Connecting to the Briny

Tulsa’s Virgola goes beyond just raw seafood in crafting jeweled delectables.

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Virgola brings fresh seafood to Tulsa’s Brookside District. Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer

Virgola has the sort of sleek, ultramodern decor that indicates an expensive architect was involved.

Clad in black cocktail dresses, the servers are as elegant as the ladies gathered in one corner while sipping glasses of rare (yet reasonably priced) Italian wines. At one end there’s a blackboard listing the oysters available that day: “Mookie Blues (Maine) Salty Start, Cucumber Finish. Billington Sea (Massachusetts) Brine, Rich Cream and Sugar.” And below that, reclining on a tufted leather sofa, is a burly, bearded guy who looks like he stepped out from the pages of Moby Dick.

He’s Momo Caine, Platt Culinary grad and formerly executive chef at Treehouse. So what’s the former chef of a barbecue joint doing at a restaurant that uses no heat whatsoever on Tulsa’s Brookside?

“I love doing the opposite; I love to learn,” he says. “Every dish is served raw or cured in citrus. I love inventing a new ceviche for each fish we get: shark, wahoo. Raw sounds easy but it’s all in the details.

“It would be easy to serve mozzarella with basil, but instead I make imported buffalo mozzarella with a herb-infused olive oil that takes a week to prepare. If I can make something myself, I do.”

Taste that Mookie Blues. It was swimming in a tidal river in Maine 48 hours ago. (West Coast oysters arrive here much faster, within 24 hours.) It’s a shocker: sharp, clear and briny. You’re instantly transported to a cold, bracing ocean smashing against a rocky coast.

What could possibly be better? Caine steps into the tiny kitchen to make it: a long plate with four pearly-white scallops. Each is soaked with a blend of blood orange juice, grapefruit juice and spices, a mixture that’s been aged for seven days. They’re topped with sea salt, a slice of blood orange, a sprig of dill and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice. This intricate jeweled creation looks like it belongs in a museum and tastes like sweet salty heaven.

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