultimately decide to open their own restaurant and start a family, cities with a lower cost of living and softer competition become very appealing.
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