Some visitors to the new Duet restaurant in the Tulsa Arts District received an unexpected treat Saturday night: A free show by the Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet in the Duet Jazz club, located downstairs from the eatery.
Delfeayo Marsalis, world-renowned trombonist and band leader, was to have participated in the Tulsa Roots Music Wine, Jazz & World Fete at Guthrie Green but was rained out, hence the surprise move to Duet Jazz.
That moved the regularly scheduled act, Combsy, back an hour to 10:30 p.m., but the local jazz group still filled the room to capacity as the final act on the first full weekend for the club.
It was all a happy happenstance for us. We were there to review the restaurant, which opened in mid-August. Duet Jazz club is operated by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Duet, the restaurant, is owned by Tuck Curren and his wife, Kate. Stairs and an elevator connect the two, and Duet also supplies bar service for the club.
Tuck Curren, who also owns Biga, said the George Kaiser Family Foundation contacted him in March 2016 to see if he would be interested in opening a restaurant in the new Archer Building.
“I said I would, and here I am,” he said. “It was a long two-plus years to get open, but that was pretty much it.”
Curren said his search for an executive chef for Duet was a quick decision, too. He said he and his son, Zach Curren, owner of Trenchers Delicatessen, were participating in a benefit for Youth Services of Tulsa.
“Nico (Albert) won the chef’s contest, and Zach said I should talk to her about the Duet job,” Curren said. “We had one interview, and that was it.”
Albert, who formerly cooked at Lucky’s and MixCo, was hired last March and was able to try out many of her proposed Duet dishes at the Monday night wine dinners at Biga for some five months.
“Tuck is a great chef in his own right and easily could have written this menu, but he gave me free rein on a lot of things,” Albert said. “I used jazz as a thematic element to the menu, something to tie it all together, and Tuck said he wanted bright, vibrant, fresh ideas. He wanted everything to really pop.”
Pop it did during our visit, and we barely scratched the surface of the range of the menu.
I had hoped the black sesame fried chicken ($10) would be bone-in fried chicken. Though it turned out to be four fried chicken tenders, the dish still was a winner because of the delicious sweet-and-sour orange curd dipping sauce. It had just enough orange flavor to complement the chicken without overpowering it.
A grilled beef tenderloin ($22) came without a steak knife. None was needed. A regular table knife easily sliced through the tender beef that was served over a round of earthy mushroom strata.
The strata, traditionally a breakfast or brunch dish similar to a frittata, proved to be a perfect side dish for the steak. The plate also included a drizzle of smoked oyster butter dotted with pickled blueberries.
We shared a couple of opening dishes, Three Sisters hummus ($10) and the pear and Point Reyes blue cheese salad ($8). It wasn’t intended on our part, but both were vegan and gluten-free.
The hummus, prepared with chickpeas and white beans, was smooth, tasty and unfettered. A mound of it topped with what seemed to be pumpkin seeds sat on a large piece of flatbread and was surrounded by different colors of sweet peppers (orange, yellow) and young carrots (yellow, purple), as well as snow peas.
The salad included arugula, pistachios, slices of pear and chunks of creamy Point Reyes blue cheese with a caramelized fennel vinaigrette. Everything in one bite delivered an interesting flavor — in a good way. It was the pomegranate seeds that made the difference for me.
(Personal aside: When my children were young, I would dress them in old clothes, spread layers of newspapers on the kitchen floor and let them dive in to fresh pomegranates. Messy but fun.)
I would like to go back to Duet for several dishes, including the spicy dark cherry barbecue ribs, herb-crusted lamb lollipops, smoky duck piratas, Yucatan roast chicken, crispy fish tacos, gingersnap-crusted salmon, and more.
A dedicated brunch menu is served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. The regular menu is offered all of the remaining hours.
The beverage list didn’t have much in the way of beers, but it had craft cocktails and an interesting wine list, including such varietals as gruner veltliner, albarino, gewurtztraminer, chenin blanc, tempranillo, malbec and Sancerre sauvignon blanc.
Our server, Ali, showed a good grasp of the menu and kept things moving at a measured pace despite a sizable crowd that night.
Shanna Postoak is bar manager, and Jennie Lloyd is front-of-the-house manager.
“They have been great,” Tuck Curren said. “Although it has been so busy and hectic, they have kept things pretty calm.”
Kate Curren worked with the architects on the dining spaces. A variety of modern light fixtures, black tables and old-fashioned wood bistro chairs are found inside. A partially enclosed patio has heaters for cooler weather. A large glass garage door with a screen can be opened between the two spaces.
Reservations are suggested, especially on the weekends. Most jazz shows require tickets; check the Duet Jazz Facebook page for details.