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La Tertulia captures the taste, atmosphere of New Mexico

La Tertulia captures the taste, atmosphere of New Mexico

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Step through the front door of La Tertulia, and you might think you’ve somehow crossed a couple of state lines.

The building, which at one time was home to the original The Bramble, has been completely transformed in a space that so well evokes the aura of northern New Mexico, and Santa Fe in particular, that you might wonder whether you are still actually in Oklahoma.

The walls, for example, are white stucco, with window-like niches that hold examples of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pottery and turned-wood bowls. Built-in chiminea-styled fireplaces are set in the front and rear corners of the dining area (and were kept ablaze and crackling each time I visited). The ceiling is a series of rough-hewn logs arranged in a chevron pattern, and seemingly held in place by much larger logs.

“Our property owner, Jeff Scott, took a piece of one of the big logs and made that bowl out of it,” said Kevin Nashan, the chef and owner of La Tertulia, pointing to the object that is set in one of those niches. “I thought it was lovely, and I wanted to make it a part of the decor.”

Nashan is the James Beard Award-winning chef who first came to Tulsa in 2018 when he opened Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., a concept based on one of the restaurants he founded and runs in St. Louis.

La Tertulia is inspired by the restaurant of the same name that Nashan’s grandparents, June and Willie Ortiz, founded in 1972 in Santa Fe, N.M. The family ran the establishment, which specialized in northern New Mexican food, for close to 30 years. And in that time, La Tertulia became something of a culinary destination.

“It’s really been amazing, but it seems just about every night since we’ve been open, we’ve had people come in who say they remember dining at the original restaurant, or that they knew my grandparents,” Nashan said.

Those who remember the original La Tertulia will likely feel quite at home once they unfold the menu at the Tulsa incarnation, as Nashan said his grandparents’ menu is the “foundation” of the food being prepared by executive chef Brian Green and his crew (La Tertulia shares kitchen space with Peacemaker, for which Green also serves as executive chef).

“We’re not trying to replicate everything,” Nashan said. “For example, the original menu included a paella, and we would basically have to dedicate a station just to making that one dish. It’s just not worth the hassle.

“But otherwise, I would say a good 75 to 80 percent of our menu comes from the original restaurant,” he said. “We’ve made a few upgrades and tweaks, of course.”

Nashan said he developed the menu for the new La Tertulia with help from Green, his brother Chris, and Jose Venta and Adrian Moldonado, two chefs who work at Sydney Street, his St. Louis restaurant.

The menu is not extensive, but it is varied. For example, appetizers include the expected queso and guacamole, along with a shrimp and octopus cerviche. The soup offerings eschew the usual tortilla soup for a green chili stew, pozole and a black bean and jalapeño soup.

One can order a burger, but it will come folded in a flour tortilla and topped with red and green chili sauces. Three steaks are available, as well as one fish dish — a grilled rainbow trout topped with roasted potatoes dressed in a chimichurri sauce that also seasons the fish.

That was one of the dishes ordered ($18) during a recent visit, and it was a highlight. The fish was perfectly cooked, with the delicate, almost buttery flesh enlivened by the hint of smoke from the grill and the acidic tang of the chimichurri. The chunks of new potatoes had a crisp exterior and creamy interior.

The trout came with a cup of pinto beans, which were also a component of the deluxe combination dinner ($18.25), which gives one a fairly comprehensive sampling of what La Tertulia can do.

The platter comes with a taco, a rolled blue-corn enchilada, a tamale, a chili relleno and a good portion of carne adovada, which is chunks of pork shoulder simmered in a rich and spicy red chili sauce. Accompanying all this are rice, pinto beans and pozole, or hominy.

The carne adovada was the star of the plate, both on its own and as the filling in the tamale, where the sweetness of the firm, tasty masa balanced the spice of the filling. The enchilada, filled with chicken, was good, but I found the poblano of the chili relleno strangely bitter, and its coating disintegrated under the blanket of undeniably flavorful green and red salsas.

We went with the carne asada and soft corn tortilla for the taco, which should be eaten first, as the tortilla’s structural integrity is quickly compromised from the sauces on the plate. The meat had a bit of chew to it, but otherwise it was enjoyable.

Our server, Darren, recommended the sopapillas (75 cents each) — not for dessert, as is usually the purpose for these pillows of fry bread, but as a way to sop up sauce or clean the palate.

One receives a bowl of deep maroon salsa and a bowl of hearty chips at the start; the color of the salsa should be a bit of a warning, as it packs a healthy dose of lip-tingling heat.

We also shared a bowl of queso ($6.50), which had a distinct, and much enjoyed, vegetal heat, as well as an order of tostadas ($8.75). Two crisp blue corn tortillas were topped with a white bean escabeche, chunks of unctuously tender beef cheek, pickled onion and jalapeño. We probably could have eaten a table full of those.

For dessert, we had the flan ($6), a generous serving of firm, creamy custard in a thin caramel sauce.

La Tertulia has a full bar and an extensive drinks menu, curated by bar manager Lauren Clark. Among the favorites are a Hatch Chili Martini ($10), made with a vodka infused with green chilies, and a Mezcal Negroni ($9). The bar also offers several variations on the margarita, nine wines and a selection of local, domestic and imported beers.

We shared a half-pitcher of the house sangria ($16), which was refreshing without being too sweet, or overly fruity.

General manager Richard Purtell said the restaurant seats 62, not counting about a half-dozen seats at the bar. Speaking of seats — the west wall of the restaurant has been designed so that a seating ledge, topped with cushions, runs its length. My companion for the evening found it to be less than comfortable.

Because of the restaurant’s size, reservations are usually recommended, although Purtell said they are still working out the details.

“We don’t want to be a place where it’s impossible for people to get a seat,” he said. “We want to be able to accommodate walk-in customers as well. We’re just trying to find that right balance.”


La Tertulia brings you the cuisine of northern New Mexico

The new restaurant is on east Second street in downtown Tulsa

Killers of the Flower Moon: All of our coverage here

Killers of the Flower Moon: All of our coverage here

Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon," which will begin shooting soon in Oklahoma, will be based on David Grann’s best-selling book of the same name.

Set in 1920s Oklahoma, “Killers of the Flower Moon” depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation. The string of brutal crimes came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

Follow all of our coverage here:

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Related: What we know so far about the 'Killers of the Flower Moon' movie set in Oklahoma

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The Oklahoma Film and Music Office officially confirmed on Wednesday that “Killers of the Flower Moon” is set to film in Oklahoma this year — and that this major motion picture will have a major impact on the state economy.

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Scorsese's production team comes to Pawhuska to scout 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

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Most of the world is buzzing about Martin Scorsese's new movie "The Irishman," but it's his next movie, "Killers of the Flower Moon," set in Oklahoma and filming in the state, that has the attention of locals.

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On Wednesday, Paramount Pictures announced at a European film expo that it had reached a deal to finance and distribute the movie.

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The oil boom that made the tribe one of the wealthiest in the world spawned a series of vicious murders, some of which remain unsolved.

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