As someone who has dedicated his entire life to food, I have one fear and one fear alone; to miss out on a flavor of times past even though it was in reach. I clearly remember the whimsical words that author Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit Magazine named the Best New Restaurant in America in 2018. One of the best parts is that OKC is only a four hour drive from where I live; this is wonderful for this Midwestern Foodie.
Well, it only took 2 years for me to procrastinate and finally make a reservation. Two of my foodie friends from Springfield, Missouri; Chef Drake Tillman, Jack “The Man of Many Faces” McGee and I checked into our Airbnb just bubbling with excitement of what was to come.
We had all heard rumors of what Head Chef Colin Stringer was up to and we were fully on board to receive what he was offering. Talks of colostrum custard, a fermentation master called Paul Wang who gets absolutely crazy and outrageous with his unique masterpieces. Whispers of the best desserts on the planet made by Chef Jeremy Wolf who can turn a person who doesn’t like sweets into a lifelong fan.
We weren’t given a copy of the menu until the end of the meal, but it confirmed what we began to notice as the meal started; Paul Wang and Colin Stringer, a sous chef and the head chef, respectively, were no longer affiliated with Nonesuch. All of the accolades and accomplishments were done by the three of them as a team and now only one of the original three chefs is left, yet there are no stories about either of the two former chefs leaving the restaurant, nor is there any indication by Nonesuch on social media or their website announcing the news. We later discovered their general manager has also left the restaurant, although the service was in no way lacking.
Before we can wrap our heads and mouths around what is happening out comes the most gracious and heavenly way to get us started. A chilled rose water towelette nicely rolled to refresh the senses. I absolutely loved this touch!
Then, out comes the first course and boy are we excited. The Scallion Pancake that looks absolutely beautiful and delicious and everything that we were expecting. Unfortunately, there was no steak knife presented to be able to cut this extremely tough piece of dough. To be fair we were the last seating at 8:30pm but let’s also remember this is only a 22 seat restaurant. Let’s also keep in mind that we are in the middle of an epidemic, but should that make your food quality any less? As we dig deeper in thought, if you are at 50% occupancy now there are only 10 seats available, yet they are operating with the same amount of staff they would have on a typical night. We counted around 6-7 staff at the time we were there. Despite this, my culinary comrades and I push through and try to appreciate the flavors going on, saying silent prayers that we don’t loose a tooth.
Nonesuch NA Pairing – $45
Before we go into the next 9 courses let’s get into something very positive and fun, the NA (non-alcoholic) Pairing. This was well thought out and very well executed, not to mention delicious and was easily the highlight of our journey to Nonesuch. Subtle hints of fermentation and expressive notes of everything lovely that grows from the Oklahoma dirt. The gentleman that was presenting and proudly responsible for these crazy mind bending concoctions was awesome and so entertaining. The definition of the word nonesuch is a person or thing that is regarded as perfect or excellent. I can say the NA Pairing lives up this this definition.
The fermented miso broth had deep umami characteristics that just soared to ultimate heights flowing with the freshness of the local bean. As a farm to table aficionado I appreciate a simple dish like this. It was simple yet elevated with flavor pearls and edible flowers. The flavor pearls lacked flavor and were bland but it was a good idea. The beans were undercooked but I am assuming they wanted you to feel the depth of the fresh bean. This dish was ok, and gave me hope that the meal would get better.
Every two courses we get a new NA pairing and this is exciting! Our steward of liquid treats was really working his magic and has a true passion for making memories through liquid fermentation.
Now the third course I will have to say was one of the best cold chicken dishes I have ever had. The brined & marinated chicken was so full of flavor it would literally pop with juicy flavor crystals as you chewed. The broth was ok, but the chicken was fantastic! It was a gutsy move to serve cold chicken in broth but I will say it worked. You could also tell the chicken was locally raised, due to the flavor you can only achieve from small farms. My only complaint on this dish is I wish there was more chicken.
I will say this dish definitely had a lot of effort put into it and I do appreciate that. Unfortunately the best part was the fresh dill. The asparagus sorbet by itself would have been monotone, but everything together with the insurance of fresh dill made the dish okay.
Let me start off by saying on this particular dish that the 2 year aged country ham was divine! It had perfect crispiness and salt content and the pasta was cooked excellently. If only the flavors could have been more balanced. The sauce needed a bit more salt to tie it all together. The heat of the peppercorn was overbearing and stole the whole show leaving your throat a bit numb. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good simple carbonara but the flavors on this one were simply trying to compete with each other to see who is going to outshine, the peppercorn definitely won that battle.
So this dish is exactly what it says it is, a potato with beurre blanc. I will say that the buerre blanc was rich and creamy and even had this heavenly cloud like texture that dissolved over the entire tongue. The saucier was on point that night, kudos. What happened to this poor lonely purple potato in my Nordic Bowl though? Not much flavor, they tell me it is smoked but I don’t taste any smoke. I cut open the potato to see if any magic fairy of flavor is going to sprinkle it with love but no, it’s just a regular potato. At least let that salt absorb into the cavity, or smoke it more heavily to give me a sense of something new. As a chef and food explorer, I just don’t think it is fair to put a bland potato and some sauce and call it a dish.
As you can see from the picture, this dish was gorgeous! Who wouldn’t be happy with that mosaic masterpiece of culinary art? The herbs popped with joy, but the bread was cold. It would have been so lovely if it was warm, but it wasn’t. It’s the little details that can truly elevate a dish to great heights or cause them to fall flat.
The pork belly was delicious! It melted in your mouth and had the buttery feel that pork belly should. If only it was three times the size! The squash blossom was not stuffed with anything and was literally a raw squash blossom with cold, barely pickled carrots and okra seeds. Maybe I am being too critical at this stage but I am not a huge fan of cold items with my meat. On such a small dish, and with such delicious pork belly, make it a symphony, not just a star of a show with some local items thrown on the plate. I get wanting to cut the fat with something but this didn’t work at all.
So this is the course I have been long awaiting. It has all led to this moment. Can the tea that Andrew Knowlton spoke of be true? Will this alter my life and make up for every other course that has been lacking? I take a bite of the honeysuckle mochi and it is simple and delicious. Nothing to write home to my mother about, but it is good. Now to get to the tea that I have been day dreaming about for years… I am so excited!
Even though everything has been a let down, surely the tea is going to be mesmerizing and blow my mind like Bon Appetit Magazine said it would. I cut my way through the frothy egg whites making my way to the liquid of the culinary Gods. I am almost there, and my heart is racing thinking of the tantalizing feeling I am about to embrace. I am there… my spoon touches the liquid and I slowly raise it to my mouth ready for the firework show to begin. As I taste the tea I try to trick myself into thinking that it must be at least kinda good. Nope, not one thing I can say was good about this tea. It was literally the worst tea I have ever tasted and I don’t even know why it was on the menu. I am sure there was a time when Chef Paul Wang had a story to match the flavor profile of the ever changing tea, and a time that they had foraged the actual ingredients. Well folks, I am sadly here to say, those days are long forgotten and the band has officially broken up at Nonesuch. 😦
The final course is upon us and I am very sad at this point, we are all starving, we know the curtain is closing and we have waited too long to come. If only this salted creme fraiche was mixed with the carbonara, possibly that dish would have at least been good. As you dip the spoon in the dessert and let it hit your palate the salty flavors make your mouth pucker and your mind wonders why they would season the dessert so much and not the savory food.
I normally don’t choose to write about restaurants that I don’t prefer, but this one has to be written about. It is not the same as when it was named the Best New Restaurant in America in 2018 by Bon Appetit Magazine. This is obvious when you compare photos of meals from 2018 or even 2019 and our meal. My prediction is something happened as it always does with partnerships and with the food world. I had to call the restaurant to get the scoop and see if they were actually proud of the food they served us all.
I confirmed that Chef Paul Wang left a year and a half ago and Head Chef Colin Stringer left about 6-8 months ago. I didn’t read any press release stating this, I didn’t read anything about any of this anywhere. So I did some more research scouring the internet and there is nothing! My immediate feeling is frustration, like I was tricked by the restaurant group that owns this establishment. Then my anger quickly turned to sadness, sad that I didn’t ever get to try the food when all three chefs were together doing what they love and having fun with food.
So, basically the chef that focused on breads and desserts is made head chef and is all alone. Yes, now he has 3 times the staff, but not the caliber they were working with in the past. I get it, he still wants to fight the good fight, he wants to take the opportunity to keep the legend of Nonesuch alive. I am sure he works more hours and has built fantastic menus, but it is almost two years later without the band, and it feels he is tired of making 10 course menus week after week. Maybe he is getting burnt out, you can tell he is a good cook, maybe he is just tired of trying.
My final thought, it only costs $110 for 10 courses, which I think is a fair price. We loved the NA pairing and highly recommend this amenity! I can’t recommend the wine pairing. I got the reserve pairing, which was more expensive for $80 and didn’t enjoy any of the wines, it felt like the purveyor of wine was offloading inventory and they got a good deal on them. If you live in the local area, come and enjoy but don’t come hungry, eat an appetizer on the way. If you are from out of town, and are expecting the best new restaurant in America, don’t wast the trip, it won’t live up to your expectations. If the old band ever gets back together please let me know!
By author, chef and foodie ~ Paul Allen