Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Anti-Restaurants, Bay Area Style

In a recent New York Times, I read an article about the underground eating clubs, which I only vaguely knew about before. These "anti-restaurants", as dubbed by the New York Times, work to challenge the way we eat food. The eating club highlighted in the NYT article invited eaters, mostly from Brooklyn, up to a farm town 30 minutes outside of Ithaca, NY for an all day affair that began with butchering a boar at an ungodly pre-brunch hour and ended with a six course meal. Throughout the day, the participants learned how to make pasta, use hydrocolloids to make fluid gels, and improved their knife skills, strengthening the farm to table connection.

When I read this article, I got incredibly excited about the idea of these eating clubs and signed up for the listserve of the Bay Area based Ghetto Gourmet and two Sundays ago I participated in my first underground eating experience. I went with three friends and a tasty bottle of Honig wine to the address we were emailed two days before the event, just to add to the mystic. Each dinner the Ghetto Gourmet does is at a different location, which on one hand adds to the adventure and mystery of it, but on the other stops the organizers from getting in trouble with the food and wine board. Anyways, upon entering a stranger's home and taking our shoes off, we were greated by the host and told to take a seat at oneof the low lying tables around which the other guests were already sitting indian style.

At our table were several other guests already, and we began chatting with one woman from Minneapolis and a 20 year old tween from Westchester, NY along with some other folks. Eventually the food started coming out. The first course was a beet salad with a light vinaigrette. The second and third were a spicy pumpkin broth based soup and a polish chicken dish, respectively and dessert were thin, crepe-like pancakes with rose petal syrup (yes, with rose petals still in the syrup--the chef for the night had picked the petals from his in-laws bush and put them in simple syrup a few weeks before). All were tasty, but truthfully nothing really wowed me.

What was amazing and wonderful though was the random people you meet while sitting at your table. Half way through the meal, the tables were switched up and you were at a table with entirely new people. It was a wonderful experience talking to total strangers about their lives, about how they got to San Francisco and this underground meal, and about the meal itself. What was anti-restaurant about this meal was the deliberate strengthening of the community formed over the meal; at the end of the night, I ended up driving a couple home, along with the three other people I already had in my car.

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