Nov 2010

Underground Supper Club: Dinner at Eight

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

Underground supper clubs are all the rage these days in Los Angeles. While this style of dining has probably existed in some form for ages, it seems to have only gone mainstream this past year. With extensive coverage in several media outlets [see: Los Angeles Times, 944 magazine, and Toque], it’s no secret that Angelenos are embracing the art of eating in secret.

Dining illicitly is certainly intriguing, but the various unknown variables such as location, guests, menu, and price, have kept me from warming up to the trend. It wasn’t until I received a personal invite from fellow food blogger Elliott of F is for Food that I even considered attending one of these shindigs. When navigating unfamiliar terrain, a familiar face is most comforting.

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

This past summer, Elliott began hosting monthly suppers from her home called Dinner at Eight. “Eight guests, four courses complete with wine pairings, once a month, under the stars in the hills of Hollywood,” promised the event’s website. “The food is seasonal and sourced primarily from local farmers’ markets and whatever I can yank from my garden. Guests arrive at 7 PM for cocktails and noshables. First course served at 8 PM.”

The Astronomer and I attended last month’s dinner where the theme was “It’s a Family Affair,” in honor of Elliott’s father, who was visiting from out of town. The menu featured a sampling of her father’s favorite foods.

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

We arrived at Elliott’s home shortly past seven and were greeted with warm smiles and stiff cocktails. The St. Germaine pear martinis were sweet and just potent enough to break the ice in a room full of strangers.

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

Sometime around eight o’clock, the first course arrived at the table. The butternut squash, kale, and white bean bisque came sprinkled with toasted pepitas and drizzled with sage oil. The simple and homey soup set the tone for the evening.

Jill Bernheimer of Domaine LA paired the soup with a 2009 Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher Roussanne. I passed on the wines this evening to allow The Astronomer to indulge.

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

The second course, haricots verts with toasted hazelnuts and burrata, was paired with a 2008 Donkey & Goat Brousseau Vineyard Chardonnay. The Astronomer liked this dish quite a bit, but I found it bordering on too simple. Everything on the plate was good, but nothing stood out as outstanding. I wanted the flavors to pop.

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

The third course was my least favorite of the evening. It consisted of  three ravioli stuffed with duck confit and pimiento mashed potato, topped with braised chanterelle and lobster mushrooms. I was highly anticipating this dish because handmade pastas are one of my all-time favorite foods.

Unfortunately, the ravioli’s texture was gummy and thick, while the filling and accompanying cream sauce were under-seasoned. The assault of parsley garnish didn’t help the situation at all. Supposedly, the ravioli were served intentionally toothy, but in all honesty, I’d never encountered anything this chewy in all my years of carbo-loading.

The ravioli was paired with a 2009 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Dinner at Eight by a Girl Named Elliott

The kitchen bounced back nicely with a jaw-droppingly great dessert. Elliott’s mother prepared her famous bread pudding with a caramel rum drizzle. Unlike those dense paper weights usually masquerading as bread pudding, this one was light, fluffy, and moist in all the right places. The boozy caramel sauce was a lovely accompaniment. Dessert was served with the N.V. Caudrina Asti La Selvatica.

At the end of the evening, each guest received a white envelope and was asked to pay what they felt the meal was worth. The Astronomer and I found this portion of the dinner highly uncomfortable because the suggested donation was steeper than what we had in mind. In the end, we paid the amount that we felt was right and left it at that. Still, we couldn’t help but feel weird about the situation.

Monetary issues aside, I very much enjoyed my first experience eating underground. The people I met were outstanding conversationalists, the ambiance couldn’t be beat, and I’m still thinking about that bread pudding. I’m glad that I stepped out of my eating out comfort zone and look forward to doing it again really soon. Are you ready, Wolvesmouth?

Interested in eating underground? Check out these other Los Angeles-based supper clubs: On The Lamb Food & Beverage, Wolvesmouth, Chicks with Knives, Amy’s Culinary Adventures, and The Ghet.

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22 thoughts on “Underground Supper Club: Dinner at Eight

  1. Thanks for the honest report, Cathy! That bread pudding does look pretty fabulous! You know how I feel about carby desserts…

    Wonder if Elliott would share the recipe?

  2. You hit two nails on the head of the crux of my dilemma with UG supper clubs: you don’t know what you’re getting, which can be fun and awesome or a downright disaster, and the donation part is a bit unnerving. If anything, I appreciate the Chicks With Knives standard.

  3. That is a sexy looking soup and the bread pudding looks great too (caramel for the win!). The raviolis look more like pierogis to me. Hmm…

  4. I’m pretty sure that Wolvesmouth blows away any other underground supper club in LA, so definitely get in on that if you can. It’s definitely pricey though. I’ll have my latest report up in a few days–it was all sorts of awesome.

  5. Oh, that’s too bad about the ravioli. I was reading the tweets and was very jealous of all of you enjoying the lobster mushrooms. I would think the burrata has to be a relatively simple dish since for the most part, the ingredients are used to make the burrata stand out? Here’s my post to get a different idea of her cooking.

    I could never compare Elliott’s cooking to Wolvesmouth though. Craig is doing something completely different, more in line with molecular gastronomy (though he probably wouldn’t call it that). He utilizes his background in fine dining and working in a professional kitchen and as a personal chef.

  6. Are suggested prices not stated when you book? This seems to be always stated in London supper clubs. Would you be able to share what the suggested donation for this dinner was?

  7. hmmm…i think the “pay as you feel” concept is awkward…too much subjectivity involved and once you mix money in with it…no bueno.

  8. Interesting post. Unfortunately we don’t have such themes in Spain. Well, there was one recently but the Ayuntamiento (town hall) shut him down .

    I’d say the fab looking soup set a high standard and it looks to me that it went downhill from there!

    Enjoyed reading it though, thanks.

  9. unfortunate that you felt compelled to pay too much for a meal that perhaps didn’t warrant the price tag. Do they know how much you pay or do you drop it in a box? if its the latter, then don’t feel bad leaving less.

  10. It’s unfortunate to hear that you had a less than satisfying experience that night. As someone who writes a blog about a dining experience, it would seem strange to this reader that you abstained from having the complete food and wine pairing experience to let the astronomer indulge… Isn’t one of selling points of such a dinner is that you have thoughtfully selected wine pairings to complement the food?
    Your disappointment with the burrata’s lack of “pop” also confuses me? Isn’t the whole point of burrata a subtle elegance..?
    I’m curious about how the subject of a suggested donation was broached? Did Elliott tell you what she felt it should be or was it printed somewhere? It would seem a bit awkward to leave it to the guest to make a donation and then tell him or her what to donate..?
    While it’s true that the idea of a donation does seem to put the guest in a bit of a conundrum it is a growing trend in underground supper clubs and as you challenged Wolvesmouth at the end of your post know that he too operates on the donation system.
    All in all a frank point of view gastronomer. Curious to read the next review.

  11. Let’s see if I can clarify myself a bit…

    Wine – Someone’s gotta be the designated driver. Plus, I usually don’t drink wine with my meals. Having a beverage pairing isn’t essential for me to have a really great dining experience.

    Burrata – LOVE the stuff. But the green beans, hazelnuts, and dressing served with it were all ho-hum. Nothing on the plate stood out or wowed, which is what I meant by lacking “pop.”

    Donation – I asked the person passing out the envelope what the “suggested” donation was. I was given an answer.

    Wolvesmouth – Yep, I’m clear on his policy. I also understand that his food is a lot more interesting, innovative, and daring. In my mind, worthy of a higher price tag. I think that the Chicks with Knives model is best in terms of payment.

  12. the bread pudding looks amazing. loved your honest review!

    ghetto gourmet was my first underground dinner experience back in 06/07… i’m sad they don’t come around to LA anymore.

    i find the whole donation thing awkward too… i’ll be going to the wolvesmouth dinner this weekend so hopefully i’ll be able to leave what i think it was worth and not what i’m pressured to pay.

  13. Bottom line,
    Donation-Elliott never gave you a suggestion herself or anywhere on the menu, website or otherwise.
    Wine-is generally expensive, is it fair to say that you didn’t leave a “suggested” amount because you didn’t indulge…?
    Burrata- is stunning in it’s simplicity. But showcasing that is, at the end of the day, a matter of preference which you’ve made clear.
    Wolvesmouth- is a completely different concept with an average of 16 courses.
    I hope you have an amazing epicurean adventure! I’ll stay tuned.

  14. Hi. I did the wine pairings for this meal, and I have also helped folks select wine for Wolvesmouth dinners. I have eaten both Elliott’s and Craig’s food, and have been in their homes/dens/whatever you want to call them. This isn’t a comment about the wine, however, as I respect your decision to be responsible, and realize that wine and wine pairings aren’t for everyone.

    What I would like to say is that comparing these two dining experiences to one another is sort of like comparing Lucques to the Bazaar. They are just so completely different from one another, it’s apples and oranges. The one thing Lucques and the Bazaar do have in common is that they’re quite expensive (molecular gastronomy and rustic cooking can be priced on par with one another). And while I don’t know how much was suggested as a donation amount, the one thing that Dinner at Eight and Wolvesden also share are their reasonable price tags, compared to the aforementioned restaurants.

    Ultimately, at both Wolvesden and at Elliott’s, there are a lot of people working for free, out of a love for what they do and the desire to create a new kind of experience, rather than to make a quick buck. These are break-even endeavors at best, and my guess is they aren’t meant as sustainable business models.

    Perhaps it is awkward for a diner to have to decide what something is worth to him or her, rather than to be told specifically what to pay. But my guess is that it’s out of an inherent humility in both Craig and Elliott, a desire not to force anybody to pay beyond their want or capability, that has led each of them to this model.

  15. Jill – I stand by everything that I wrote. I cannot speak for Wolvesmouth because I have not been. What I can say is that the “pay what you want” model on this occasion made me feel awkward. And that’s that.

  16. lol I thought the ravioli were empanadas at first! The wrappers definitely look really thick and ungainly. I’m a fan of underground dining, and suppose that the stated donation frees the chef from having to pay taxes or something? But I’d rather have a set value than a suggested one…

  17. Hey, what was the “suggested” donation? I’m thinking about going to one of these but it’s VERY frustrating not even getting a price point on how much the meal might cost…

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