Chef Eric Smith Aims to Excite Taste Buds at The Crown - 405 Magazine

Chef Eric Smith Aims to Excite Taste Buds at The Crown

A Crowning Culinary Achievement.

Photo by Rachel Maucieri.

Chef Eric Smith makes quite an impression. An industry veteran, whose seasoned resume spans 13 years cooking in Chicago and a seminal stint under culinary godfather Kurt Fleischfresser at the bygone Coach House Restaurant, the chef commands a dining room as well as he commands a kitchen, with a charisma as vibrant as his globe-trotting dishes. It’s that charm, coupled with his outside-the-box artistry, that’s endeared him to local diners for years, all culminating with his culinary coronation: The Crown. 

Upon his return to Oklahoma City, Smith cemented a name for himself with The Crown Room, a clandestine concept marked by ever-changing tasting menus for in-the-know diners. Along with Pachinko, a Japanese-inflected concept that operated out of Parlor Food Hall and as a standalone brick and mortar in Nichols Hills, The Crown Room is what Smith became known for — that and the choose-your-own-adventure-style tasting menus spotlighting the inventive stylings of one of the city’s most imaginative, dexterous chefs. 

Photo by Rachel Maucieri.

The format, previously nestled within VZDs, became his bread and butter. So much so that he decided to rebrand Nichols Hills’ Pachinko at 7204 N. Western Ave. into, simply, The Crown, offering a full-service restaurant — and a permanent home for The Crown Room hidden within it. Full-steam since late February, The Crown is the most accessible version of Smith’s efforts to date, offering a la carte dishes, customizable tasting menus, date night degustations, a convivial bar setting and a tucked-away dining room adorned with Asian art. 

“We made a decision to change the name because everyone knows me from The Crown Room,” said Smith, who also used the name change to pivot into a wider pool of influences: “I do a good bit of Asian food, however, one of the reasons to change was to become more international. I spent 11 years cooking Italian food, and I’ve folded that into the mix. I’m trained in French cooking. Even at Pachinko, we were almost a French restaurant hiding behind an Asian cloak.” 

Photo by Rachel Maucieri.

Now, unbound by cloaks and borders, he’s sourcing sole from markets in the Asian District, heaping butter-poached lobster cakes with tempura rice noodles and miso-saffron mayo, cooking Chilean sea bass two ways (curry-crusted and tempura-fried) and gilding blueberry-honey cake with edible gold flakes, buttery toffee sauce and bruléed banana. Even something as familiar as a Caesar salad gets utterly upended, “East Meets West”-style, with Asian Caesar dressing, zested egg, rice noodle croutons and chili oil, atop a mound of shredded romaine. No matter the novelty, though, everything is intentional. 

“I don’t like to deliberately use oddball foods,” Smith said of his culinary ethos. “The Caesar salad is a prime example. It’s a thing that you’ve seen a million times, but in a way that you’ve never seen it.” 

Photo by Rachel Maucieri.

And if you want to veer off-menu, that’s cool too. Even for diners not partaking in a tasting menu within The Crown Room, located in a private dining room near the bar, Smith offers three-course tastings and something called “I Don’t Give a F@%$,” wherein for $200, guests get a “no holds barred” version of The Crown Room tasting. Or if you’re just popping in, impromptu, for dinner at the bar, Smith — who is always just around the corner in the semi-open kitchen — is happy to oblige cravings and preferences, and whip up something on the fly. 

“The Crown is, to me, what Oklahomans love about fine dining,” Smith said. “You have boxes you have to check. You need to have a really good steak. You need to have a super luxe whitefish dish. You need to have a pork dish. You’re checking boxes, and you can do what you want as a chef.” 

And what he wants is to entertain, to challenge himself, and to put his own stamp on fine dining. 

“The Crown is a 2024 version of what Oklahoma City has always loved about fine dining,” he said. “I want to entertain you in here. If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna have fun, and you are as well.”

Photo by Rachel Maucieri.
Interested in more local dining picks? Check out this feature on Big Biang Theory’s Hand-Pulled Noodles.