I’m leading off this review with some news. Chef Vuong Nguyen — a Coach House graduate, formerly chef at Guernsey Park, former chef/owner of Bonjour and currently consulting at Chae and Ur/Bun — is leaving Oklahoma City for Tulsa.
While this will be great for Vuong and Tulsa, it is a loss for Oklahoma City’s culinary scene. And the best example of why is the subject of this very review.
Chae is the brainchild of owner Daniel Chae (who also owns All About Cha and Ur/Bun). The restaurant serves a menu of Korean fusion dishes that do not, at first glance, lend themselves to breakfast. Which is fine. Totally fine. I don’t need or want every restaurant to serve breakfast.
Probably the most-popular item at Chae is the cast-iron bibimbap — a giant skilled full of crispy rice covered in pickled veggies, sauce, beef short rib and a poached egg. It’s colorful and delicious and I order it constantly, but it’s not what I crave for breakfast.
Meanwhile, you’ve got Vuong (pronounced “Vung” like “rung”), who became a master of breakfast food at Bonjour. So when he joined Daniel, he said they needed to try a brunch service.
If there was ever a doubt this was a great idea, it was swept away when they tasted the food. This menu is the perfect pairing of Korean cuisine and down-home breakfast goodness, all under the control of one of Oklahoma’s most-talented chefs.
A quick note: this review may get longer over time. I didn’t get a chance to sample everything on Chae’s brunch menu and a few new items are coming on soon. Which is basically my way of declaring that I get to go back to Chae to eat more and you can’t stop me. IT’S FOR WORK, YOU GUYS.
A second quick note: this is the first one-on-one Patreon review. One perk of being a member is the chance to join me for a review. In this case, it was really more of a one-on-two review, as the first month’s winner was Kandyce Mitchell and where Kandyce goes, Scott Mitchell follows. IT’S FOR LOVE, YOU GUYS. (Want to join? Visit patreon.com/iateoklahoma)
To celebrate, we started with a cucumber-infused soju — a Korean alcoholic beverage that I probably shouldn’t be allowed to have. They call it “little vodka,” because it’s easy to drink and has a (comparatively) low alcohol content. This had a smooth feel and pronounced cucumber flavor that would have had me reaching for another glass except for the Rule of Soju: you never pour your own. Needless to say, with some cooperation, we finished off the mini carafe in record time.
One of Vuong’s specialties at Bonjour was his biscuit with deli gravy. So it took all of my might not to jump up and down and let out a victory whoop when Scott proclaimed he was ordering the biscuit and gravy ($10).
What arrived was not identical to Bonjour’s dish, but the craftsmanship and care were evident. The server brought us an enormous cheddar biscuit covered in a kimchi and pork belly gravy. I never knew you could make a gravy with kimchi and pork belly and now it’s the only gravy I want. That it survived long enough for a picture is a miracle.
The very helpful server pointed out a personal favorite of his: omurice ($11). It’s basically a pile of Korean fried rice covered by an omelet. Should it be this good? I don’t know. All I can say is that it is.
Egg is naturally a part of most fried rice dishes, but cutting through the thin omelet you revealed a hidden core of deeply seasoned and spicy rice. Kandyce wisely chose bacon as her meat and, yowza, it was good. It hit the spot. I didn’t even know I had a spot there and it hit it so hard I walk funny now.
How you gonna have brunch without a benedict? You ain’t. You just ain’t. So I ordered the short rib benedict ($12) and waited patiently.
Short rib is already a magical cut of beef. In the capable hands of a chef like Vuong, it can become almost anything. Here it’s almost like a tender pot roast. Easy to pull apart, chock full of beefy flavor.
Then you’ve got a pair of clean and tidy poached eggs just aching to let loose and spill all that thick yellow yolk over the beef and English muffin. The whites were perfect. The yolk was perfect. The hen that laid them might also be perfect. It’s hard to tell.
That might be the bulk of the dish, but the real treat was the kimchi hollandaise. Vuong actually sat down with us to explain his hollandaise method, which he described as “simple” and I refer to as “dark magic.”
All I can say is that I’ve never had a creamier, better composed hollandaise than this. One taste was all it took to send me back into my seat, utterly rocked by the clean, buttery taste with the perfect hint of lemon zing.
Maybe the kimchi flavor was lost on me, but this seemed more like a straightforward benedict with short rib instead of ham and a hollandaise that deserves a week of celebrations. You hear me, Uptown 23rd? We need Hollan Dayz — 7 days of intense partying up and down NW 23rd Street. Police manning hoses full of Vuong’s hollandaise. A kimchi wrestling ring. A pin-the-tail on the short rib game.
The DMZ Waffle ($15) makes me upset. I like chicken and waffles just fine. I *maybe* don’t see why people get so crazy about them, but it’s a good combo.
This thing? Good doesn’t come close to describing it. Perfectly fried boneless chicken thigh. Kimchi pork belly gravy. A fried egg with a perfect runny yolk. The marriage of textures and flavors is ridiculous. I kept putting it together in different ways and each one was better than the last. I don’t know if I can go back without getting that again. It’s just too good to pass up.
Chef Vuong then brought out a little dessert. Another waffle, but this one was green and made with matcha. On top were smashed up nuts, strawberry jam, ice cream and red bean whipped cream. The light bitterness of the matcha and the fruitiness of the jam created a beautiful balance. This could have been overwhelmingly sweet, but the waffle kept it grounded. Goodness me.
Brunch will continue post-Vuong and he’s making sure to train up the staff to keep his recipes going without him (and plans to stop in once in a while to make sure they’re doing okay).
I hoped brunch at Chae would be good. I had no idea it would be so vital. This is what truly excellent fusion cuisine looks like. This is the best of both worlds and it’s a world I intend to visit again soon.
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DMZ Waffle - $15
Short rib benedict - $12
Biscuit and gravy - $10
Omurice - $11