In keeping with everything at Gathering Place, no rock was left unturned when developing the “elevated casual” restaurant for the celebrated public park.
Vista at the Boathouse, which will have a grand opening Monday, May 20, had massive input for all phases of the restaurant.
For example, Miranda Kaiser, chef-proprietor of Cosmo Café and Laffa Medi-Eastern Restaurant & Bar, brought a group of fellow chefs for a tasting while the menu was being formulated.
“They didn’t hold back,” said Sean Savage, director of culinary for Gathering Place. “It was very interesting. We got lots of ideas and opinions, and it was very worthwhile.”
The final menu worked out to be a collaboration among those chefs, Savage, the original Gathering Place chef, Kirk Swaby (now at The Chalkboard), current chefs de cuisine Alfredo Zuniga and Tiffany Tisdale-Braxton, general manager Melissa Shuman and assistant general manager Matt Miller.
So, sometimes it takes a village, and this time it produced stunning results, both on the culinary side and with the ambience of the restaurant.
The design of the Boathouse, including the restaurant, fell to internationally recognized Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects.
The 80-seat Vista dining room has clean, modern lines in shades of black and white. Wide, tall windows provide sweeping views of the Great Lawn concert area, the Tulsa downtown skyline, the Arkansas River, Peggy’s Pond and an overall look at the park, designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
Diners can watch visitors guiding canoes, kayaks and paddleboats on Peggy’s Pond from the dining room, from the 60-seat rock patio or the large, open-air overlook where guests can order drinks and appetizers.
“The sunsets are pretty good, too,” said Katie Bullock, director of marketing, in a purposely understated observation.
A glass-topped bar is backlit and has 11 seats. It will have five more when more stools arrive.
Among the appetizers are crab cakes with crawfish Americana sauce, pork wings and barbecue shrimp.
“The dishes are familiar but have a little twist,” Savage said. “The crab cakes have a lot more crab than breading, and the barbecue shrimp are encrusted with coconut and corn and are tossed in a house barbecue sauce.”
Miller, the assistant general manager who developed much of the cocktail menu, was responsible for suggesting the pork wings, a dish he saw in Kansas City, Savage said. Pork wings come from the meaty shank bone of the pig.
“Ours have something of an Asian flair,” Savage said. “They are covered in a sweet chili sauce, roasted peanuts and sriracha sauce.”
The pork wings were among dishes served at a sneak-peek tasting. They were delicious and not as spicy-hot as they sound.
Not served at the tasting but something intriguing is the smoked bologna sandwich, an Oklahoma specialty.
“We smoke it in-house, pan sear it and flavor it with spicy mustard, pickles, habanero cheese and a fried egg,” Savage said.
Entrees will include red curry-glazed boneless fried chicken, jerk chicken pasta, espresso pork chop, beef filet, shrimp curry and lamb chops.
The pork chop reflects a Southern influence. It is served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread croutons and red-eye gravy.
The menu also includes flatbreads, soups and salads.
Appetizers are $8 to $13, flatbreads $9, entrees $14 to $30, sandwiches $10 to $12 and desserts $8 to $10.
In addition to wine and beer lists, Vista also has a line of specialty cocktails, priced $10 to $12.
A couple of the more interesting ones are the Aviation, a mix of dry gin, dry sherry, lemon and violet; and the Guthrie Green, with vodka, cucumber juice, mint, lime, simple syrup and black pepper.
Drinks that call for ice cubes get special square ones imprinted with the Vista logo.
Vista is the latest attraction to open in the $465 million Gathering Place project headed by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and backed by more than 80 other local corporate and philanthropic donors. The park covers 66½ acres and eventually will reach 100 acres.
Vista does not take reservations, and Savage said the staff still is deciding what to do when events such as July 4 roll around.
“We could have 50,000 people in the park, so we will have to have a special plan for the restaurant,” he said. “Until then, the whole restaurant staff just wants to give Gathering Place visitors the best experience we can.”