When Vast, 333 W Sheridan Ave., opens its doors Wednesday, the Oklahoma City dining scene will literally reach new heights — 726 feet to be exact.
Opening a fine dining concept at such a lofty elevation is a big responsibility, considering the fledgling nature of Oklahoma City's culinary reputation.
Oklahoma's dining scene didn't begin percolating until the mid-1960s, when Frank Hightower opened The Cellar at Hightower with help from James Beard and stewardship from chef John Bennett.
It would be another two decades before the birth of The Coach House and the dynamic duo of Chris Lower and Kurt Fleischfresser raised the bar again by popping the top on new, forward-thinking concepts through the 1990s. The Hal Smith Group's success led to the development of Lake Hefner. La Baguette Bakery evolved from the only French bakery in the western part of the state to a pair of bistros, one purchased and expanded by brothers Alain and Michel Buthion, and an industrial bakery that reaches beyond the state's boundaries.
More recently, Keith and Heather Paul's A Good Egg Dining Group has opened great, creative local concepts across the metro area; chefs Jonathon Stranger and Russ Johnson opened the farm-to-fork Ludivine to much acclaim; and in the last year, chef Ryan Parrott helped open the ambitious Local in Norman. Next month, Del City's chef Josh Valentine can be seen on “Top Chef: Seattle,” premiering on Bravo channel Nov. 7.
All the local sweat and sacrifice leads back to downtown, not far from where Hightower's culinary dream came to fruition beneath the ground. Vast will serve lunch and dinner high above where any restaurant has ever dared to serve in this market.
View from the top
The trip up to the 49th floor is rapid. When the doors open, a television screen and check-in station await. Take a right across the shiny floors, and you'll see a series of low-lit acrylic vertical louvers that cloak the 140-seat dining room in privacy.
Overlooking the spacious, 41-seat bar to the north and south are glass-encased rooms for large dining parties. The bar lies beneath small light fixtures hanging from long, iron rods. Between the bar and a massive V on the bar's west wall are a community table and lounge chairs.
Private banquet rooms for parties of two and larger occupy the north and west perimeter. The kitchen takes up a healthy portion facing south. The two dining rooms, under sprawling ceilings, are carpeted in gray with burgundy banquettes and chocolate-colored tabletops and chairs.
But the predominant surface feature is glass, and after a brief perusal of the architecture and interior design, all eyes will be drawn to the view. Guests in the dining room and bar will see Oklahoma City and far beyond to the north, east and south. The view is as breathtaking as you'd expect, and it gradually pushes the imagination to picture the view blanketed in snow, alive with spring or the night lit up with holiday lights.
Food has to be good
As spectacular as the view is and will continue to be, Vast won't survive on view alone. The food is what ultimately will determine its relevance. John Williams and his vice president of culinary operations, Andrew Black, both previously of the Skirvin Hotel, have brought in a well-heeled team to make sure the food is worthy of a trip to the 49th floor of Devon Tower.
Black, a native of Jamaica, stresses Vast is global cuisine for American palates. To achieve the goal, he's assembled an international staff.
The keys to Vast will hang from the belt of general manager Mario Rivera, who was born and raised in Lima, Peru. Rivera has lived in and opened and operated venues from San Francisco to Miami, Fla. Most recently he served as the director of restaurants for VV Ventures in Las Vegas. He also opened Flint in the Colcord in Oklahoma City with Williams and Black.
“Vast is globally inspired American cuisine,” Rivera said. “We are trying to do something that speaks to getting the best ingredients from around the world and using our interpretations or using different techniques on well-known dishes from around the world.”
Executive chef Patrick Williams is a Kansas City, Mo., native.
He honed his skills working with three James Beard Award-winning chefs as sous chef at The American Restaurant and as the executive chef for Pierpont's at the Union Station. Williams will present two menus: one for lunch and one for dinner.
“We didn't want any direct correlation between lunch and dinner,” Williams said. “They're their own separate entities. Neither one is lesser than the other. We just didn't want to have the same fish dish at dinner as you have at lunch. We wanted to keep it different — a different reason to go at different times of day.”
Executive pastry chef Veejoruth Purmessur, a native of the East Indian island of Mauritius, has worked around the world, overseeing pastry departments at 20 hotels in five countries while at Sandals.
Sampling the menu
As for the menu, there's not much I can tell you at this point as it remained a closely guarded secret up to publication time. I was in last week for a tour, and we did taste a few items.
Chefs Black and Williams prepared surf and turf, including a play on paella, a seasonal quail appetizer that celebrated the flavors of Thanksgiving, and a strip steak topped with herb butter armed with a Maytag-packed brick of delicious bleu cheese over asparagus, and a beautifully poached cippolini dipped in orange glaze. The highlight was seared scallops stuffed with lobster and served with a cardamom-carrot puree, passion fruit reduction and citrus-braised fennel.
The desserts I tried were divine. The fried pie filled with bananas foster was a knee-buckler thanks to the ultra-flaky pastry with house-made gelato and caramel dipping sauce.
It's a small sampling, but it's definitely enough to make me want to come back to try more. That'll be a challenge at first, as the restaurant is not taking reservations for all of its 140 dining room seats.
“We're going to start by taking 80 reservations the first week, then 90 the next and so on,” John Williams said. “We're booked solid for dinner through middle of November.”
It's an exciting time in Oklahoma City's story. Our food and its purveyors are integral to the narrative. Vast's opening is a crucial chapter in determining how far Oklahoma flavor can reach.
It's impossible to say much today what the future holds for Vast and its role in the Oklahoma dining narrative, but it goes without saying things are looking up.Photo Gallery: Vast