In years past my good friend Bob and I would organize a supper club called Bob and Andrew's Restaurant, or Andrew and Bob's Restaurant or just "The Restaurant", depending on who you asked.
The challenge would be to create an innovative multi course meal for 10 - 15 people that would cost no more than $5.00 a person before a pairing of wine or a beer that I had brewed. We worked on this project for almost a year, meeting a handful of times before it faded into a background of weddings, babies and obligations that dominate our daily lives.
As I remember its inception, the idea for our club came from a story I was telling about a underground restaurant in Queens. Nestled into a quiet middle class neighborhood in Middle Village an Italian family served traditional family style meals complete with wine for $50.00. As they served a fixed number of people per night and it was not uncommon to knock on the door and be told to try again next weekend, if the door was answered at all.
"The Restaurant" was great fun but it quickly grew unwieldily and its restriction to charging no more than $5.00 a head, while egalitarian, was restrictive beyond belief.
Anyway, these were the thoughts that simmered in the back of my mind like the foundation of a good stock as I made my way up a dark street and to the front door of an amazing home in Soulard to attend an event that had all the elements of not only a supper club, but a deliciously secret rave as well.
But how had I ended up here?
I first discovered this roving event a few weeks ago when I got a message on Twitter that led to a web site describing an event that had a few spaces left:
"Interested in going? DM me on twitter. Have too much to say in a tweet about why you'd want to go? Just add your comments below. Don't worry about the cost as it isn't cheap, whatever you can or can't contribute is fine. I'll pick up the rest. Whether you check the box as male, female, or "other" is fine with me. I'm happily married thank you very much But you *must* love food. Additional bonus is that you will then be on the invite list for all future dinners."
Sadly the date available happened to be my birthday and friends had organized a dinner long ago so I was unable to go. But over the next week I was added to a list of interested parties and received a tweet that read:
"just ordered hudson valley fois, 6 whole peking ducks, moulard breast, leg and things from pasture 2 plate"
Again I was unable to rsvp as I was scheduled to spend the weekend hanging out and cooking at a lake house in the Ozarks. Each message regarding this cryptic dinner left me wanting to attend more. The tweets continued and soon I was emailed a link and password to a website where I could RSVP to a future meal.
I RSVP'ed for 2 for what was a meal called "Rethinking Thanksgiving", eventually leading a friend and I to this dark doorway in Soulard. What follows is a recap of the meal I enjoyed at a table full of strangers, I hope it inspires you to seek out the clandestine chef. I know I'll be back for more.
For supplemental information I'll link to my tweets and twit-pics from the evening. Yes I took more pictures than this, but really, you don't think I went through all this work to share everything now did you?
My evening with the Entre:Underground - A Thanksgiving Feast - in seven parts:
Upon entering we were welcomed and given a glass of Cava Carbo, a sparking wine from Spain, and then were left to mingle with the few diners that had already arrived, explore the house and ask questions in the kitchen as a team of chefs and assistants prepped a meal for 30 people, split between two long tables in a cavernous room off the kitchen. As I was as interested in how an evening like this was pulled off, I grabbed seats with a direct view of the action in the kitchen.
A slim plate with crostini and a deconstructed stuffing of turkey braised in cider and cranberry, a celery foam and fried sage and paired with a 2008 Alder Ffeiz Gewurztraminer. A well executed amuse bouche, providing a glimmer of what was ahead and capturing the flavors of perfect stuffing. The braised turkey reminded me of Thanksgiving meals with my family, where my mom lays the neck of the bird over the dressing as it cooks in the oven and we take turns picking at the moist and dark meat throughout the day.
The chef visits our table to tell us about a green bean casserole with mushrooms that were just hours removed from growing on a tree, topped with crisp slices of garlic in the place of the customary strips of fried onion. Pairing was a delicious 2008 Brampton Sauvignon Blanc.
I recall wondering if there was any more of that braised turkey...
A refresh of the Sauvignon Blanc and a request to make conversation and await an off the menu course thats being constructed on the fly, a house made turkey sausage wrapped in dough - pigs in a blanket sitting atop a decadent cranberry sauce.
I grab my phone and snap a picture, tweeting:
"Secret extra dish - pigs in a blanket! #amazing". I follow this up with a tweet directed at the chef, "I'm sitting here - amazing - bravo. So happy."
Quite possibly my favorite dish of the evening was a playful take on mac and cheese (picture). An amazing combination of cheese crisp sitting in a pasta soup with chives and bacon. Paired with my favorite wine of the night, a 2006 Paraiso Syrah that was full of oak, I could have ended the evening here.
The soup was smoky from the bacon and a perfect foil for the cheese crisp which I broke off in small pieces with my spoon and savored. For the first time in the evening, I stopped talking and concentrated on the dish.
It is always a good sign when I turn quiet at a meal, because as my wife will tell you, I never shut up.
A pallet cleanser of cranberry sorbet sitting on a generous base of honey. I share a story with all in earshot that my parents tell about the first time they had a pallet cleanser with a meal. Long story short they used the sorbet to "butter" their bread. I love that story, but not as much as the heady mixture of cranberry and honey. Just rich.
I direct another tweet at the chef:
"love that you guys are working so hard and rocking this place - while pounding some PBR's. =D".
The main course of a turkey and duck ballotine, wrapped in bacon and paired with broad sweeps of cream corn, goat cheese polenta and spinach (picture). One of our fellow diners asks what a ballotine is, and I reply with a tweet from earlier in the afternoon:
"Wikipedia's entry for ballotine is short and sweet. Its recommendation? See Also "Turducken". Have to love rolled and stuffed meat."
For the first time I realize that we've been eating for two and a half hours, then I dig in, making sure to gather up each flavor in every bite. A 2008 Dain Savage Juilet Pinot Noir complemented the neapolitanesque combination of bacon, turkey and duck.
Not to be forgotten is a simple roll dusted with sea salt and sage. Happiness ensued when half of a second roll showed up on my plate, complements of my friend Steph who wrestled an extra helping from the waitstaff.
A fun play on creme brulee in the form of a pumpkin custard topped with a pumpkin seeded lace cookie. More like a pumpkin flan, the key to this dish was the crunch of the cookie, which takes the place of a traditional caramelization of sugar. A square, yes square, cup of coffee on the side was an excellent ending to this meal.
To wrap the evening, each member of that evenings underground meal took a moment and told us a bit about themselves, brining the meal to an end. As each person explained their story and how they ended up preparing the evenings meal, I could not help but think of the small supper club that my friend Bob and I ran. While backgrounds ranged from bankers to biologist to chefs, it was clear that each was there to be part of something special and for St. Louis, very unique.
Many thanks for the amazing meal and best of luck to the new friends we met that night. I can't wait to return for seconds.