What’s in a Supper Club? If you ask The Whisk & Ladle Supper Club, they’ll tell you that they coined the name. In fact, so told me one of the W&L hosts, and I am paraphrasing: No one was using the words “Supper Club” before we began hosting our dinners. If you ask other New York-based dining groups, they’ll think nothing on it and if you ask Grub Street to describe a Supper Club, they won’t define what it is but they’ll tell you that the Health Department is too busy to even consider what a “Supper Club” is up to.
What about Dinner Theatre? Good question! Most certainly not the same thing, though I’ve collaborated in the past with a supper club that promises an, “educational, social and theatrical culinary” experience to unsuspecting attendees.
Most surprising of all is the WikiPedia entry, which only mentions super clubs in the U.S. as a footnote to a happening in Latin America, look:
“In Latin America, Supper Club typically denote underground restaurants, where they’re known as either a paladar or a restaurante de puertas cerradas (locked door restaurant). While technically illegal, they’re built into the culture, and often have higher standards than many licensed establishments. They are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.”
The New York Times has hailed supper clubs as “Anti-Restaurant[s]” and the term underground is used in conjunction with culinary happenings at such a frequency that all history of the “underground railroad” I fear, may well be re-written and confused for a big dinner party.
Q: Alright, JC, what’s the point?
A: Great question kind Hipster in the back! First a photo, then my response:
On Sunday February 12th I hosted an event that was indeed a first (for The Noble Rot). Since The Noble Rot’s inception in 2009 I have boasted of our Anti-Supper Club format where there ‘ain’t no sittin’ down.’ The focus has been on wine and the food is there to compliment the wines. The food has always been passed and like a politician kept afloat by a superPAC, I promised we’d never repeal our credo! We’d never sit down! And last Sunday, I flip-flopped. I’m also announcing my candidacy for President of the Unite States of Foursquare and Seven Years Ago When There Wasn’t No Damn Foursquare.
This story of Love, and the Occupying of it (title of the event was “Occupy the Things u Love”), begins last year when David Santos, Chef of Um Segredo a Portugese-influenced Roosevelt Island based supper club, contacted me about a collaboration.
ME: “You’re Spanish right?”
DAVID: “No, I’m Portugese”
ME: “I’ll never go to Roosevelt Island.”
DAVID: “You should, it’s pretty amazing. My apartment is so big it feels like a house in suburbia.”
ME: “So we’ll do a Spanish-inspired Valentine’s Day dinner in Williamsburg. Sound good?”
That’s not exactly how it went, but pretty close. Daniel Sklaar, the ChocoFiend of Fine & Raw Chocolates, offered his loft as the base of operations. I was sold when he used the words”scotch” and “bonbon” in the same sentence. It wasn’t clear to me that he had made a scotch-infused bonbon, but that didn’t matter, I simply love word associations. Turned out he did make a limited edition bonbon and we were to give it out as a parting gift to the lucky 25 guests who made it on the list to attend.
Ramon Del Monte from Tempranillo, Inc. and I had been talking about the necessity of collaborating again and so he came on board the love train. Whenever we serve wines from Jorge Ordenez, the flagship brand of Tempranillo, the quality and consistency of deliciousness is always overwhelming. We tasted through five wines and ya know, I’m now hooked on every one. At the end of this post there are photos of the food and the wines we paired with each dish.
Carla Rhodes, a “rock n’ roll” ventriloquist to the stars brought out her turn-of-the-century friendly, singing, womanizing compatriot: Cecil. Guests were clamoring for more of Carla’s musical numbers and Cecil’s harsh criticism. At one point, he told Carla that she looked like “Shirley Temple on speed,” and multiple times threatened to harm everyone in the house. The act was just what Valentine’s Day ordered. Look her up.
So, there you have it: we hosted a sit-down meal for 25. And all were a lovely bunch. Some “regulars” were there (you know who you are) and some new faces who had been trying to make an event happen for a long time. Chef Santos’ professionalism, his composure in the kitchen and ability to handle prepping, cooking, plating 25 portions for a five-course meal while washing dishes in between, keeping conversation light and fun, never breaking a sweat — is unparalleled in this “supper club” scene (in NYC). In fact, I’ll make a bold statement: every single supper club in New York City could take lessons in composure (and portion-size) from David. I told him so and I meant it: I’d work with him again anytime he so desired.
As we round the bend on this one, a tall order is in hand: to define supper club. Luckily, we’re not going to fill that tall order here today. Instead, we’ll just say that the experience of social dining may provide a very hearty rival to the restaurant scene as supper clubs develop and become adults. To boot, two gents from Underground Eats attended our V-Day extravaganza and truly captured the flow of the evening in a well-written and enjoyable blog post. They’re mission to become a source for access to our clandestine dining world may be the start of the growing up process. They’ve provided some photos for this post! Seek them out and perhaps you’ll be the fine owner of the only business card to rival the luxurious design of a Bentley (which they possess).
I’ve a bit of big news to break out as well, which involves an announcement about, “Jonny Cigar,” an idea of the title “sommelier,” a commitment to new dining and wining experiences, and a new business that combines a bit of public relations, a dash of marketing to be stirred with consulting. Details and more coming to an inbox near you in the very near coming weeks. So if you’re not on the Noble Rot mailing list, get on board.
The tasting season is upon us here in ole’ New York. And while there are plenty of opportunities to taste a array of wines from around the world, there is one opportunity to discover a rising class of wines that are making palates perform double-takes: kosher.
On Monday, February 13th, head to Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers to take part in the 2012 Kosher Food & Wine Experience (KFWE). The lineup of vintners may have you stroking your corkscrews, murmuring, “I didn’t know they made a kosher wine!” The likes of Laurent-Perrier, Rothschild, and Goose Bay will be pouring and unsurprisingly you’ll be able to taste through the Baron Herzog wines, but may indeed be surprised by the latest vintages.
In Napa, some of the valley’s most coveted and expensive fruit is making its way into wine bottles that are kosher, and the result is a kosher wine renaissance. I dare say you may already be hooked on one of these wines and not even know it’s kosher! Go then, good connoisseur and see for yourself, for I will make a prediction: the next cult wine to take the cult wine-seekers by storm may be a kosher one.
And note: good wino, for you may have heard of manischewitz. Well, wine does not have to be manischewitz to be a kosher wine. To make manischewitz-type wines, the wine is typically “boiled,” which then classifies it mevushal.
And if you’re looking for a really fantastic explanation of what makes a wine kosher vs what makes a wine mevushal, read what Covenant Wines wine maker Jeff Morgan has to say about it. He’ll be at the KFWE pouring on Monday, so say hello but don’t tell him I sent you because I’m Sicilian. The tastings begin at 6:30pm!
“No thank you, I think I’ll have a beer,” said my shadow to me. “Six more weeks of winter,” I said to no one there.
This particular week, the wine trail has lead me to Over-Done-It-Land, but in high fashion! Beginning with Slow Wine, a movement by the Slow Food folk to showcase wineries they “particularly like for the way it interprets Slow Food values (sensory perceptions, territory, environment, identity).”
All the vintners featured at the Slow Wine Tasting were Italian and so it was at the Metropolitan Pavilion on Monday, January 30th that I tasted my way through Piedmont, Chianti and Chianti Classico. I’m a tried-and-true lover of California wines, but the young Nebbiolos and Chiantis gave my west-coast palate a run for its money. Many of these wines were showing clean, bright noses with complexities that will most certainly develop with more time in the bottle. I was particularly struck by the lack of “animal” or “barnyard” qualities in many of the Piedmontese wines. It’s no secret that Italy has had to clean up its act. A little over a decade ago it was next to impossible to fine consumer magazines talking up “good value” and “Italian” in the same issue. The tides have changed.
Reality check: the Slow Wine event was similar to other pavilion-tasting extravaganzas, done many times over year after year. Trade, press and consumers show up, get checked in and bounce around the room often without much care for any linear narrative tasting. I’ll say this: from a consumer standpoint, there’s great value if you’re a connoisseur studying to achieve the title of Sommelier through an accreditation. Suddenly there’s 400 wines for you to taste through and develop sense memories for. If you’re a retailer it might be a good opportunity to discover a new brand. If you’re press you might find that undiscovered vintner or client if you’re on the other side of press. However…
I really have to ask: what’s in it for the winery? They commit to many of these tastings, often paying to participate and supplying wine. I have yet to see the right balance of value + reasoning at events like this. Perhaps I need to organize one of these pavilion tastings, eh? Show everyone how it’s done! And make it worth a vintner’s time. Keep your eyes and ears pealed for a Noble Rot inspired airline hanger tasting extravaganza.
Slow Wine aside, I enjoyed one of the best chicken dinners of my life with an avid connoisseur who lives in a princely palace in DUMBO. We’re not talking BBQ chicken or herb-roasted spit-fire grilled chicken, we’re talking his own classified, “transvestite” chicken. Don’t let the name deter you. It was one of the best chickens I ever did eat. And, dang, I can’t remember how he prepared the bird – which was likely his intention as he poured, glass after glass of these absolutely brilliant wines:
And Wednesday, I had the privilege to audit a tasting group of some of NYC’s top Sommeliers (from Oceana, Eleven Madison Park, Corkbuzz, Del Friscos, etc) as they practiced for the advance certificate exam. Because these chaps typically work lunch service or have to prep for dinner service at their perspective haunts, the group meets at 9:00am most Wednesdays. And proceeds to blaze through 12 wines. The test goes like this: in front of you are six glasses of wine; three white and three red. You have 25 minutes to run through every detail of then you can, from color, clarity, a laundry list of criteria about the nose, the wine on the palate to the final test: Name That Wine! + the region and the year from whence it was born unto fermented grape juice!
I was humbled by the experience. The array of wine-speak vocabulary was overwhelming and impressive and the best part: they really know how to have fun and make fun of themselves. Favorite quote: “The wine is total schlunk!” and across the room: “I hate that I know what you mean when you say schlunk. I know exactly what you mean!”
I only captured the first six we tasted through, and I was allowed to sample the wines too while each candidate was administered the test exam. A great, great week for tasting some stunning wines and for reminding me why at the end of the day great winemakers prefer a cold brew.