Underground Kitchen – Charleston, WV
I have said to several people that the internet has made the world a smaller place, but at the expense of our own communities. People are more likely to have a friend in a different state or country, but don’t even know their neighbors. Every Tuesday I Skype with friends from FL, CT, IN, AR, DC and Australia. When were setting up the Fork You blog a couple months ago, I added links to several food related sites. One of those sites was Kitchen Geeking. It was an interesting, local, food related blog. I subscribed to the feed and one day this thing called Underground Kitchen popped up in my Google Reader. It was a little like Dinner: Impossible, but for the guests. Initially I thought it was a group of trendy East Enders and getting an invitation would be as easy as getting your beverage order taken at the Power Alley Grill so I put it out of my mind. Then a website popped up, followed by a blog and then chatter on the Twitter.
I had mentioned it to Susan and she liked the idea, but didn’t get excited about paying for the possibility of one of her many food aversions served to her. Then they posted the date for the next Underground event and we couldn’t resist. We got several requests to check out the affair, but together we decided that we would not be “Forking” the Underground Kitchen. It would be unfair and in poor taste to critique a non-profit dinner party. Susan and I consulted our significant others. Tracey wanted to know if there would be a vegetarian menu. Check. Ron wanted to know if Susan would be paying for it. Check. Having those loose ends taken care of we requested an invitation. Our invitation arrived quickly and we paid our $40/person via Pay Pal.
Susan spent the next three weeks trying to weasel the menu out of the Underground Culinarian. He just teased us. I tried to get information on the great location they had confirmed. I was told, “You don’t like surprises? Do you?” Then it happened – my email dinged and I was greeted with the wine selections from the Wine Shop at Capitol Market and the LOCATION. Still no hints on the menu, but we were going to be joining 30 other adventurous diners at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Saturday morning and afternoon flew by with yardwork and household chores. Before I knew it Tracey and I were enjoying Mojitos on the deck with Susan and Ron. We made our way to the ReStore and enjoyed the new rain garden. We entered the darkened industrial space, donned our name tags and were greeted by a scene that could easily be found in the pages of Country Living Magazine. The table had rustic elegance with mason jars full of wild flowers with simple stemware and white china. White lights strung between the tall shelves and a single crystal chandelier cast a soft glow on all the guests faces.
After some mingling time we found our seats which were labeled with place cards. I had filled mine out, but it was placed at the head of the table for one of our hosts with the same name. So I found a cooler seat near the AC. We were greeted at our seats by our first course, a curry duo. A grilled chicken yellow curry salad with sweet dried cranberries on a bed of red cabbage was paired with a green pea curry dip on pita. I was enjoying the pea dip so much I spilled half of it down my leg. So I ate the one at the empty seat across from me. Ron polished off the other abandoned curry. I sipped on the bright and balanced Sierra Cruz Savignon Blanc for the first two courses.
The next course was announced from my end of the table. A roasted corn orzo pasta placed next to a ginger infused tomatillo sauce with a slice of goat cheese. This dish hit my palate perfectly. I savored every bite trying to tease out each flavor. Sweet corn and red pepper was offset by the bite of the tart tomatillo and mellow goat cheese. I appreciate the risk that was taken by pairing a pasta with this traditionally mexican ingredient.
I had opened the 2007 Star Tree Syrah by now and its smooth flavors of black currants tell me that great wine can be had for $8.99 with a screw top no less. Here is the thing about the mystery menu. I drank the delicate white wine first and then moved to the richer red just in time for the fish course. That being said I have never been hung up on drinking reds with beef and whites with poultry and fish. I think you should drink what you enjoy. The third course was grouper served on a tomato and caper ragu with a zuchinni and squash cake. The delicate white grouper counter balanced the tart tomatoes, sweet onions and salty capers.
As we waited for dessert I continued to get to know Asit, Elizabeth and Steve. Everyone was very enjoyable and the hour flew by. The final course, a cool apple soup flavored with West Virginia wild honey and walnuts, was refreshing on this hot evening. One of my dining companions, Elizabeth, brought a fruity sangria and fresh pastries that put an exclamation mark on the evening.
Being the dork that I am I couldn’t help offering up a few toasts on my end of the table to thank our thoughtful hosts. A side benefit of being seated away from your spouse you can act like a dufus without judgment. 🙂
Charleston is a small city with many talented and interesting people. If you would like to meet some of these people in a undisclosed location while dining on a delicious surprise menu then the Underground Kitchen is for you.
The idea of meeting in a secret location to partake of a secret menu with a host of strangers was intriguing to me. Ron was not so intrigued. Especially when I told him we would not be sitting together – that’s one of the rules. But he went along with it (mostly because I offered to pay) and we had a rewarding evening for our bellies and our minds.
I met a lot of interesting people and enjoyed good food and stimulating conversation. The time passed by so quickly, I had no idea it had become so late by the time I heard someone ask, “what time is it” and the response was “11:20”.
My favorite dish of the evening was the first course: curried pea puree on toasted pita and curry grilled chicken salad on a red cabbage leaf. Just look at the gorgeous colors on the plate! The curry provided the Indian spices that I love so much. The chicken was tender and if there was mayonnaise in the recipe, please don’t anyone tell me. One of my all-time favorite vegetables, peas, were used in a wonderfully bright green puree spread on top of a toasted pita wedge. It was garnished with lemon zest and fresh parsley. Yum-o.
Goat cheese made an appearance in the second course, one of my favorite cheeses. I was so excited to dig into the orzo salad with roasted corn and red bell pepper, that I forgot to take a picture. I did get a shot of it, but with a heapin’ helpin’ missing from the presentation.
The tiny white lights, criss-crossing above our heads and an antique chandelier provided an intimate setting for getting to know my new friends. A suggestion for future meals: perhaps diners would want to bring calling cards to exchange with folks so you can stay in touch after the event.
The Underground Kitchen is indeed one of the coolest things I have done in this city. Please take the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience for yourself in the future. Thanks to Dan, Katie and crew for a wonderful evening.
Text stollen from “Have you had your pill today?” blog.
When it comes to these types of days, I feel like I’m Nolan Ryan. My experience and training get me through even though my age and body try to drag me down.
OH back to the story, Saturday, Susan, myself, and a couple of the Fork You mates, ventured out on the town for the Underground Kitchen. For a very interesting evening spent with people who have mostly found out about this event through scouring the internet.
Dan – Susan’s pal from Fork You, evidently convinced her to go, and she in turn convinced me to go.
This little dinner reminds me of those underground Rave parties back in college, where you would find out which bar would be open all night and that’s where you’d head to. Well this dinner is organized in the same way – you don’t know where it’s going to be held until just before it’s time to have it.
Basically you pay a donation to some unknown party, you don’t know what the menu is, or anything, you just basically toss your name and donation in the hat and wait to see if you’re in. Closest thing you’ll get to being a Knights Templar in Charleston I’m sure.
Well we did all this, or I should say Susan did, and it was quite interesting. Our eve started about 6PM at Dan & Tracey’s crib for some Mojito’s, of course I had to carry my trusty cooler of beer. Hanging out there till about 7PM, DINNER TIME, we head on down to the “Habitat For Humanity Retail Store” that’s right… that’s where I’ll be served. Lucky for us Dan and Tracey live close by, so we were able to crash at the last minute.
Getting there, basically the fine folks have set up shop in the middle of the shop. Nails to the back of me, and Door Knobs to the front. Not knowing hardly any of these people… I did what most people do. I unzipped my cooler and pulled out a trusty crutch – aka, a beer.
One of the most intersting things, was that they didn’t intend for you to sit with whom you arrived. Normally I think this is gay, but it worked quite well this eve. Least I thought it did, you’d have to ask the people who sat next to me what they thought of my obnoxiousness… as I totally was intending to have a good time, and did my best to do so.
White Wine, Red Wine, Whose Wine… I don’t know… It was all good and we had a great time.
Lucky for me, Susan drove us home, as I
passed out fell asleep and Sunday Morning, I had the most interesting text message.
DAN: You stole one of my flip flops
DAN: man you have tiny feet
I have no clue how I ended up with one of his John Kerry’s, but I did. Wore it home, shit I think I even wore it around some messing around outside looking for my gatorade prior to seeing the message.
But it was all fun….. if you get a chance to attend you should give it a shot….
So after a couple of dinners together, I find that Ron and I make perfect meal companions and Susan and Dan match well. One thing is that Ron can be sure I’m never going to grab his meat…. at the table. In reality, however, neither of us would have gotten to experience the two cool dinners we’ve had together recently because I think we would both head to a fast food or Mexican joint and call it done-we’re both cheap when it comes to eating out!
Dan is right- when he mentioned dropping $80 for dinner at some “underground” place I got pretty nervous. First- what if it was all a hoax and we were out $80? Second- I was afraid they’d forget about the vegetarian part and serve me some meaty something something. Third- who are these people and can they really cook? Fourth- what if they wound up serving the vegetarian staple that I can’t stand, eggplant?? Boy, I’d really be mad if that happened. I think at one point I even tried to decline and told him to invite Susan instead, not realizing they had cooked this scheme up together. Nevertheless, it’s not terribly often that I get to go out with the complete certainty that I won’t wind up at Bob Evans, so I agreed.
When we met at the house for Mojitos, Ron and I shared a laugh (to Dan and Susan’s irritation) that we’d both made the comment- “$80 for dinner and you have to bring your own wine?!?! What the…….??!?”
I hadn’t realized about the not sitting together part until we got there and then I got more freaked out about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong- I LOVE meeting new people, but more in a setting where if things get stale, we can each walk away. Here, I’d be forced to choke down my whatever-they-were-serving with random strangers. YIKES! Plus, I was kinda looking forward to sitting with Ron so we could make fun of the whole thing.
I have to say, the room did look lovely. I’ve been in the ReStore many times, but had no idea it could look so hip with the little white lights and gorgeous garden fresh wildflowers. Very beautiful.
So. The other Vegetarian present at the meal and I were seated together and instantly began a polite chit chat about that thing we had in common. The first course was presented. It was tasty and looked pretty on the plate. A few more words and I learned that a woman seated nearby works in my same building and also spent time in my old college town, Lexington, KY. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I was actually having fun.
And then……… the entrée course was presented. It was eggplant. URGH! $40 for eggplant?!?! I was cursing Dan under my breath. But, what else are you going to do? So I tried it. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it and I am not just saying that. Dan-the-husband kept telling me I was the only vegetarian on the planet who hated eggplant and I’d just never had it cooked right, but I didn’t believe that. Now I understand. Dan-the-cook did a FABULOUS job with it and I thanked him later for showing me that it could be done.
The apple soup for dessert was very smooth and yummy. As is usually the case, I was way ready to go before everyone else. I think being a working mom of 2 preschoolers has lessened my ability to sit still for a long period of time. I was DYING to get up and just go for crying out loud. But it was very neat to meet the cooks/hostess and talk with them and to head home and discuss the whole evening and who everyone had met. I would do it again soon-but Dan-the-cook did say that he is restricting admission to no more than 2 consecutive meals so that the same old people don’t always show up. I think that’s a neat idea too. So, go take your turn. And ask for the eggplant!
By the way, Dan only THINKS his dufus acting was without judgment! 🙂