Sensory Overload

[originally published in The Tulsa Voice]

Millicent Brasserie a bizarre curiosity. The new multi-sensory restaurant, hidden behind the humble façade of a non-descript Broken Arrow strip mall, treads dangerously close to an acid trip, with just enough over-the-top class to keep it grounded in high dining.

Chef Vincent DePaul Tran’s concept is essentially a Michelin Star-inspired discotheque with a 9-course dinner, where fog machines and strobe lights set the stage for carefully plated tasters packed with curious combinations. The name of the game here is stimulation of all five senses, and Tran and his team make good on that promise, with A/V light shows, video reels and a loud soundtrack.

The playlist for the evening was a perplexing mish-mash of patriotic tunes, Christian anthems, Hans Zimmer-esque scores, and ‘70s favorites. “Hotel California” came right on the heels of “I’m Proud to be an American,” while vibey, Euro-club house hits broke up courses throughout the evening. 

While the sensory overload will leave some scratching their heads—or worse, begging for less stimulation—it falls right in line with the restaurant’s mission: make diners feel not just something, but everything.

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Twenty-two diners sit at two set tables, eating elbow to elbow and sharing conversation. The space is small and communal, and Tran makes a point to personally introduce each course. Built to resemble a quaint French bistro-café—red striped awnings, iron tables, Eiffel Tower decals and all—the sectioned space feels both deceptively large and confining. There’s a feeling of no escape, not that I want to—the textured plates and hot towels keep my hands busy, while the splashy Parisian décor allows my mind to wander as we wait for dinner.

When it comes time to present dishes, Tran raises the lights, steps into the space, shares a few key notes about the course, and presents the featured dish to a lucky diner. The food is essentially a meandering, non-linear journey across the globe, with dishes like caviar, chicken, and crème fraiche, shrimp and mango, bruléed chicken wings in red sriracha sauce, and steak simmered in chocolate. The journey is a pleasant one—what it lacks in coherence, it more than makes up for in flavor. Gimmicks aside, the food is very good.

At our meal, the first of nine courses is an amuse bouche of sumptuous gourmet baby food, or as Tran would have me write, roasted butternut squash puree. Though strange in texture, the hearty sauce is speckled with sweet corn, and offers a nice nod to the crisp, autumnal air outside.

As we lick our spoons in anticipation of the second course, Tran explains that the night’s theme is “Cloud Nine,” an idea designed to pull us away from the minutiae of daily routine and into the heightened bliss of a delicious meal.

A projection of water droplets rolls across the wall as an ‘80s power ballad plays, and I half expect David Bowie himself to bring out the next course. I settle for the delightful and attentive server who tends our section of the table. Not Bowie, but still pretty great.

Next up is a ‘Choyster,’ Tran’s take on fried oysters. Caviar and watercress brighten up what is essentially a gourmet chicken nugget in clam sauce, while fennel offers a nice note of spice.

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Another music video brings course number three: Red Wings. Easily the best chicken wings I’ve ever had, the wings are torch-fried to a delicate crisp, drizzled with sweet sriracha sauce, and served with a much-needed moist towelette on the side.

The portions are generous—three courses in and I’m already feeling full.

After a quick swipe of the face and a silverware change, we receive the next course: shrimp in a mango, minty, cucumber ceviche. The dish lives up to its name of “Perfectly Cooked Shrimp Cocktail,” and the curious salsa provides a nice departure from the typical horseradish-and-ketchup cocktail bath.

Other dishes include a 24-hour pork shoulder served with apple relish and a brown sugar sauce so strong, you could smell it across the table; a petite filet in a rich port wine chocolate sauce; and a 5 hour-marinated beef Carpaccio with house made “Millichurri.”

After seven courses, Tran introduces the main event: Cuisse De Lapin Chicken, a playful take on roasted rabbit with truffle-mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, “apple paper” (thinly sliced pommes that look and taste more like caramelized onions), sautéed portabellas, and an alfalfa-arugula salad in a brandy wine sauce.

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As I taste the dish, pink curling smoke fills the room. A passionate symphony plays over the speakers while cascades of color and confetti and water droplets splash across the video screens.

With a bit of apple paper dribbling down my chin, I finally let myself give in to the experience, and wonder if this isn’t exactly the moment Chef Tran has been waiting for.

“Are we having fun yet?!” he asks his guests with shameless enthusiasm.

Yes, Chef, we are.

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