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Food Briefs: Whispering Pines Inn Restaurant, Iguana Mexican Grill, Ellis Island Coffee and Wine Lounge

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Fine Pines

Norman’s Whispering Pines Inn Restaurant announced Sontara Kchao as its new executive chef. Kchao and his older brother Rany and their wives bought Whispering Pines, 7820 E. State Highway 9, in 1999.

The Kchao brothers came to Oklahoma City in 1982 after fleeing Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge government and spending time in refugee camps. Their only work experience in food before coming to America was working in rice fields.

Once in Oklahoma City, the pair worked washing dishes and rose through the ranks in the restaurant world, with stops at Richmond Suites Hotel, Oak Tree Country Club, The Coach House and La Baguette in Norman.

The Kchaos eventually returned to Richmond Suites Hotel and opened their own restaurant, L’Indochine. But when the hotel was sold and the new owners wanted to change their lease, they moved on and purchased Whispering Pines.

Sontara Kchao lists Vast director of operations Kurt Fleischfresser as his main culinary teacher; he learned French techniques from the world-renowned chef.

At Whispering Pines, Kchao cooks a menu of fine-dining classics, including smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, seared duck and roasted rack of lamb.

The restaurant is open 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 405-447-0202 or visit thewhisperingpinesinn.com.

Iguana makeover

Okay; don’t panic. Amid several restaurant closings, including West in Bricktown, Lottinvilles Restaurant & Bar in Edmond and Hillbilly’s, Iguana Mexican Grill is closing its doors — temporarily.

“The location has been here about nine years, and it’s just time for a little facelift,” said operating partner Marc Dunham.

The restaurant closed its location at 9 NW Ninth St. on Jan. 22 for a two-week remodeling project. Normal service is scheduled to resume Feb. 7, Dunham said.

The bar area will receive the most attention, but Dunham said guests will be able to see the difference in every area of the restaurant.

“We still have the original decor and colors from when Iguana opened [in 2007],” Dunham said. “It feels like it’s time for an update, so the bar is getting a new face, we’re repainting the floors, we’re putting a banquette upstairs and there will be a new table arrangement in the bar to make it more bar-friendly instead of just a bunch of tables.”

Dunham said Iguana will be making everything from scratch, including tortillas. Despite changes, he said, the restaurant will still be a comfortable place to eat comfortable food.

“We’ll also be moving around the country of Mexico, highlighting dishes from different states,” Dunham said. “So when you come in, you can choose from different specialties of Michoacán or Puebla.”

Fans won’t have to go cold turkey for two weeks, though. While the main restaurant is being remodeled, Iguana will take over recently closed Hillbilly’s, 1 NW Ninth St. The building is smaller than Iguana, so seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Island drinks

As a first-generation immigrant, Murod Mamatov feels a connection to those who came to the country in decades past.

“I can’t relate to being on a boat for that long, but I do know the feeling when you land in a new country and start a new life and become a citizen of that new country,” the native Russian said.

The connection inspired the name of his new venture, Ellis Island Coffee and Wine Lounge, 130 N. Broadway, Suite 150, in Edmond. The coffee shop opened Jan. 19.

Mamatov has experience with coffee, having started and run a Starbucks-affiliated coffee shop at Oklahoma City Community College. When visiting Chicago, he noticed a growing trend toward shops that sold coffee and wine.

“I thought it was a cool concept to bring to Oklahoma City,” he said.

The new restaurant will also serve Italian and French wines, breads and desserts from La Baguette Bistro and Epic Pops gelato popsicles, which Mamatov founded in 2013.

Call 405-625-1886 or visit ellisislandedmond.com.

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