12B Underground Kitchen


I was pretty stoked when I learned that the Vancouver Chowdown’ers were planning to visit 12B for the monthly chowdowns. The moment that the date was announced, I immediately responded and requested for two seats. Well, it was so popular that all the places were snapped up already. We were put on a waiting list in case someone pulls out at the last minute.

Just a week before the night of the supper at 12B, fmed (who organized this chowdown) informed me that there is one, and only one, seat that had just became available. Fmed asked if I am still interested. So instead of passing it up this chance, I went alone. Suanne was game enough to let me go alone (thanks honey!).

12B is an Underground Kitchen and is run by Chef Todd. A couple of days before the dinner, I called Chef Todd asking for permission to write about 12B. He was agreeable but did lay down some ground rules. I could write about anything but I must help protect his anonymity.

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So I can’t tell you where 12B is. If I tell you, I have to kill you. Let’s just say that it is located somewhere in Vancouver. I was only given the address of 12B days before the dinner. And that too, I was only informed via individual email of the location. Such secrecy!

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Chef Todd hosts 6 to 12 people each night. Twelve is about the maximum number of people he could fit in comfortably. There is only one sitting for everyday he works the kitchen.

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At a glance I was wondering how Chef Todd could fit twelve people in the two long tables but we could actually fit all twelve guests quite snuggly.

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I think if Chef Todd wants to, he could fit in more in the adjacent lounge. But I think twelve is all he could manage. After all he is a one man show who does everything …

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… and it is not just cooking. I did not realize how much work it is for just one person to run the whole operation. I am just amaze thinking about it. Oh … that is Chef Todd at the end of the corridor playing the role of the reception welcoming his guests.

I can imagine his job description reads as follows:

  • cooks
  • takes reservation
  • entertains
  • wash dirty dishes
  • mops the floor
  • reception
  • interior designer
  • menu planner
  • shopping
  • serves

When I called him at 10AM in the morning, he was already working preparing for the dinner that night. He said that he works pretty much a 16 hour day.

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12B is tastefully decorated with some nice art pieces. The event starts at 8PM. Being one who normally have dinner at 5-6PM, this is considered a really late dinner to me.

The only person I know personally at this dinner is fmed. Some of the rest I know of their names from hanging out at the Vancouver Chowdown forum. So it was kind of awkward in the beginning especially in the presence of such accomplished foodies. These chowdown foodies sure knows the restaurant and food industry like the back of their hand. They would talk about who owns what restaurant, who fought with who and went their separate ways, the secret techniques used by certain chef and all that kind of stuff.

You know, I think these guys should start a food blog on their own given all their knowledge.

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When everyone is assembled. Chef Todd burst into the room and declared that “smoking is mandatory”. It is his way of saying that “make yourself at home”.

It is a BYOB event too. Almost every one brought a bottle. So there were a lot of wine to go around the whole night. I thought it was a nice touch to sip wine from mason jars. Small touches like this sets the casual tone for the night.

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Chef Todd’s kitchen is just next to the dining area. It is roomy for one chef and he keeps it very well organized.

The guests keeps popping into the kitchen to chat with him. He was very accommodating even though he was working non stop all the time. There are not many chances where one gets to observe the chef preparing the meal.

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I guess you will also notice the same thing I did when I saw his stove. It does look unremarkable isn’t it? Why … even one of the knobs were broken. He keeps a plier handy in case he needs the knob. Go on … click on the pictures above in case you are curious as to the kind of sauces and herbs that Chef Todd uses.

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One thing that surprises me was that Chef Todd varies his menu everyday. I thought it would be easy for him to just repeat his menu for at least a period of time. Given that weekend reservations are booked solid right through February next year and the limited number of guests he can host every night, the chances of returning guests are very slim.

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Dinner was served at 9PM. I was way past hungry at that time. I did not realize it would start that late. For some reason, no one asked about what is being served for the night. It is like Omakase — we trusted Chef Todd to surprise us.

Here comes the food …

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There are a total of six courses.

Course #1 is the Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto and Devonshire Cream Quenelles. This ranks as one of the best tomato soup I had ever tasted. This drew a lot of “ooh” and “mmm” from the table.

One of the advantages of being able to poke your nose into the kitchen is that I saw Chef Todd has some of this great tomato soup left. I had half a mind of walking into Chef Todd’s kitchen with the bowl in my hands like Oliver Twist and say “Please sir. I want some more”.

It was a great start to the meal.

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Course #2 is the beet salad which is an equally delightful and light dish. Just read what goes into this:

  • beet salad (squared) golden beet slices and red beet puree
  • frisee and pea shoots with quinoa
  • lemon shallot vinairette
  • goat cheese and chive sputnik balls
  • finished  with wildflower honey

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Course #3 is the White Wine Risotto with Thyme Roasted Cornish Hen. But if you turn the dish around …

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… this is called the Thyme Roasted Cornish Hen with White Wine Risotto.

Served on its own it is just as good.

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Course #4 is the Seared Duck Breast. This consists of the following:

  • star anise rubbed yarrow meadows duck breast
  • orange and ginger jus
  • watercress cilantro salad
  • basalmic shallot and bruleed orange

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Course #5 is the Cinnamon Chipotle Pork Tenderloin.

  • cinnamon chipotle grilled berkshire pork tenderloin
  • plum and clove pork stock
  • yam apple feta w/sage
  • morel chantarelle duxelles stuffed artichoke bottom
  • red pepper coolis

Seriously, where do you get this chance to taste dishes like these.

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The last course is Carrot Cake and Chai Ice-cream Sandwich. Each of the dishes served were nothing short of amazing.

  • carrot cake chai icecream sandwich
  • vanilla and cassis syrups
  • meyer lemon sorbet

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I was kind of short for words for these dishes because I did not have the full technical description of it. Chef Todd did introduce each dish but it was so lengthy that I just caught words like “cornish hen”, “seared duck” and “pork tenderloin”. It was hard to concentrate on what he was saying with just delicious looking dishes right under my nose.

At the end of the meal, Chef Todd did pass the menu around.

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We were requested to sign on the empty page next to the menu of the day. I think it is another good idea that Chef Todd implemented as it is interesting to read what his guests say about their dining experiences.

It was a long night which I am not accustomed to. I only got home close to midnight but I did thoroughly had a great time.

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Dinner at 12B comes at a suggested donation of $50. It was an awesome meal and a great way to spend time with friends. For all you foodies out there, you simply must try 12B if you have not already. Not only is the food great (and plentiful) it is the experience of dining in such a casual setting that sets 12B apart from any other restaurants.

I can’t help but wonder how long Chef Todd is able to remain anonymous. So before he gets anymore well known, you should check it out. Believe it or not, CNN had even written about 12B in this article.

I would love to organize a dinner for chowtimes reader at 12B. I want Suanne to experience this too. Would anyone of you chowtimes readers be interested? Send me an email on ben@chowtimes.com if you are.

44 thoughts on “12B Underground Kitchen

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  4. oh how lovely! i had never even heard of “underground restaurants” until i read this post and mind you, it sounds amazing.

    like another poster, i am a vegetarian and i think it would be great to get together with a group of vegetarians and challenge Chef Todd.

    ps – how does one contact the chef or get a reservation?

    • Hi Amy:
      Just send an email to 12breservations@gmail.com. Address to Chef Todd. Weekend reservations is now until April! We have one dinner planned already for 31Jan but am afraid it is not going to be vegetarian. If you do manage to get one sitting on vegetarian, let us know how it went.
      Ben

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  6. Oh my gosh I want to try this kind of menu and dining, especially after your detailed review. Pls put me on you undoubtably long list for a potential Chowtimes dinner there.

  7. “I wonder, since it’s donation, does he have to claim taxes, or is it written off?”
    ^
    This income is kind of ‘under the table’ if you know what I’m saying 😉

    • I’ve been wondering about other aspects of this type of “enterprise”. Given the popularity and daily turnover of customers, how do underground dining deal with things such as health permit, safety, etc ? Where does it fall in the realm of the legit hospitality industry ?

    • I have to figure out how to deal with this with more than 12 people already. I am going to discuss with Chef Todd if there is a way to do more people and also to do something out of the ordinary for you guys. Gotta at least give that a try and make it a tad more memorable supper. Give me a few days and will get in touch with everyone outside the blog (i.e. via email). I got all the names.
      Ben

  8. Mmmm, read about this guy. Congrats for making it in and having a great time there. Now I really want to go !

    I’m sending an email confirmation to you indicating my interest in joining, whether it’s the upcoming one (sounds like all 12 spaces filled) or another future date.

      • Wow thanks Cissy ! Hope you two are well, btw 🙂

        I guess it’ll be up to Ben who should take your spots if you can’t make it.

      • Oh no, no Cissy. No apologies. 🙂 I want to make every attempt so that everyone can enjoy 12B. There is a lot to figure out at this point but I enjoy doing this sort of stuff. As a matter of fact, I am planning to work the dates around the time you are not around.

  9. Can you please count me in for 1 person if it’s not held on a Saturday evening? I’m not available Saturday nights.

    I think since it’s by donation, technically, he may not have to pay income tax on it. Also, he probably does not have a permit to serve food and alcohol at his home. That’s why it’s so secretive.

    • Hi Jonnek and Cissy: I had included your names on the list already. I will get in touch with you all later on this week once I figure out availability and such.
      Hi All: We have already the max 12 names for 12B. If there are any pullouts, I’ll let you know.
      Ben

  10. …wow, that’s amazing. I’ve heard of places like this…sort of guerrilla pop up restaurants.

    I’d be interested in going if you ever decide to go again. Heck, I might just try to book a night as well but if you’re in, gimme a call too, Ben.

    • Yes double-thanks Ben! I would normally do a write-up on Chowhound, but talking about underground restaurants and secret kitchens is strictly verboten.

      • Oh yeah, I saw your comment on the site. I did not know that underground restaurants/kitchens are off limits on chowhound. Why is that so? Do you know?
        Ben

      • They actually do it to protect these establishments since Chowhound is so widely read. People are welcome to discuss the generalities around these kinds of places, but you aren’t allowed to discuss specifics.

        The discussion about the first 12B event that this group did last year was deleted by the moderators. We moved the discussion to the private board.

  11. The entire experience and every dish looks phenomenal. I’d be over the moon to try it and can’t believe it comes at such a low price tag.

    Can a normal Vancouverite w/ a love of food fandangle her way in there, or is an invite V.I.P’s only?

    • Hi Jackie:
      Would you want me to put your name down for 12B? Oh yeah, it is for VIP only but I’ll make you a VIP. Just kidding! Given the long wait for an opening, it could be at least in Feb that we can land a weekend sitting.
      Ben

      • Yes yes yes! Since hearing of the underground Hunger Hut I’ve been dying to get into one of these establishments. Me +1 (fiance) would be wonderful.

        Feb seems far but time flies and the food looks worth the wait!

  12. I’d love to go if it was at a time I could drive to Canada. No way could I eat all of that, though! Did anyone take leftovers home?

    Next time you should have a 5 o’clock meal — like in Spain where there are many meals a day!

  13. HI Ben and Suanne,

    I’m interested in going to 12B with both of you. Please keep me posted and also put down (me+1). HEHE 🙂

    Anita

  14. Great photos Ben!…I clearly need to find out how to set the white balance on my wife’s DSLR 🙂

    It was a great evening as our Chowdowns normally are.

    • Hi FMED:
      We don’t normally touch the WB settings on the camera. We just take the pix in RAW format and then do the WB fixings on Photoshop. Sometimes we uses a WB card as a reference. Hope this helps. BTW, I did not realize that it was Christine who pulled out to that I could attend the 12B event. I felt bad about it but please convey my thanks for her.
      Ben

    • Knowing what I know about 12B, it would probably be better if you assembled a group of vegetarians and have Chef Todd do a full LO vegetarian menu. He might be up for the challenge!

  15. This has been on my to do list for a while…was planning to go for my birthday! 😦

    I’d be interested in going with you & Suanne, so put me down for it!

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