There’s a brand-new, upscale shopping mall in south Tulsa whose stores join to form a vast, crenellated castle. Barely noticed below the castle battlements is a bright red door. Step through that door and, like Alice down the rabbit’s tunnel, you’re suddenly in another world, a world of enchantment, elegance and whimsy. The oxblood walls, dimly illuminated by sconces, stretch upward. Pass through a low archway to enter a cozy space with a light-spangled, low ceiling supported by bright white pillars and walls of Pompeian red.
“We sometimes call the first room the Great Room and this room the bistro,” says Jenna Krimbill. “I want everybody who walks in to feel they are some place other than Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
In her elegant black dress, with a bit of movie-star charisma thrown in, Krimbill might be mistaken for a hostess, and indeed she’s filled that post. But before that (and after graduating Holland Hall and the University of Oklahoma) she was a hard-charging advertising executive.
“And then I realized that I was working 80 hours a week, and it just wasn’t what I was looking for. My life was spent on a computer,” she says.
She moved back to her hometown, Tulsa, and enrolled at The University of Tulsa to pursue a master’s degree. To pay the bills, she worked as a restaurant server. To her surprise, she loved it. She worked her way up to bartender and then manager.
“And at some point I realized, ‘I can do this!’” she says.
So La Crepe Nanou was born.
The original Crepe Nanou was founded by an expatriate Frenchman in New Orleans. He started out serving just crepes but quickly expanded his menu to feature the kind of quintessentially Parisian dishes you might find in a back-street bistro in Montmartre.
Though she’s acquired the right to use the original New Orleans recipes, Krimbill’s Crepe Nanou is independent, not part of a chain. Krimbill, along with Cory Kester (the general manager) and Executive Chef Jake Smith, spent, says Krimbill, “countless hours in the kitchen changing the recipes, perfecting them.”
“I believe in the elegance of simplicity,” says Smith.
“Some chefs add so many ingredients, you can’t find the food in there,” adds Krimbill. “Our view is, let’s make what we can of the core ingredient. And we take special care to get the finest, freshest ingredients. We make just about everything in-house.”
Another magic door, at the corner of the bistro, leads to the kitchen – bright from its gleaming stoves and utensils. In one corner, a huge frying pan sits atop a flame, the workhorse of the kitchen, adds one of the line cooks. It makes the crepes. With intent gaze and quick balletic motions, a young woman pours the batter, and slowly turns it as the batter sizzles. On another stovetop, filling for the crepe, Beef Bourguignon, braises.
“A fine, hearty dish for a winter’s night,” says Smith.
Nearby sits a pot of Sauce Gribiche, a lively mayonnaise-like French sauce made with eggs, mustard, capers and tarragon. It adds a zest to the Crepe Saumon Fume, which features smoked salmon made in-house. Just to the left, tongues of flame slowly roast a whole rack of lamb. Smith has a way with meat, and the lamb chops that come off the grill are as juicy and packed with flavor as you could wish.
Meanwhile, a line cook calmly plates a huge portion of roast chicken. The bird was marinated for two days. The meat is juicy and tender, and the skin is addictively crispy. That chicken is $17. So is a large, pan-sautéed salmon fillet, also with crispy skin, served with lemon caper butter. The prices are far gentler than you’d expect in fine dining restaurants.
“And our wine prices are even lower,” says Kester, walking through a low archway near the hostess podium.
Beyond the archway is a dazzling, ultramodern space. A gleaming steel spiral staircase lazily climbs past gray, spot lit walls and glittery chandeliers toward a ceiling seemingly high as a cathedral. Long racks of wine bottles stretch rearward behind glass walls. There are almost 200 wines to choose from, more than 60 by the glass, and they are also served to restaurant patrons. This is the Wine Loft. Though there are Wine Lofts in other cities, the architecture here is unique.
“No other Wine Loft looks like this,” says Kester. Like the restaurant, he adds, “this is Jenna’s vision.” 7890 E. 106th Pl. S., Tulsa.