So if you've been listening to my WKNO testimonial, you know that one of my favorite things to do is listen to The Splendid Table on Sunday mornings. One Sunday, Lynn was interviewing Jenn Garbee about her book Secret Suppers: Rogue Chefs and Underground Restaurants in Warehouses, Townhouses, Open Fields, and Everywhere in Between. I immediately ordered the book and before I had even finished, I was dreaming of starting my own underground restaurant.
I informed Warren that I expected him to be the chef, and I envisioned myself waitressing. Well, Warren quickly told me that he would be a sous chef, but not a chef. So my next thought was my friend, Justin Fox Burks. He's a photographer for the Flyer and usually takes pictures of any food that I write about. More importantly, he's also an amazing home cook. His blog The Chubby Vegetarian is beautiful and full of mouth-watering, meat-free recipes. I emailed him about the restaurant, met him for lunch, loaned him my book, and patiently waited for him to say, "Sure, I'll do it!" (It took about three weeks.) As an added bonus, he recruited his wife, Amy Lawrence, and his friend/sommelier, Michael Hughes, to help him out. (Score!)
Next, I needed a host. (Our house is just a wee bit small.) Enter Margot McNeeley, my generous friend and fabulous founder of Project Green Fork. She and her husband, Gary Backaus, graciously offered to host the first dinner in their (super swanky) midtown home, complete with an aspiring chef's dream kitchen. (Double score!)
It almost seemed too easy! Then we had to pick a date. Flipping through our busy calendars over another lunch in early March, it looked like we wouldn't be able to get the restaurant going until June! That just seemed crazy. We gave up on doing a Saturday night and happened upon on Sunday that we were all free--April 11th, which just happened to be my birthday.
Finally, we needed people to come eat at the restaurant. I think we could have easily found 100 willing diners, but Justin wanted to start off slow and suggested we invite only 8. Subtract me, Warren, Margot, and Gary and that only gave us for precious invites. Four! I think only inviting four people was the hardest part of the whole experience.
So...on to the good part! The dinner! Despite my sad photos, I think you can still see that the food looked (and tasted) absolutely divine. I felt like I was in a five star restaurant. Each dish came out at the perfect temperature, expertly plated, and full of new and interesting flavors. It was a meal to be remembered. And no one missed the meat.
Enoki Mushroom Ceviche served over Black Beans and Fried Plaintains
(Paired with Margot's Prickly Pear Margaritas)
Corn Soup Elote with Chili Salt and Cotija Cheese
(Paired with Seven Hills Viognier 2008 Talcott Vineyard)
Six-Minute Duck-Egg Huevos Rancheros with Chipotle Pepper Sauce
(Paired with Chateau La Colombiere Coste Rouge 2006)
Smoked Poblano stuffed with Huitlacoche and Sweet Potatoes over Sofrito Rice Cakes with Fresh Cheese and a Tomatillo-Avocado Cream
(Paired with Seven Hills Syrah 2007 Walla Walla Valley)
Mixed Paletas (Cucumber/Cayenne, Horchata, and Pink Peppercorn/Tangerine)
(Paired with King Estate Vin Glaciere Pinot Gris 2006 Willamette Valley)
Justin, Amy, and Michael totally rocked the first ever eaTABLE Supper Club. Justin said that he really wanted to do it for the experience of doing it. "I love and respect food and this was a nice way to honor that. Plus, feeding people is one of my favorite things in the world," he said. Justin was racked with nerves at times, but after running through the dishes a few times he felt like he had put together a really strong menu. He took a few of his recipes from his blog and refined them. He also added a "wow" dish that he developed especially for the dinner. "That was the corn smut pepper," he said, referring to the Smoked Poblano stuffed with Huitlacoche and Sweet Potatoes.
For Justin, the most challenging part was getting past himself, believing that he could pull it off. And the most surprising part? "That we pulled it off at such a high level. I'm proud of the dishes we put out," he said.
And well he should be! Thanks to Justin, Amy, Michael, Margot, and Gary for making my crazy idea a delectable reality. And thanks to everyone who joined in for making my birthday not only delicious and fun, but absolutely unforgettable.
If you'd like to be a part of a future eaTABLE Supper Club, find us on Facebook.