Whispering Pines: fine dining hidden in a bed and breakfast
When Tim asked if I would write a dinner review of a bed and breakfast on the south side of Norman, I had to stop and think. “Do bed and breakfast places serve dinner?” I wondered. He assured me this one did and, since I’ll try anything once, I agreed. It was a wise choice because hidden in this unlikely hideaway, I found a delightful dinner experience — one that offers great food in a beautifully relaxing environment.
The restaurant’s location made for about a 50 minute drive from our northwest Oklahoma City home. Sure, it’s a bit out of the way, but actually it was nice to relax in the car and gather some thoughts following an extremely busy week at work. Although the place is hidden from the highway, we found the entrance with no problem, and the tree-lined driveway was really quite lovely. Being a gardener myself, I appreciated the attention the owners have given to the beautiful landscaping. The hydrangeas were in full bloom and they were gorgeous.
The restaurant entry is very welcoming with its wrap-around porch. We stepped inside and were immediately seated at a table for two overlooking the porch and out through a sea of oak trees. As I sank into the oversized chair and gazed out at the view, I also took in the white tablecloth, the softly flickering candlelight and what appeared to be an old set of fancy, yet understated, flatware on the table. I felt my body relax yet one more notch. “This is nice,” I thought to myself. Really nice.
Rany, the owner (and our waiter), appeared quietly at our side with a wine list and a refreshing glass of iced, lemon water. In a minute, menus appeared and he politely explained the evening’s special dishes. Most everything on the menu is served with a French flair, which delighted us as we had just returned from a week in Paris. Dave chose one of the specials — a bone-in veal steak with a blueberry glaze. I opted for the potato-encrusted salmon. We also decided to try the corn-crab bisque and a spring mixed salad (I had overheard one of the other diners in the full dining room saying how much she was enjoying the soup).
Now, one thing I would have liked to have seen is a pasta or vegetable option on the menu for those of us not really into meat. Maybe they occasionally offer something like this as a special, but all of the entrees I saw were meat dishes. Anyway, back to our food …
The house salad was better than most with its fresh spring leaves, bite-sized tenderized vegetables and drizzled champagne vinaigrette. I wish more local restaurants offered a champagne vinaigrette. It’s nice because it’s not as pungent as the balsamic vinaigrettes, and it’s not as full of fat like the creamy dressings. Dave also loved his corn-crab bisque. It was very mild and not too heavy for a hot and humid summer evening. The accompanying hot rolls were delicious enough that they tasted homemade. Even if they weren’t, they were wonderful with a dab of the fancy, herbal, sweet-cream butter served on the side.
As we waited on our main course, I looked around and decided I was glad I had noticed the business casual dress code on the website. Nobody was in jeans. Nobody was in a tie either, but we would have felt a little under-done in jeans.
The main course arrived in a beautiful, French presentation. The whole week I was in Paris I didn’t want to eat my food because it was too pretty. Our plates at Whispering Pines reminded me of those dinners in Paris. The meat was accompanied by two different styles of potato. One was a rosette design which was baked crisp and sported a fresh sprig of rosemary. The other was a new potato, cut in half with a fancy dollop of a twice-baked-potato-like mixture. Additionally, a nice assortment of vegetables, including asparagus cooked perfectly crispy and in a cream sauce, accompanied the meat. The presentations and flavors blended perfectly for a rich, winning taste.
After the main course, we were presented with three dessert options: a flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee and, as Rany stated, “good ol’ Oklahoma bread pudding.” We kept with our French flair for the evening and chose the creme brulee. Good choice. I like my creme brulee with a thick, carmelized, flavorful topping, and this was great. The custard was nice and thick also.
I was disappointed that there was no fruit dessert option. In the summertime, I like to see something like a sherbet with a fresh fruit topping. Something cold and tart is always good when it’s so hot outside. But I also know that places like Whispering Pines are going to have more abbreviated menus simply because of the nature of their businesses.
To me, service is as important as the taste of the food, and Rany could not have been more gracious. He was never intrusive, yet stayed at least two steps ahead of our needs. Perfect. Rany’s son, David, also helps to run Whispering Pines and they were the only two waiters on the night we visited.
At the end of our meal, Rany even offered to take us on a tour of the whole grounds, which we gladly accepted. We saw an additional dining area that’s great for large meetings or receptions. Plus, out in the back, there is a gazebo and a large pond that opens out onto the grounds where one can see rows and rows of grapes in the vineyard they keep. The whole complex is set on rolling hills and is very lovely. Rany said that from April to October they host a wedding just about every Saturday.
Rany has a fascinating life story to tell. He and his wife escaped the killing fields in Cambodia and eventually found a sponsor in Oklahoma, making it possible for them to immigrate in 1981. He started work as a dishwasher at The Oaks Country Club and proceeded from there to work in other fine restaurants such as The Coach House, where he picked up his culinary skills. He eventually opened his own restaurant, Lindochine, which was located around NW Expressway and I-44, before moving his family to Norman and purchasing Whispering Pines. He is a very humble man, an extremely hard worker, and he has the life experience to be able to say, “If you were born in the United States, then do not ask God for another blessing because He has already given you the biggest blessing of your life!” This was a profound and steadfast reminder to me. I appreciated his boldness in proclaiming that to us.
So, here is my advice to all of us busy people — make a dinner reservation at Whispering Pines, or better yet, a Friday night getaway and Saturday breakfast. Sometimes we must be intentional about slowing down and relaxing, and this is a perfect place to do so. You’ll not only discover some great food, but you’ll also feel the worries melt away as soon as you pull into Rany’s driveway!