Food & Drink » Food Features

North face

by

comment


When Bruce Rinehart thought he’d found the perfect location for his second Rococo, he did what every devoted husband should do.

“I went to my wife, and she said, ‘Go for it. I love the location and I’d love to have a location up north,’” he said.

Rinehart spoke between phones ringing off the hook at the original Rococo Restaurant & Fine Wine, 2824 N. Penn. The restaurant is now celebrating its finest year in business since opening some seven years ago, where the food seems to steer clear of haute pretense.

Rococo Northpark, 12252 N. May, is inside Northpark Mall and to help make the distinction, it is simply called “Northpark,” while the original is being called “Penn.” The new restaurant, in the site of the former Tommy’s Italian Grill, is a sprawling, upscale, East Coast-style spot that triples the size of the original location.

Inside Rococo Northpark, the decor is done in dramatic colors of red, black and white. Around a showpiece 360-degree fireplace, guests can lounge on leather couches and zebra-print chairs. Rinehart said there was a lot of room for improvement when he first got into the new location.

“We designed the entire kitchen and redesigned the flow in structure of both bars with our bar managers, who are Johnny Walker and Russell Story, as well as the entranceway,” he said.

Rinehart, who co-owns Rococo with his wife, Amber, grew up in Connecticut. He launched his career in the restaurant business and made his way to San Diego, where he talked his way into the restaurant at the famous Hotel del Coronado. He eventually returned to Connecticut to work in restaurants, but in the back of his mind, he set a goal to open his own restaurant by the age of 30.

It happened. And a half-year early, too. “I opened up a little bistro in Connecticut called Whitfield Alley that was reviewed by The New York Times, and they called us a ‘glowing little bistro,’” Rinehart said with pride.

When asked how he made it to Oklahoma from the East Coast, Rinehart regularly tells everyone the same story.

“My bride jokes that she was ‘calling’ me here and I didn’t know it, but I answered anyway,” he said.

The couple now has two sons, which were two good reasons for not opening up a second Rococo years earlier, even with people begging for them to do it and “move north.”

“A couple of babies slowed that project down, even though we tried to move four separate times. I see it in my heart that it was karma that I was not able to put the deals together. I know now that we were just meant to be where the old Tommy’s was. It was a huge decision to pursue this,” he said.

The new Rococo has a chef’s table, two bars and a banquet room that seats 70 with a huge digital television screen. There are 240 seats inside the large space, but once summer rolls around, guests will also get to sit in a patio area with seating for 40 to 45.

On Sunday mornings, Rinehart welcomes guests to enjoy his “cruiseline style” Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To give it that cruise feel, there will be a new ice carving every week, and the menu will include peel-andeat shrimp, smoked salmon Alouette cheese with bagel chips, fresh fruit, assorted salads and a carving station. The cooks will also be making Belgian waffles and omelets, and desserts will be available, too.

The chef is Jason Bustamante, who has been working with Rinehart for more than 17 years. Other team members include Sterling Bartlowe, who will find that he has been promoted to general manager when he reads this article.

Rinehart said the first two weeks the Northpark venture opened, his Penn location took a huge hit.

“But after that, it came back, and this has been a fantastic year for us — the best yet,” he said. “We love the new place, but the Penn location is our Rococo. Now I can walk into a restaurant and know in a minute if they care about their customers or not. We’re genuine; we care and our passion flows through,” Rinehart said. “For now, it’s all about keeping Penn going with my new chef, Don Duncan.”

Could there be another expansion down the pike?

“You never know, but I would buy dirt, own it and build one,” Rinehart said.

NOW YOU KNOW, TOO

Around
the holidays, Rococo’s lobster bisque is a popular choice. But the East
Coast storm over Christmas posed a few supply issues with getting the
shellfish and lobster that Bruce Rinehart and his chefs use at both
Rococo locations.

Rococo is known for its signature crab cakes and the fresh fish that is flown in from both coasts, but the restaurant is not entirely devoted to fish.

Rococo also features great steaks and chops. And if you know to call ahead and ask, you might just be dining on meatballs, too.

Meatballs
are not on the menu, but patrons can call ahead and ask if they’ve been
made. The classic, Old World-style meatballs are made with a beef and
pork combination and are each a huge 5-and-a-half ounces.

“People call and ask if we’ve made them, and if we have, the people reserve them,” Rinehart said.

The
Italian comfort food, when served with Rococo’s marinara sauce, pasta
and garlic bread, is the kind of meal that can only inspire grunts of
absolute pleasure. But only if you call ahead. —Carol Smaglinski

Latest in Food Features

Add a comment