You know how I usually like to start off with some jokes here about something deeply inappropriate and really alienate folks right off the bat? I’m not doing that today.
I’m sure something inappropriate will show up at some point, because I am as God accidentally made me, but I’d like to talk about something serious and something wonderful up top.
Breast cancer sucks and everyone knows it. But not as well as Jodi Cooper, who is both a survivor and lost a sister to it. That’s powerful motivation, which is why she’s so deeply involved with the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s efforts to fund breast cancer research.
Wearing pink ribbons and talk about breast cancer are now so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine a time when it was a taboo subject. But it was. Shirley Temple Black, famed Hollywood child actress, desperately tried to draw attention to the disease that killed her, but was stopped from publishing editorials because of its verboten nature.
Silence kills. A taboo disease is under-reported, under-researched and rarely understood. So these last few decades, when we finally got over whatever it was that kept people from addressing this epidemic, have been hugely important.
Women diagnosed with breast cancer now, especially with early diagnosis, have a 90-plus percent chance of survival. That’s amazing.
“Uh, cool, Greg. Do you still write about food?”
Yes, you jerk. I still write about food. And last week, as part of a fundraiser for the upcoming 25th annual Oklahoma City Race for the Cure (Oct. 20 at Bicentennial Park), I got to put on some very pink clothes for the Rosé Soirée Wine Dinner at Vast.
The five-course menu, conceived by Executive Chef Kevin Lee, was paired with a variety of rosé wines chosen by Ian Clarke of Oklahoma City-based Putnam Wines Ltd.
Let me pour some sugar on Chef Lee for a minute, if you don’t mind. I met him as the chef of a tiny underground food court restaurant called Burger Rush where he served up fried soft shell crab sandwiches to customers who only wanted bacon cheeseburgers.
When Burger Rush closed, he found his way to the Coach House’s apprenticeship program and swiftly made his way into Chef Kurt Fleischfresser’s inner circle of trusted palates. He designed the original menu at Chae, opened Gogi Go! and worked his way from sous chef to executive chef at Vast — arguably one of the most prestigious jobs in OKC’s food scene.
He is also the guy who first got me to try sea urchin (it’s like toothpaste that’s been to the ocean, but in a good way) and he’s got jokes.
That sense of humor was apparent in the Rosé Soirée menu. If you’ve ever wondered what it means for a chef to be “playful,” this is a pretty good example.
The food isn’t silly, but it’s unexpected. It’s a mix of non-traditional ingredients used to achieve a familiar flavor. For instance, the first course was “steak and frites” carpaccio.
The beef was cut into an intricate nest, but it pulled apart like a dream. Like great carpaccio, it required almost no chewing as it melted on the tongue. The “frites” were miniature potato chips, salty and perfectly golden, topped with a fried quail egg and served over a lemon-garlic aioli.
I thought the second course of pickled shrimp and avocado salad was wonderful. The shrimp were gently pickled, with a touch of sourness along with a steak-y texture. The heirloom tomatoes had a sweet, vegetal pop and the jalapeno vinaigrette clinging to the arugula may be my new favorite salad dressing.
“So...you’re saying we should go eat at Vast? Really taking a bold stand there, Greg: go eat at one of the nicest restaurants in the city. Wow.”
No. I mean, yes, you should go eat at Vast, of course. But you should really keep your eyes and ears and mouths open for these prix fixe wine dinners. Not only can the benefit worthy causes, like breast cancer research, but they’re also a chance for extremely talented chefs to go absolutely buckwild on your taste buds.
Next came a salmon tonkatsu that was ridiculously easy to eat. Tonkatsu is usually a Japanese preparation of pork or chicken that’s breaded and fried, but salmon was a new one for me. I told Lee after the fact that is reminded me of fish sticks in the best way possible.
Look, fish sticks aren’t great, but the form factor is nostalgic and fun. But the katsu salmon had that full, luxurious salmon flavor paired with a delicate, crunchy crust. Pile on the tomato butter and shredded cabbage and it was a lovely, unexpected delight.
Sous Chef Chad Epley, who competed at the ORA’s Culinary Cook-Off, was in the kitchen for the dinner and his fried chicken fourth course was so bonkers delicious that I immediately set about trying to get Vast to open a poultry pop-up. It was an immaculately fried chicken breast with roasted Brussels sprouts and a warm bacon vinaigrette over pomme puree (aka fancy mashed potatoes).
The final course was a chocolate Belgian waffle, warm and crispy on the outside, airy on the inside. It was topped with macerated strawberries and a spiced, freshly whipped whipped cream. I loved the restraint here. Desserts can, in inexperienced hands, turn into a sugary, sickly sweet mess. This had sweet notes, but there was a balance with tart strawberries and a hint of basil. The chocolate had more of dark cocoa flavor. Altogether lovely.
The rosés were great, but I was most taken with the final glass of the night — a Patrick Bottex Buggey-Cerdon sparkling rosé with a dark fruit, almost raisin-y port flavor to it. This wine came at me from all sides and I had no defense. It was sweet, but not cloying. Bright but not inconsequential. I’m glad there were others enjoying the bottle or else I might have snuck it off to a corner to chug myself.
Do your mouth a favor and bookmark Vast’s special events page. It takes real talent to get to the top, especially when the top is Oklahoma City’s highest restaurant. Dinner at Vast is always great, but these types of events are when you really get to experience the chefs’ visions and it’s well worth your attention.