In the heart of Tulsa’s happening Brady District in the downtown area, there is a small oasis of Caribbean flavor and fun. It’s called Sisserou’s, and if you haven’t visited yet, make time to go because this colorful little restaurant is a mini-vacation to the islands that you’ll never forget. The restaurant is influenced largely by the cooking of Dominica. Jerk seasonings, Indian curries, island coconut, seafood and more can all be found here. The recipes are a blend of more traditional ingredients that reflect the Caribbean with twists to make the dishes palate-pleasing to the general public.
Dominica is a beautiful little jewel of an island in the Caribbean. It’s known as the Nature Island for its lush tropical rainforests, extensive and varied species of plant life, and crystal-clear rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. If you’ve got a couple of weeks of vacation, you could fly there to immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine. But if you can spare only an evening, you could visit Sisserou’s Caribbean Restaurant in Tulsa’s Arts District instead.
“When we opened, we wanted to make this place an ode to Dominica. We wanted to showcase the beauty and vibrancy of the island,” says Ilana Velazquez. She and her brother, Eben Shillingford, co-own Sisserou’s, with Shillingford also acting as head chef. “We want you transported to another place when you step in the door.”
Velazquez’s love for Dominica and for Sisserou’s is apparent as soon as she starts talking. “Dominica is where our family’s from. The name of the restaurant comes from the Sisserou, the bird of the island. It’s endangered and only found in Dominica,” she says.
Sisserou’s is a lovely, cool and quiet space in a historic warehouse building. The high ceilings and open plan create a spacious feel. Black paint makes the high ceilings seem to disappear, while the white walls are decorated with photos of family vacations taken on the island of Dominica. Scattered throughout the space are bright pops of island color. Pendant lights made from cacao leaves hang down in a rainbow of orange, yellow, blue, and coral. “The color scheme is from the Sisserou,” Velazquez explains.
Each section of Sisserou’s evokes the island, highlighted by custom artwork by local artist Charles C. Burgess. On Dominica, the Emerald Pool is a colorful waterfall grotto. In Sisserou’s, the beautiful green pool is evoked by a greenish wash on the floor. The bar is Trafalgar Falls, with the famous twin waterfalls replicated in the bar’s water feature. The third area is presided over by the watchful eye of a Sisserou parrot, peering out of another of Burgess’ paintings.
Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of the cultures that make up the islands, and the bright, varied flavors of Sisserou’s menu reflect that. Velazquez and her brother are dedicated to treating you to the fun and vibrancy of the islands. “We’re the only authentic Caribbean restaurant in town,” she says. “So, we want to give a well-rounded regional experience through fine dining.”
Almost everything is made in-house. Ingredients are purchased from local vendors like Tulsa Beef whenever possible, with fresh ingredients flown in from Key West and the Gulf four times a week. “It’s caught and sent through FedEx the next day,” she explains. “Everything is labor intensive, from the sauces and dressings made here to the french fries and sweet potato fries.”
The most popular items on the menu are the various jerk chicken dishes like jerk chicken wings, tacos, salad, or sandwich. The jerk chicken wings appetizer is a great option to get your taste buds in the island vibe — eight generous wings marinated in Sisserou’s house jerk spice and grilled to perfection. The juicy and flavorful wings are served with a housemade avocado cream dipping sauce.
Consider the crab back appetizer for something a little more unusual. “It’s like a deconstructed crabcake,” explains Velazquez. It’s made with lump crabmeat, sautéed with herbs, tomatoes, onions, and scallions. It’s sprinkled with buttery breadcrumbs and baked to a beautiful golden brown. “It’s traditionally served in a crab shell, but we replace the shell with a china dish.”
All the salads are a light and fresh delight, but there is an extra-special treat on the salad menu: the seared tuna salad. Sisserou’s takes a generous cut of ahi grade tuna and sears the outside. It’s sliced to show that rich, red, rare tuna and displayed atop sliced mango on a salad of spring greens. The whole thing is drizzled with a sweet and tangy apricot glaze. The flavors and textures are like an island party in your mouth. It’s an especially nice choice during the heat of an Oklahoma summer: cool, light, and refreshing.
Consider the traditional stewed oxtail next time you’re in. It’s a traditional Caribbean dish using meat from the tail of a steer. The oxtail is stewed until tender with carrots, red peppers, red cabbage and potatoes. The whole thing is served over rice with a rich, thick gravy. It’s hearty, savory, island comfort food.
Velazquez recommends the escovitch red snapper as well. “It’s a perfect combination of flavor and very traditional,” she says. “It’s dusted with spices and pan seared, topped with escovitch style pickled peppers and onions, and topped with two jumbo jerk shrimp.” It’s served with plantains and Jamaican rice and peas.
Another very popular item is the rasta pasta. You can get it with chicken for lunch or crab stuffed salmon for dinner. The rasta pasta is based on a classic Jamaican dish and prepared with trecce dell’orto pasta, mushrooms, red peppers, and red onions, in a rich cream sauce. The savory, indulgent sauce has a surprising hint of warm spices along with a light tingle of heat. The salmon is stuffed with sweet crab and topped with walnut pesto. The whole thing is set off with a crunchy Parmesan crisp perched on the edge of the bowl.
Finish off your meal with a sweet treat like rum cake or coconut creme brulee. Velazquez especially loves the creme brulee. It’s a rich, creamy, sweet treat infused with coconut for that Caribbean feel. The rum cake is a delicate cake with a pineapple rum glaze, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a grilled slice of pineapple. It’s a perfect finish to a fantastic culinary vacation.
No trip to the Caribbean would be complete without some island drinks. Consider the Dominican favorite, rum punch. This refresher is made with rum, lime, simple syrup, tamarind, bitters and nutmeg served over ice. Another fun option is the Pamplemousse. It’s made with ruby red vodka, triple sec and a splash of Malibu coconut rum mixed with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, lime and sweetened with a splash of simple syrup. It’s garnished with a slice of bruleed grapefruit.
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