The server gave me a conspiratorial look when I asked him what the chef deglazed the pan with when making French onion soup.
That cup of soup was the best money I’d spent in a while, and though I in no way deserved to know the secret to The Mantel’s cup of otherworldly delights, I asked anyway.
“Cooking sherry,” said the server. “It really gives it a depth of flavor.”
Yes; yes, it does. The Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro, 201 E. Sheridan Ave., also has depth, which is a big reason it has long thrived as one of Bricktown’s oldest restaurants.
Another reason is really good food.
Inside The Mantel, guests will find a small, intimate dining room that is a bit worn and well cared for. Its draw is a comfortable elegance. Everyone feels like a regular, whether it’s their first visit or their 50th.
The entryway leads to a dimly lit main floor that jogs to the right before stretching to the back wall, where you’ll find the bar. Day or night, the interior lives in a state of perpetual dusk, which might explain why it always feels like a good time for a bottle of wine.
There is a patio in front of the restaurant, which is a fine spot to people-watch when the weather is nice.
My admiration for The Mantel’s French onion soup ($4 for a cup) should be clear by this point. It’s a special, but I wish it was a daily feature. The broth is so dark it’s nearly black and only becomes mildly opaque when you thin it out on a spoon. The onions are incredibly tender, holding together just long enough to melt on your tongue.
Even as I salivated over my cup of perfectly constructed soup, I looked longingly at the cup of creamy beige-pink lobster bisque ($4), which comes with a perfect lobster puff floating in its center.
Let the bisque linger in your mouth for a moment and you’ll begin to pick out flavors and sensations, like the slight tickle of spicy heat. There’s a reason this bisque is The Mantel’s signature soup — the chefs have mastered it.
I wanted to love the baked Brie ($15) appetizer, but a few off flavors and textures kept it from greatness. Pistachio, fig and honey compote on top of the cheese was lovely, but a final application of balsamic reduction overpowered it. Fruits and nuts are a great complement to Brie’s buttery flavor, but it was lost here.
If you go for lunch, I recommend The Mantel Burger ($12). Steakhouse burgers made from steak trimmings are about as gourmet as the humble burger gets. The Mantel serves a thick, juicy patty topped with provolone and cheddar, caramelized shallots and mushrooms, a tart tomato jam and garlic aioli. It’s a masterpiece of a burger.
On both lunch and dinner menus is Chicken Two-Ways ($18 lunch, $26 dinner), a satisfying dish with chicken prepared two ways: a fried airline breast and a smoked leg, both served over whipped potatoes with grilled asparagus and a bacon dashi, a Japanese-style clear broth, though bacon dashi has a darker tint that adds savory depth to the dish.
Mix-and-match chicken bites, including the deeply smoky chicken leg, with broth, charred asparagus and featherlight potatoes for a delicious combination. Dishes like this are an opportunity for chefs to take potentially humdrum ingredients and show how skillful preparation can make an unforgettable impression.
Another excellent meat-and-potatoes dish is The Mantel’s 12-ounce prime New York strip steak ($32) served in a whiskey-and-mushroom demi-glace. The dish comes with the potato of the day and grilled asparagus.
This steak would be great with or without sauce. It is straightforward, without the extra fat of a rib-eye or the bone of a T-bone. Cooked medium rare, it’s a delight, and the demi-glace generously adds to its flavor. It has a bit of whiskey sting, though it’s mellowed by butter and savory roasted mushrooms.
The Mantel has also mastered one of my favorite dishes — pan-seared duck breast ($30). I ordered it medium, but it would have been wonderful medium-rare, too. It was a bit leaner than I’ve had locally, and it was all the better for it. Crisp skin, painted red with a raspberry-chipotle glaze, held tight to the duck breast medallions. Each bite retained juiciness and held onto the fatty flavor without becoming chewy.
It pairs nicely with mushroom and jasmine rice and grilled asparagus, soaking up the added glaze for a slightly sweet and mildly spicy flavor. If you’re hesitant to try duck, The Mantel is a good place to start.
Dinner at The Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro is a wonderful staging ground for an evening of baseball, a concert at the ’Peake or just a nice time wandering through Bricktown’s shops.
But the food is so tasty, The Mantel is destination enough on its own.
The Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro
201 E. Sheridan Ave.
What works: Pan-seared duck and lobster bisque are always tempting.
What needs work: Attention to detail on baked Brie would improve it.
Tip: The valet service is nice but not mandatory.
Print headline: Main attraction, The Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro is Bricktown’s fine-dining masterpiece.