A Sensory Experience

Chef Eric Smith utilizes all five senses during The Crown Room dinners.

When Oklahoma City chef Eric Smith opened Pachinko, a high-end Asian restaurant adjacent to his wildly popular The Crown Room on North Western Ave., he didn’t take into account how confusing the name might be to fans of his fare.

You see, Smith also owns Pachinko Parlor, a more casual Japanese establishment located inside local food hall Parlor. Thus, the two concepts often get mixed up. Diners with reservations to Pachinko end up at Pachinko Parlor, and vice versa.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare with confusion,” confirms Smith. “In September, we decided to change [Pachinko’s] name, but we hadn’t decided what it was yet. Everyone knows me from The Crown Room. Why wouldn’t we just call it The Crown?”

On Feb. 20, the team officially renamed Pachinko to The Crown. However, Smith and managing partner Marc Cline are keeping the staple Pachinko flavors – Japanese infused with Peruvian. Many of The Crown’s dishes sparkle, and lately, Smith’s favorite is his Asian take on a traditional Caesar salad: East Meets West. In this rendition, Romaine lettuce and an Asian-inspired Caesar dressing combine with zested egg, rice noodle croutons, chili oil and Parmesan reggiano.

Over at The Crown Room, Smith is known for his magical ability to create an alchemy of sensory enjoyments during his small-group, high-end dining experiences. Each four-course meal, served at once to every guest, comes with a signature scent pumped into the air, as well as a signature piece of music.

“Along with my fascination with people eating the same thing at the same time, I’m fascinated by smell,” says Smith. “Smell is an extremely powerful sense.” 

The Crown Room is one of those totally unique dining experiences that celebrities and high-rollers tend to seek out. Most of the curated dinners are booked through word of mouth and capped at 14 people. However, Smith hosted his largest gathering yet in December of 2023 to celebrate the launch of the new OKC Thunder jerseys.

Photos courtesy The Crown Room

“We used live musicians for each course, like Adam Aguilar singing ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen and Brennin Hunt singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean,’” he says. 

But before these grand culinary occasions, Smith cut his teeth at a variety of restaurants to hone his craft. He was the fifth chef to go through The Coach House Apprenticeship Program under OKC-based Kurt Fleischfresser, and also worked in Chicago under two different James Beard Award-winning chefs. 

“I lived there for 13 years, but moved back because my son was about to be a teenager,” says Smith.

When embarking on the journey to create The Crown Room, the team began with no menu, as every meal is custom. 

“Then I started thinking about what all I could do with it, which led to pairing aromas with every course,” says Smith. “The smells are to show you something you’ve never experienced before, and music is to inspire memory.” 

Along the way, the chef kept building on the idea of combining senses for a stronger dining experience – and it worked. 

“For instance, I take a little bit of Cuban cigar smoke and pipe smoke, blow it into a cookie jar and put the lid on it,” he says. “Then I go around the room and let people smell it, and people go, ‘Oh my God, that reminds me of my grandpa!’ or ‘That’s Uncle Bernie!’ It ties into the dining experience, but it’s not just food you’re smelling. You’re smelling memories and things that may have nothing to do with the dish being served.”

While diners may have confused Pachinko with Pachinko Parlor, Smith doesn’t expect that same confusion with The Crown and The Crown Room. What he does hope is that diners will still flock to the restaurant for its signature Japanese fusion menu – and maybe, just maybe, experience the sensory explosion that is The Crown Room, as well. You can’t lose either way. 

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