I had the chance to enjoy a really unique dinner last week.
It was a pop-up hosted by Soon Spoon, a local startup company that's combining last minute reservations at typically hard-to-reserve coveted places and a rewards program. Sign up to be on their email list (or you can just follow them on twitter), and you'll see what last minute reservations are available. They rewards frequent diners with various types of gifts and rewards. One of the coolest rewards is that every month, the top six "most prolific" diners get access to really exclusive pop-up experiences and supper clubs.
Like this one.
I rang the doorbell to an unmarked door and entered a warm and inviting South End apartment. After guests chatted over glasses of sparkling wine, the hosts ushered everyone upstairs to a long dining table.
It was really fun meeting new people who all had a common passion for food.
In the corner right outside a really tiny kitchen (probably smaller than my own original tiny urban kitchen!), Chef Tony Messina from Uni Sashimi Bar was hard at work preparing a really special 8-course tasting menu.
"I started working on prepping this meal five to six days ago," Tony remarked as he carefully plated twelve perfect starters.
I couldn't wait. I'd had Tony's cooking once (my birthday meal at Uni) several months back and I absolutely loved it. I couldn't imagine what he would do for a special one-time meal like this.
We started with two tiny bites. The Chicken Skin Terrine (left) came with black truffles mixed throughout, pork belly croutons, and chives. This was served alongside Osetra Caviar, a dollop of creme fraiche, and yuzu served over a single potato chip. Both bites were delightful - the chicken terrine was savory and juicy; the delicate chip had an intense pop of briny salty goodness which was nicely balanced by the bright citrus-y cream. We paired these with a 2008 xarello/macabeu Cava Recaredo.
Three Hama Hama Oysters came with two different types of seaweed, thin slices of radish, and black olives. These sat on top of painted squid ink and a yamamomo (mountain peach) palate cleanser. The oysters were lovely. I especially enjoyed the crunchy baked larger seaweed, which reminded me a lot of kale chips. This was paired with a 2012 fendant Cave du Vieux-mouin, "amandoleyre" from Valais, Switzerland.
Slices of Tai (or sea bream) sat in a shallow pool of a delicate blood orange consomme topped with razor thin slices of myoga (Japanese ginger) and jalapenos. The broth was intensely tart and the dish was overall almost more sweet than savory (though the ginger and jalapenos added a kick). This was paired with a 2011 Pinot Blanc/Pinot Grigio/Muscat blend called Channing Daughters 'Sylvannus" from Long Island, NY.
Even though I don't typically like foie gras due to its "liver-like" flavor, I was stunned to find that this foie gras dish was actually one of my favorites of the entire evening. In fact, everyone around me was muttering how incredible they thought the dish was.
This Foie Gras Terrine had a layer of espresso gel on top and came with slices of compressed pear, pear paper sheets, and dots of pear essence. I loved the beautiful synergy between the rich creamy coffee-like foie gras (which was almost like a dessert), the fruity pear components, and the fun toasted rye crumbs which added great texture. This was paired with a very aged and delicious 1976 Gewurztraminer Schlumberger "Cuvee Anne" from Alsace, France.
The next dish, simply called "Ramen", consisted of generous chunks of abalone, pork jowl, and tiny little piles of noodles (hiding under black truffle umbrellas!) served with pea shoots in a thick, tonkotsu broth.
The soup was deep and smoky and the noodles were fun, even though there wasn't much of it. The focus of the dish was the intensely flavored broth, which bound together all the other ingredients. The abalone and pork jowl were great, and added additional meatiness to the dish.
Our next course was a single, perfectly slow-cooked egg perched delicately over a pile of salty, umami-laden mushroom ragout, duck, and burnt negi (scallions). We broke the egg to reveal a thick runny yolk which used as a sauce to mix with the mushrooms. This was paired with a 1995 Carbernet Franc from Couly Dutheil called "Clos Echo" Chinon from Loire, France.
I instantly recognized our final savory course, though it came with a twist.
The Duet of Beef included both slices of wagyu (which is what I had at Uni) and slow cooked short ribs (surprise bonus!). The accompaniments of crunchy lichen, broccoli, and sukiyaki jelly were very similar to the dish I enjoyed at Uni. The wagyu beef slices were divine - melt-in-your-mouth soft and buttery and oh-so-flavorful. I know Tony usually serves A5 grade Wagyu beef at Uni. I'm not sure if this was A5, but it sure tasted like it. The shortribs were fork-tender soft and had just a touch of sweetness, which was very nice.
This was paired with a 2008 barbera d'asti from Braida called "bricco dell'accelone" from Piedmont Italy.
I watched Tony and his team prep and plate this next beautiful chocolate dessert. I swear they took a good 15-20 minutes just to plate these!
A decadent chocolate ganache block was served with bacon powder, sumac (a middle eastern spice), pineapple ice cream, sugared pineapples, and tiny pineapple glaze "chips." This was served with a 2006 grenache noir blend from Domaine due Traginer called "banyuls mise tardive" from Rousillon, France.
The dark, rich, creamy dessert was the perfect way to end a lovely meal.
As the evening went on, guests became much more comfortable with each other, and conversations (and wine) flowed. By the end, I felt like I had made some new friends. There's something really special and different about these types of pop-up experiences, especially if they are inside someone's home.
The intimate dining experience, the common love of food, and the unique nature of the event makes it especially memorable.
In Argentina (where I just visited!), this concept of "closed door restaurants" (or supper clubs) is really taking off. People like gathering at a home and don't mind being surprised by the chef.
It's quite fun, actually.
At the end of the evening, the guests gave a huge round of applause to Tony, who came out of the tiny kitchen to greet everyone. People commended him on his ability to execute such an impressive meal within such a tight confined place.
"Let me tell you. It's way more intimate and cozy in the kitchen than out here."
The host, Eli Feldman (pictured literally bending over backwards so everyone can cheer on and thank Tony), told us he really enjoyed hosting these types of dinners, "especially when someone else cooks.
He'd love to host more.
It was close to 11PM when we started to head out. Guests each picked up a small brown box of chocolates as a parting gift.
Soonspoon, who is launching this week (I believe!), promised many more dinners like this to come.
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