The Food Channel named clandestine dining one of the top trends for 2008. The concept of underground meals–staged by chefs, passionate amateurs, and other foodies in different locations–has been around for awhile. Several years ago, my mate and I attended one of Michael Hebberoy’s not-so-secret Family Supper events located in an unmarked building ’round the back from his restaurant Gotham in Portland, OR. (Shortly thereafter the thing folded its tent when the bad-boy restaurateur skipped town leaving his then chef-wife Naomi holding the bag. Word is, she’s revived it.)
The more out of the way and unmarked the setting of a clandestine supper, the better; secrecy just adds to the vibe that this is the new-millenium version of the speakeasy.
So it’s an understatement to say the whole underground dining thing continues to gain momentum. And for good reason: It’s fun to be in on a secret and partake in an ephemeral event. Word of clandestine suppers usually spreads by e-mail, there may even be a password involved, the menu depends entirely on the organizers’ whims, and the location is usually some offbeat spot–an empty commercial space, a warehouse, a private home–whatever they can swing for free or at least really, really cheap. The more out of the way and unmarked the setting the better; secrecy just adds to the vibe that this is the new-millenium version of the speakeasy.
I love being in on a secret, so the whole idea of underground dining tickles me. When our friend John sent an e-mail asking us if we wanted to tag along for a secret supper on Sunday, I was in. (Well, he’d seen it touted on Daily Candy LA, so it wasn’t that secret, but still.)
The event was staged by Chicks With Knives, a pair of enthusiastic local professional chefs–lovely young ladies who go by R and P. The Chicks run the monthly Sustainable Supper Club in Los Angeles, specializing in S.O.L.E. (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) food sourced within 150 miles of Los Angeles. And when they say local, they mean it. The produce for a meal often comes from their own gardens or is contributed from the gardens of their friends and fans.
The Chicks’ next event is in downtown LA on Feb. 8. For an invite and details, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
We fired off e-mails requesting the password for details about the upcoming supper. The location for Sunday’s festivities was an unoccupied, unmarked house-cum-commercial space in West Hollywood. The price: 48 bucks (suggested donation) for four courses, BYOB.
I consulted John, who’s plotting his next career as a sommelier, for advice on which sipper to bring, with the caveat “must be cheap”–three words genuine wine lovers must dread. Nonetheless, he offered up some general guidance, suggesting a bold zin or cab to go with the menu’s short ribs. I decided to bring a cheapo sangiovese I’d picked up the day before at World Market. At this point, John probably wondered why I’d bothered to ask his advice, but he said my Italian plonk would probably be fine and graciously offered to share some of the good stuff he and his wife were planning to bring.
“I don’t trust their glasses,” John later told my mate. “I’m bringing my own stems.” And he did–four Riedels nestled in a dedicated padded tote bag. It turns out, his sommelier-in-training sense was on target that night. The Chicks keep things jovially casual, providing glass tumblers for drinks.
The evening was sold out (thanks, in part, to the Daily Candy tout), with about 60 diners, I’d guess. R introduced her partner, P, and they briefly discussed details of each course before it was served.
First up was Smoked Mushrooms with Red-Fringe Mustard Greens, Leeks, and Braised Mustard Seed Vinaigrette. The smoked mushrooms were an inspired touch, and, of course, I found the jewel-toned diced beets delightful. Beets are good.
Next out of the kitchen was Carrot-Fennel Soup with House-Made Crackers and Black Olive Tapenade. This one seemed to get mixed reviews at our table, but I loved the blend of salty tapenade and sweet carrot. And the delicate crackers held up surprisingly well in the hot soup.
The evening’s highlight, undoubtedly, was Steam-Ship-Style Short Rib with Apple and Root Vegetable Mash and Hash. The hearty aroma wafting out of the kitchen whet everyone’s appetite. And when a plate of the fork-tender meat was set in front of me, I dove right in. So, sorry, no photo. Just take my word for it that these were succulent, tender, and soul-soothing (the last time I was so transported by comfort food was when I gobbled Chef Frank Brigtsen’s jambalaya in New Orleans). And John’s choice of Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel kicked the whole experience up to a new level with a flavorful seesaw between bite of tender beef and sip of bold, fruity wine.
The meal concluded with Torta Sabrossa with Sweet Goat Cheese Frosting and Meyer Lemon Sugar Glass. This was a small cake made with potato flour, with a blood orange glaze and a little tiara of Meyer lemon sugar glass. What intrigued me most, though, was the dollop of sweetened goat cheese frosting. Now, that’s a trick, I’ll have to try at home.