Tucked into an oft-overlooked room adjacent to VZD’s Bar and Grill at 4200 N. Western, Chef Eric Smith is creating an alchemy of senses at his small-group, high-end dining experience at The Crown Room.
Each four-course meal, served at once to every guest, comes with a signature scent and a signature piece of music. Smith isn’t content to just please the palate - he wants all of his guests’ senses to come alive with each bite.
“I have about 30 different smells that I can put into the room and different ways of doing them too,” Smith said. “Along with my fascination with people eating the same thing at the same time, I’m fascinated by smell. Smell is an extremely powerful sense. There are so many things that are tied to smells, and it's so powerful. The same with music, and so we pair a song with every course.”
The Crown Room is one of those over-the-top exquisite dining experiences that fly under the radar. Smith and his partners Adam and Jenni Aguilar haven’t done traditional marketing. Most of the curated dinners are booked through word of mouth, and The Crown Room has played host to The Kings of Leon, NBA players and even actor Billy Zane.
As the scent of burning sandlewood or Brazilian grass wafts through the air, Chef Smith explains how Oklahoma City’s most interesting dining experience came to be.
Smith was the fifth apprentice to go through The Coach House Apprenticeship Program, and he moved to Chicago and worked under two different James Beard award-winning chefs.
“I lived there 13 years, and I've been back here about 10. I have a child that is grown now who was about to be a teenager,” said Smith.
“I was raising by myself, and the idea of raising him in Chicago was daunting. I already had a family business here called Sara Sara cupcake and then my mother doesn't have anyone but my brother and me. All arrows were pointing to me coming back.”
Smith knew he wanted a concept of having eight to 15 people eating the same food at the same time in the same room. Seven years ago, he and his first partners acquired VZDs, where his current partner Adam performed. The space where The Crown Room exists came with the purchase.
“We started on this journey of this restaurant with no menu. Every meal is custom. Then I started thinking about what all could I do with it, which led to pairing aromas with every course,” said Smith.
“The smells are to show you something you’ve never experienced before, and music is to inspire memory,” said Smith. “We’ve always flown under the radar. For the last seven years, we averaged about two dinners a week. Then something happened six months ago, and suddenly we are doing four or five dinners a week.”
The dinners start with a curated evolution cocktail, which means it changes flavors as the custom-crafted ice cube melts down. Even Smith’s ice cubes are special - they are frozen flavors centered around a lychee fruit that melts into the beverage.
“The ice changes every dinner, and we change the water with every dinner,” Smith said. “We’ve done 1,100 to 1,200 dinners so far.”
For one dinner, an example menu could include a first course of a homemade tapioca and rice chip topped with whipped avocado and seafood salad on it; the next course could be a grilled romaine with polenta croutons, sweet red pepper vinaigrette, pickled bamboo shoots and parmesan. The main entree could be a smoked beef tenderloin with truffled potatoes, lemon asparagus and two sauces of horseradish cream and a fig jam.
The dessert may be a sour cream cake sitting over a mirror of crunchy spicy chocolate with a lemon vanilla frozen custard.
“He’s expressing his art form and really giving it to you on the spot,” said Adam.
Adam got involved through his musical performances at VZDs as a singer/songwriter. He and his wife Jenni are also realtors, and Adam and his father always had a dream to somehow be involved in owning VZDs. After Smith’s partner stepped aside, Adam’s father Ned became Smith’s partner, and then the Aguilars became partners as well.
“I think art is art. There are intangible things that influence you as an artist. More than anything, Adam and Ned brought to the table an understanding of what I wanted to do and supported it,” Smith said. “Although it’s not half as expensive as other markets, it is expensive. So we don’t want you to come here to eat unless you understand what we do and that you are paying for a dining experience. He gets it.”
The dinners start at a $600 food minimum, or $60 per person for a 10-member dinner. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not outrageous for the curated experience. Business groups, friends, families, celebrations, guys’ nights out and more are the typical guests.
The Crown Room will also host a chef tournament in June, along with a five-part documentary series about Oklahoma’s underdog, overlooked chefs.
“It’s going to be the story of the culinary history of Oklahoma, which is incredibly rich, and how we don’t get any national attention for it. The competition and series is called ‘Culinary Underdogs,’” Smith said.
Until then, however, Smith and Aguilar keep creating the dining experience that The Crown Room is known for. And as more and more interest grows, The Crown Room may not be Oklahoma City’s best kept secret anymore.
For more information about The Crown Room and for reservations, call 405.535.6416 or email firstname.lastname@example.org