Review by Scott Cherry Photos by Stephen Pingry

It’s a small world, especially noticeable when you don’t expect it.

We met some family members for dinner at the just-opened Vista at the Boathouse, the “elevated casual” restaurant at Gathering Place.

I did not expect to make it all the way through dinner without being recognized, but I barely got through the door and a server spotted me, then lo and behold my grandson, Gabe Goza, was chatting it up with chef de cuisine Alfredo Zuniga.

As it turned out, Zuniga had spent 12 years cooking at Tulsa Country Club, and Gabe worked at the club during his college days at Oklahoma State University. So might as well put away the Groucho glasses, sit back and enjoy the evening. Which I did. In spades.

Vista is the latest addition to the 66-acre Gathering Place public park. We expected it to be impressive, and it was. The views from the 80-seat dining room were awesome, from the 60-seat rock patio and downtown Tulsa skyline to Peggy’s Pond and the Great Lawn concert area.

That doesn’t even include the nearby, partially covered overlook, which sits higher than the restaurant. Guests can order drinks and appetizers there.

We were there for the full experience in the dining room and ordered a variety of items from the Vista menu, which wasn’t lengthy by any measure — a soup, three salads, six appetizers, three flatbreads, seven entrees, four sandwiches and three desserts — but had enough variety to please our table of seven.

It is difficult to know where to begin, so how about crab cakes with crawfish Americana sauce ($14)? An order includes two cakes with lots of crab and little filler. The sauce can be made dozens of ways, likely with some white wine and a tiny touch of cayenne or other pepper. All in all, it was delicious.

The chips and salsa ($6) was above average, featuring warm, puffy and a little bit greasy chips with a medium-hot salsa dotted with tomatoes, serrano chilies, corn and chunks of avocado.

The goat cheese flatbread ($9) looked simple enough with goat cheese, pickled onion, arugula and ginger-balsamic glaze, and it, too, was delicious. The combination with the melted goat cheese was melt-in-your-mouth good.

I thought of different ways to round up the dishes, but I can’t wait any longer for my selection — the smoked bologna sandwich ($10). I could have had a smoked salmon sandwich, shrimp curry, beef filet, lamb chops or any number of other dishes, but the gravitational pull of smoked bologna was too strong. The open-faced sandwich included two thick slices of smoked bologna with spicy mustard, pickles, habanero cheese and, naturally, a fried egg. It speaks for itself.

The BLT sandwich ($9) had a bacony flavor from the peppery bacon slices stacked with lettuce and tomato on toasted wheatberry bread, and smoked brisket tacos ($8) featured three tacos with smoked brisket and serrano slaw on corn tortillas. The latter had a strong smoky flavor.

The smoked salmon sandwich ($12) included mellow, fresh-tasting salmon with tomato, butter, lettuce and bacon horseradish aioli on ciabatta bread, and a perfectly cooked, medium-rare beef filet ($30) was tender and juicy. The house burger ($10) was thick with pepper bacon, barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun.

From a pre-opening tasting, I can vouch for the pork wings appetizer ($13), barbecue shrimp ($10), lamb chops ($26) and espresso pork chop ($24), all excellent.

“We wanted an accessible menu that had something for everyone,” said Sean Savage, director of culinary for Gathering Place. “You can dine for $10 a person or $60 a person.”

The beverage list includes 11 specialty cocktails priced $10 to $12 and limited but adequate beer ($6 to $7) and wine ($8 to $14 glass, $28 to $52 bottle) lists. Drinks that call for ice cubes get special square ones imprinted with the Vista logo.

Breanna was our friendly and efficient server, and it seemed all of the waitstaff would check in on different tables to make sure drinks were filled, utensils replaced, etc.

The sleek dining room in shades of black and gray includes a backlit glass bar with 11 seats and black cloths with white cloth napkins at the tables. Vista does not take reservations and is open to everyone. One can go dressy or casual and feel welcome. Shades, which partially block the west afternoon sun, are opened for beautiful sunsets across the Arkansas River.

In addition to Zuniga and Savage, the staff includes general manager Melissa Shuman, assistant general manager Matt Miller and chef de cuisine Tiffany Tisdale-Braxton.

Scott Cherry

918-581-8463

scott.cherry@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @ScottCherryTW

Scene Writer

Scott is in his second tour of duty with the Tulsa World. He was a sports writer during his first stop. Since returning to the World in 1992, he has been the food writer and now restaurant critic and wine columnist. Phone: 918-581-8463