There's nothing New Yorkers love more than a secret, but best things in this city you can't find, you have to just stumble upon. And boy did I just fall into something amazing.
I'd heard about "secret" supper clubs. The basic concept is that it's an under the radar local, organic foodie evening seasoned with camaraderie, where you pay a (usually low) flat fee for a dinner in someone's apartment cooked by seriously talented chefs. Isn't there even some group that will bring livestock to your apartment and slaughter it in your bathroom and then cook it for you? Ok, maybe I'm not quite ready for that.
Two weekends ago I emerged from L train in industrial-ugly-chic Bushwick (a neighborhood in Brooklyn with a fair amount of hipster street cred) and made my way to One Big Table, a supper club/speakeasy. My friend Taylor Brown had been invited to be an after dinner musical performer and the moment I heard about the event I emailed and snagged a spot.
When we arrived we were greeted by the One Big Table hostess, Heather, the quiet and elegantly tattooed mastermind and workhorse behind the monthly gathering.
As we put our coats down, we saw The Board, a chalkboard with the night's 6 course menu written out, complete with the farms from which the ingredients came from. It only got better from there.
Heather is a 25 year-old nanny by day and self taught cook who's understatedly passionate about food as well as the art of entertaining. The whole event is clearly a labor of love which she does mostly on her own with a few friends who help with serving and last minute touches. For $45 you get the meal and freeflowing bottles of organic wine with each course. I pondered that she probably just breaks even on the evening.
I could give you detailed paragraphs of food porn as the meal was explicitly delicious, but I'll hit you with the highlights. What struck me most about the meal was how inspired the dishes were, which Heather mostly makes up -- like the poached pear with ricotta appetizer topped with honeycomb, salt and thyme, and the ginger molasses bacon (!) cookies (her aunt's recipe) for dessert.
What enchanted me the most about the evening besides the food was the concept. Literally, one big table, about 15 unpretentious guests who didn't already all know each other, the delight of incredible food cooked with love, easygoing but well planned serving of courses (I used to be a catering waitress, this is a lot harder than it seems) a homey, relaxed environment and no dishes to do at the end. No dishes to do at the end. My momma always taught me that good guests clean up, and dinners at friends' houses are always delightful except for this hanging over your head.
Heather says a close friend encouraged her to start a supper club after attending a dinner party at her house. "I had no idea things like that went on in the city. After months of talking, people began asking when they could come. So, really, it was peer pressure that made the first event happen." She's been at it for about a year, and plans to attend culinary school in the fall.
Her plan after she finishes her formal culinary training is as follows: "I'll be taking One Big Table on tour. During the week I'll be working on organic farms across the country. On the weekend, I'll be creating meals using the produce I earn on the farm and hosting dinners in the homes of people I know in whatever state of the country I happen to be in. I plan to document the whole experience and hope to gain an understanding of regional American cuisine and the local farm inspirations for such. After that, I'll be settling somewhere to establish a high end, farm-to-table event and catering business."
Sounds like a plan to me!
What I love about the concept is that it seems so of the times. Restaurants are great, but they are a business. And I feel like more and more people are looking for dining experiences, that are about more than food -- knowing not only where the food comes from, but the people who make it, and the folks who are enjoying it around you. Nothing beats eating in someone's home. Also, dinner parties are an underrated place to actually talk to people you don't already know. (When was the last time you made friends with another diner at restaurant?) The mix of guests was a classic Brooklyn gambit, musicians/social workers/graphic designers/journalist types. And with wallets thinning and tightening, this is an amazing way to eat fabulously for not a lot of money. I know I never would have been able to afford a replication of that meal at a restaurant, and it undoubtedly wouldn't have been as fun.
After dinner, Heather opens the apartment up for guests to invite friends -- I've yet to hear of another supper club that has the live music/concert component at the end. As we listened to Taylor Brown and Matt Singer play, (The evening was loosely done in conjunction with Family Records), and Heather whipped up cocktails such as "Gitmo-no-mo'" and "Aretha's Hat" which she sold for $3. At peak there were probably 35-40 people there. Eventually the music switched to ipod-DJing and we danced til around 2.
This is the sort of night that makes me fall in love with New York all over again. I loved it so much that despite my general efforts to keep my email address on the DL I'm going to put it in this post with the powerful hope that people will tell me about/invite me to more of these kinds of supper clubs. Maybe I can turn this into some kind of series.
kgoldstein at huffingtonpost dot com .....
oh and just so you can bring a little magic to your own table, the recipe for my favorite dish of the evening....
Parsley Root Soup with Chestnuts
* 1 large chopped onion * 3 garlic cloves, chopped * 6 tablespoons unsalted butter * 3 pounds parsley root, tops discarded and root peeled and chopped * 4 sprigs thyme * 1 Turkish bay leaf * 1/2 teaspoon white pepper * 6 cups water * 3 cups chicken broth * 3 tablespoons olive oil * 8 to 10 peeled roasted whole chestnuts (from a jar)
Cook onion and garlic in butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add parsley root, thyme, bay leaf, white pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until parsley root begins to soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Add water and broth and simmer, until parsley root is very tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Discard thyme and bay leaf and stir in oil. Purée!
Chop chestnuts as thinly as possible and serve on top.