French at Its Finest
Tulsa People by Natalie Mikles (photo credit: Michelle Pollard) (Mar 31, 2021)
If a restaurant makes it to 41 years, it often shows. The upholstery might have looked better or the menu might be a little tired. Not so at the French Hen, which at more than 40 years old has had a rebirth with a new location downtown.
The French Hen moved from its location at East 71st Street and South Yale Avenue to a spot that seems to have taken ages off the classic French restaurant. Under the direction of owner Kathy Bondy, the French Hen had never fallen into a trap of staleness. But Bondy’s decision to move the restaurant to the new Vast Bank building in the Tulsa Arts District allowed the French Hen to avoid the midlife crisis so many restaurants undergo.
Rather, the French Hen is both as good as it was in its beginning, when it was one of the only places in town with classic French cuisine, and also better than ever, with a youthful look and beautifully updated menu.
The restaurant sits on the ground floor of Vast, in a bright, elegant spot with intimate seating and partitions between each for privacy. Attention to every detail gives it a big city feel, like the favorite restaurant you visit when out of town.
We visited for lunch, and even though downtown isn’t back to its pre-pandemic lunch bustle, many tables were full.
Right away, the French classics pop when perusing the hors d’oeuvres. Escargot with puff pastry, fried oysters with creamed spinach, mushroom tart with goat cheese. It’s a great start.
The lunch menu gives diners a chance to try multiple dishes and for every taste. Classics like steak and frites with a brandy peppercorn sauce ($22) and a pork chop Normandy with apples and cream ($20) are popular. But harder to find French bistro dishes, like sauteed calf’s liver with apple-smoked bacon and onions ($18) and beef bourguignon en croute ($15) also are on the menu.
We particularly loved the gnocchi a la Nicoise ($15) with tomatoes, olives, squash, zucchini and sage with big, pillowy gnocchi the size of sea scallops. It was a beautifully composed dish and a real treat for lunch.
The French Hen’s lunch menu also includes salads; a French onion soup with a generous layer of brie; and several sandwiches, such as truffled egg salad, chicken salad, portabella mushroom and a burger made for cheese lovers with smoked cheddar, gruyere and roqeufort, plus bacon, mushrooms and onions, for good measure.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more affordable or delicious lunch in such an elegant setting than the grilled ham and brie with a cup of French onion soup for $12.
The French Hen’s dinner service is even more refined, with hard-to-find dishes like sweetbreads, duck liver pate and seared foie gras with poached fruit.
Dinner entrees are varied and interesting, including a grilled duck breast with brandy peppercorn or orange and cherry glace ($27), bouillabaisse ($32), roasted salmon with poached pears and a seafood cream sauce ($26) and mushroom-crusted Colorado lamb chops ($54).
Service at the French Hen is as impeccable as the presentation and food itself. Seasoned waitstaff, many who have been with the restaurant for years, know the menu well and are helpful with making recommendations and pairings wines.
The French Hen has long had a great selection of wine, including by the glass, and that remains the case at the new location. Classic cocktails also are served.
Desserts are rich enough to be shared but are a nice ending to a perfect meal. We loved the espresso chocolate mousse, but would love to try the berry crème brulee and banana walnut bread pudding. This is not a place where you’ll find triple layer chocolate cake or gooey puddings. The desserts are simple, but with intense flavor profiles.
With its new location, many people are likely to find the French Hen for the first time, thinking it’s a cool, new downtown restaurant. And those who have known it for years are likely to fall in love all over again.