Secret Supper Club or Underground Kitchen.
These are some of the names that describes the popular private eating places that operates behind secret addresses, often in the homes of the chef. It offers a very unique experience quite unlike in a restaurant. The whole mystery of the unknown and being in a somewhat exclusive private party appeals a lot to those foodies who had seen them all.
My first experience of dining in an underground kitchen is at “12B”. I actually dined there twice. The first was when I was invited by the local Chowhounds and then I followed up by organizing one for chowtimes’ readers. I enjoyed both experiences.
Jonathan had been very active organizing such dinners for food bloggers. He earlier did one with an underground kitchen creatively called NFA, which stands for No Fixed Address. Suanne and I couldn’t make it for that one.
When Jonathan (who writes on the blog Food and Tell) organized a subsequent one to Swallow Tail, Suanne and I signed up not wanting to miss this one.
We met on a nice afternoon. Jonathan could not have picked a better day. I could have swore he ordered the sunshine for us too.
Having only experienced 12B, I like the start here. Meeting on the deck and soaking in the sun (although it was slightly chilly that day), it was just perfect to start the evening. The deck wasn’t really big enough to fit all of us. So it was quite a squeeze.
Let me think … I think EVERYONE was armed with a camera. I certainly remember there were lots of black SLRs poking at the very sight of food. Between us, we can do that without shame. LOL! I always think it is a spectacle for those of you who had never dined with a group of food bloggers. Yeah, admittedly we are not exactly the most well behaved. However, you must understand that we are working here.
I hope I don’t forget anyone. The bloggers who attended the event are Jonathan, Victoria, Mijune, Joyce, Frank, Anita, Kim, Sherman, Jenny and R.
The Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club does not seem very much of a secret club because they have a website and if you look, you can find their address.
The first course, the amuse-bouche, was served in the backyard. He he he … the cameras were already firing away even before it is set on the table.
This is a homemade pastry filled with stewed apple and topped with a tough gruyere cheese. Not much of a 1st course I would say. It was because I was hungry and wanted dearly something more substantial. 🙂
After a while we were ushered into the house and down to the cellar. The dining room was cool and dark … very much like an underground supper club in every sense of the word. I was thinking how different Swallow Tail is compared with 12B. In 12B, we could pop into Chef Tood’s kitchen and see him work. Here in Swallow Tail, we dine in the confines of a private dining setting.
The person behind Swallow Tail is known as Chef Robin. She hold such dinners about twice a week. I understand that she also conducts culinary tours.
The dinner at Swallow Tail costs $50 per person and has five courses (including the amuse-bouche above). While Chef Robin did say that the dinner stretched over 3 hours and she encourages a break in the middle, we actually ate through the courses without much of a break.
With an almost growling stomach and seeing butter on the table, I thought … OK, goodie, bread. Guess not.
Anyway, Chef Robin says that she likes to use wild, seasonal, BC, organic produce with a passion for crab and wild mushrooms.
The dinner started with soup. It is a soup with sweet pea, arugula served with homemade crouton. She also mentioned that she uses hand harvested stinging nettle which she rescued from … her garden.
The soup was A-OK. Delicious and nice but my stomach was still growling.
The third course is called the Cedar Smoked Romaine. It is a whole romaine quartered down the rib, grilled and sprinkled liberally with garlic breadcrumb and Parmesan cheese. The dressing is – Portuguese olive oil vinaigrette with lemon.
This is what I call a good salad. For a moment, I had to figure out how to start eating this. This has a hint of bitterness but fantastically crunchy. I ate everything … including the hard rib. LOL!
The garlic breadcrumbs were nice. If only I was not with such accomplished foodies … and I have something to wipe up every single morsel, I would.
Course #4 is the Baked Dungeness Crab. Chef Robin said that some of the crab served that night were caught by her from her crab tour.
Baked with wine & garlic the crab retain moisture and thus makes this juicier than it usually is. It is served with BC red pepper (supposed to be sweeter), arugula, and starfruit.
On the side is a very delish crab butter. Naturally we all doused the crab with this. This was so good that Frank drank a spoonful of it.
On to the fifth course … the Grilled Bison Tenderloin. I am sure Chef Robin did not hunt this. BTW, does anyone know where one could buy bison meat?
The bison tenderloin was plainly grilled with salt and pepper and slater with lots of butter. It is served on a bed of mashed parsnips with Chardonnay and decorated with chives flower. it is then topped with red onion jam slowly cooked with BC red wine.
Last but not least it also included some prickly wild green. It is the green thingy on top of the bison tenderloin which Chef Robin picked from her backyard. He he he … the one Suanne has is prickly and she did not eat it. It was fine with mine … it tasted like, well, the leaves you pick from your own backyard!
Oh … the lean bison tenderloin. It was a beauty but it was so small … maybe like 4-5 oz? Being used to chunkier steaks, I could have cut this into two/three pieces and ate this in two mouthful. Instead, I find myself gingerly cutting this up in mini pieces. 🙂
Overall, this is an interesting course.
The sixth and last course is crepe. The nice name of this is Beer battered crepe blintz with (Limbert Mountain Farm) cream Earl Grey tea creme anglais, apples & huckleberries, Amontillado Sherry reduction (pepper, lemon rind, vanilla bean).
Overall, the meal is very good. It is the setting, the wine and the people that makes dinners like this special.
So far, I only know of three such underground supper clubs in Vancouver. I am sure there are a few others and am hoping that if you know of any, let me know. For a twist, I was also hoping for someone to create an ethnic version of these supper clubs.
Anyway, after the dinner I wrote to the three supper clubs (Swallow Tail, 12B and NFA) for some info that I thought you might be interested to know in case you want to attend one of these supper clubs. Here they are:
|Supper Club||Swallow Tail||12B||NFA|
|Cost||$50||$65||$60 to $65|
|June 25th, 2010||Sept 10th, 2010||June 5th, 2010|
|June 26th, 2010||Sept 4th, 2010||June 6th, 2010|
Solely from the earliest available weekend dates, it does seems like 12B is the king of the underground kitchen with a 3+ month waiting list. Swallow Tail is undoubtedly the cheapest.
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On to the fifth course … the Grilled Bison Tenderloin. I am sure Chef Robin did not hunt this. BTW, does anyone know where once could buy bison meat?
supposed to be “BTW, does anyone know where one could buy bison meat?”
nice review as always ^^
Here in Vancouver, you can get bison fairly readily. One source for the restaurant biz is Hills Foods http://www.hillsfoods.com/products.html
There is an exotic meat store on the ground floor of Richmond Public Market. They might sell bison meat. It’s way at the back of the market on the ground floor close to the pub. I noticed that they sell a good variety of exotic meats.
That’s not a lot of food for $50. It’s not fine enough to be fine dining either. I think I will still be hungry after the meal.
I agree. From this end of the computer, it sure looks like stringent portions for the price.
Maybe I just don’t “get” this whole underground dining thing. I’m probably looking at it from the wrong end: I thought that, without the costs associated with running a restaurant, the result would be that meals would end up cheaper than what you’ll get at a restaurant. $65 per person seems a bit steep, given that fine dining restaurants charge that much (okay, maybe a bit more), but you do get the service and you do get to sit in a nice(r) room, not cramped in a basement somewhere. I like the conviviality that the setting and the privacy creates, though, so I guess that’s something.
While they don’t have high costs, they also do not turn the tables over so 50 x 12 is only $600 less the cost of food. Nobody is getting rich doing this twice per week.
It is one up on having a small party catered and hopefully the food was good.
Nobody gets rich doing food service. When it’s busy, you work your bottom off and faint from exhaustion at the end of a 16-hour day; when it’s not, you stress your bottom off and pull your hair out at the end of a 16-hour day. 😛
He he he … that sounds like someone speaking from experience. LOL!
Where have you been dining fine that it’s only $65????
Hmm, maybe I can have my parents host an underground Chinese banquet in their basement …….. free fortune cookies included
count me in….
can i pre-pick my fortune on my fortune cookie?
I don’t know, for $50 to have a six course meal that includes crab and bison seems like a pretty good deal. Plus the pictures of the food are making me hungry!
Thanks for the feedback, Ben!
Just a note, usually I make my own homemade BC Stout, rosemary bread for each supper club to go with the soup. Unfortunately, the power went out in my house while it was baking, so it was ruined for the day that you came to eat.
Them’s the breaks:)
Hi Ben…thanks for writing about these supper clubs. It’s nice to have all the info about the three of them in one place. I have to say though, I ate at Swallow Tail and I was stuffed! I thought it was five courses, plus the amuse bouche. (And isn’t an amuse just supposed to be a little taste, not an actual filling course?) But really, I was quite full after the five courses, and I’m a big eater. I thought anything more would have been way too much! So I’m surprised that you were still hungry! I’m glad you had a good time. I think these underground restaurants are super neat!
Bison and Buffalo are usually easily found at most markets. I know Choices and Whole Foods will have them.
Very lean meat so cooking it tender is a challenge. Never overcook…medium rare is as far as you should go.
I may know of one, not sure though. Awhile back a friend invited me to one, but can’t remember details. Just remembered that it was delicious. Will see if I can get info for you. I love the secret, private concept.
Sorry Ben…I’ve lost the contact. It was a girldfriend’s boyfriend who put it together, but they parted sometime ago. I only recall a Commerical Dr. locale and name Chef Fong. Maybe someone knows this name?
He he he … you still remember to follow-up after almost 3 weeks. Thanks a lot even though you have lost the contact. It’s quite alright.
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Ben, just to clarify, the pepper in the Crab dish is a sweet, long pepper. It looks like a gigantic chili pepper, but it’s sweeter than regular bell peppers. I learned about this when I held a public relations role in agriculture a couple of years ago. Here is a link to a local greenhouse farm that produces this kind of peppers: http://www.windsetfarms.com/our-products/peppers/crescendo%E2%84%A2
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Thanks for blogging about this movement. Underground Dining has become “the only place to dine” in Boquete, Panama. We live in a tiny mountain town with many, many talented chefs sharing their unique cuisines with foodies from around the world. Invitations are going out as far away as England! Swallow Tail is a great role model, Thanks!
The crab looks amazing! It’s so pretty with the starfruit in front of it 🙂
I’ve been to 12b a couple times and it has always been great. Recently I checked out The Endless Meal (www.theendlessmeal.ca) and thought it was really fantastic. Since the food is served family-style at the table you can go back for seconds or thirds so you’ll never leave hungry. Plus it was absolutely delicious. If you haven’t been there before I definitely recommend you checking them out.
Next on my list: Swallow tail 🙂
BTW: you can find bison at Granville Market and at Choices