Thanks to growing numbers of food minded people around the country, underground dining has been gaining momentum. What was once spoken of with hushed tones in foodie circles, underground restaurants have of late been receiving local and national press. In cities with large restaurant scenes, a desire for an alternative to the restrictions of a restaurant have taken both chefs and diners off the radar.
In California a group called Outstanding in the field (out standing?) takes diners to amazing outdoor locations and boasts such names as Alice Waters. In San Fransisco a group called Ghetto Gourmet which began in a basement apartment, dinners prepared by a pair of brothers for a loyal following has swollen to include a national reputation, nightly performers, and guest chefs. Portland’s original underground restaurant, Ripe, dissolved recently and the creator has moved our way starting an underground movement called One Pot. Yup, you guessed it, the meal strips away all airs of dining humbly restricting the meal to be cooked in a single pot.
In Seattle the scattering of underground restaurants has long been dominated by Gypsy. Started in the living room of an in home culinary school, the restaurant gained momentum throughout the Seattle dining scene when food writer Nancy Leason featured it in her column for the Seattle Times, and the well read alternative newspaper The Stranger fawned over the alternative style dining experience. The mailing list grew, the guest chef roster added local chefs, myself in February 2006. Garnering a position in a lengthy Wall Street Journal piece, Gypsy began to attract national attention. In fall of 2006, Gypsy gave birth to a second restaurant, Vagabond. Housed in Portalis Wine Bar in Ballard, this Monday night supper club offers a humble 3 course meal priced moderately, and the opportunity to pull a bottle from the wine shops collection at retail price.
Thanks to the efforts of local P.R. agent Traca Savadago, Gypsy shared a July dinner with Anthony Bourdain. Tony, as I learned he likes to be called, sauntered in, camera’s in tow, and enjoyed an 11 course menu prepared by Gabriel Claycamp, desserts by myself. The dual menus running side by side offered dishes like tequila and strawberry “otter pops”, rosemary skewered chicken hearts, bone marrow “fries”, and an addictive white port marinated foie gras that was bruleed with vanilla sugar. The cheese course, an orange colored whipped epoisse called “cheese whiz” was served with a story of smuggling the cheese into the country in a place no french authority would dare go, a baby’s diaper bag, and was smartly paired with Boones Strawberry Hill.
For dessert a bittersweet chocolate terrine was served with a “cluttering” of garnishes. Made from scharffenberger’s 70 percent bar, the dish highlighted chocolates’ versatility by complimenting it with a myriad of flavors. Candied nuts, salty toasted sesame seeds, Madagascar vanilla cream, pastis preserved cherries, toasted marshmallows, Breton shortbread, fresh raspberries, candied ginger, all sat in a still life of garnishes before the proud wall of a chocolate terrine.
The second dessert was a lime cheesecake mousse set over the top of an “aural” crust. Strawberry pop rocks were implanted into the graham cracker crust for a surprising aural firework display with every bite. The dish was accompanied by strawberry sorbet over a salad of black pepper and strawberries, a strawberry sauce, and a fresh grating of lime zest.
Tony managed to polish off his chocolate terrine and a second helping of the lime cheesecake, and said between mouthfuls that I was “prodigiously talented”. A compliment that would have made me blush even more had I understood what “prodigiously” meant at the time. As it was, being surrounded by cameras was nerve racking enough to keep me singularly focused on the food at hand.
The dinner filmed for The Pacific Northwest episode of No Reservations reruns this Monday at 10pm on the Travel Channel. You can see a bit of me on the show, given the title “Evil Pastry Chef” in a montage casting the characters of this irreverent dinner, and describing the use of pop rocks to remind us that we use our sense of sound while eating more than we know.
During dinner, Bourdain asked his stock question, “What would you eat as your last meal if on death row?” The guests at the table added their own desired meals, mom’s spaghetti, potatoes in any form, foie, chocolate, and roasted marrow in the bone for Bourdain. When I offered my desire for a big fat hot dog on a toasty bun, ketchup, mustard, relish, and chopped onion a top, a bag of plain lays potato chips, and a coca cola so cold there were tiny shards of icy crystals, I was declared to be a cook, through and through. In his first book he highlights the fact that most cooks who put their life into the industry, making your dream meals, in the end are most satisfyed by the simplest of fare.
So set your TiVo, write a sticky note, or just remember, 10 pm, Monday the 26th, on the Travel Channel. Tony does the Pacific Northwest.