A clandestine dining experience on a snowy Sunday evening. I felt like a foodie spy, meeting other secret agents to assess a new target.
Only the attendees knew the location of the meal, a restaurant that had been co-opted for the evening for this special event. Yet the dinner was not too secret, as it had been advertised on at least a couple websites. I actually first learned of the event from the article Try Underground Dining-O.N.C.E. The article intrigued me.
Many questions surfaced in my mind. Was this event illegal? If it was, did that even matter? Would this event be sanitary and safe? Would the food be good? What type of people would be there? I intended to learn the answers.
Underground dining or secret supper clubs exist all cross the country, though they vary greatly from place to place. The reasons for such also vary. They are not without controversy and some of them are technically illegal while others have sanitary issues. Yet foodies often find them intriguing, relishing the secrecy and exclusivity of such. The O.N.C.E. event certainly fascinated me and I wanted to attend, to see what it was like, despite any minor worries that I might have.
O.N.C.E. stands for "One Night Culinary Events" and they are run by JJ Gonson, a personal chef and local foodie, of Cuisine En Locale. These events are run sporadically and are often very different and "seasonally appropriate." The dining events primarily use the best local foods. For this recent event, there were to be two different dinners. The first seating was for families with children, a buffet style meal. The second seating was to be a special, ten-course meal for only a donation of $50. Though they sold wine and beer, you could also bring your own.
When I arrived at the event, I was warmly greeted and had a chance to speak with JJ for a bit. I found her to be very energetic and obviously passionate about food and cooking. She made an excellent advocate for the dinner, bringing an infectious enthusiasm to the room.
I sat with a few food & wine writer/bloggers that I knew. You can check out their work at the Leather District Gourmet, Drinks Are On Me, and Tales of the Basil Queen. Adele has already has written an excellent and comprehensive description of the dinner. For an insider's view, you should also check out Linsey's post on this event. Linsey worked as the front-of-the-house manager for the event and you can learn much more about the preparation and service for this event.
Over the course of several hours, we dined on the multi-course feast, enjoying the wines that Dale and I brought. Adele has already gone into a very detailed description of all the various courses so I won't do the same. Instead, let me provide my general feelings about the dinner in its entirety. And I will begin by telling you that I had a very pleasant dining experience.
I felt that this was a very homey and comfortable dinner, like a casual dinner party you might have at your own home. The food was very good (I craved seconds of several of the dishes) and JJ is obviously a talented chef. For the donation of $50, I think this was a very good value, especially considering some of the ingredients, such as lobster and lamb. We were not rushed, service was very good, and everyone was so very pleasant. For example, one of the workers, Henry, sent over to me a couple glasses of some older Italian wines. That was a very kind gesture.
The O.N.C.E. event is a good example of the potential of underground dining. You don't always have to visit a restaurant or cook at home for a good meal. You can live on the edge and seek out a different dining experience, maybe a more clandestine meal. I really liked the fact that this event was not fueled by a chef's greed but rather originated with the sincere passion of JJ Gonson. I felt a real sense of community at this event and I would not hesitate to go to another O.N.C.E. event.
I definitely recommend that my readers check out these events. Just go to JJ's site, Cuisine En Locale, for information about the next event. You might also want to consider her personal chef and catering services.
I am also looking forward to one of JJ's new endeavors, which I'll just mention briefly. She is assisting a Thai restaurant with a small plates concept. Now that sounds very cool and I can't wait to check it out when it is ready.