Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef

mysterious dining, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Heads up: Sub Culture Dining is featuring Niman Ranch dinners Feb 23-25, seatings at 8pm

Folks, I finally got my meal from Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef. SubCulture Dining, if you’re hearing about it for the first time here, is an underground dining restaurant with roving meals. Invite only. Not open to the public.

I could write a flowery, lyrical description of the whole night, but the Dissident Chef himself is a straightforward, passionate type, so I’m going to share my thoughts in the vein of “Sub Culture Dining.”

The meal was The Shit:

Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef

p.s. on the pictures: I honored the Dissident Chef’s request that I not take pictures of the location and guests, keeping to the food. Also, the lighting was low (though thankfully not as low as most restaurants–one of my pet peeves is not SEEING my food–if I want to eat in the dark, I will go the Blind Cow Restaurant in Zurich where they actually turn the lights off and you literally eat in the dark, thank you). Oh, what was I saying? The lighting was low, so that presented some photography challenges. I only had my point and shoot, which has limited manual settings–hence, the grainy pictures.

Following the jump is a rundown of things in the following order and categories:

1. LOGISTICS
2. VIBE
3. FOOD
4. RANDOM STUFF

***

1. LOGISTICS

Or “How it works,” as they call it…

I made the reservations in an excited frenzy back in October. Don’t worry, I didn’t wait 30+ days because there was a waitlist, I had to wait because I’m stupid-busy these days and didn’t have a free weekend for over a month. The advantage to this was that at least one of my buddy referrals was able to report back.

You make the reservations on their website. You’ve got to be referred by “an insider.” If you want to ask about being referred, holler out to me on this site.

Once you’ve made your reservations, you’re set–though you’ll know the general neighborhood venue of dinner, you won’t know the exact locale until the day of. You’re supposed to get a call the afternoon of your reservation with details on rendezvous points, etc. My friend eventually got a phonecall. I got an email the night before with site locale, rendezvous point, and a phone number to call at said rendezvous point. That went pretty smoothly for me.

You pay in advance (but don’t forget to bring tip money to your dinner–the staff is composed of CCA students who work for tips).

Yes, this is sort of an Event. Not something you can decide on last minute (but then again, with the steep pricepoint of the meal, this is likely not a spontaneous decision for most people). My hubby and I dragged our feet on a lazy Saturday afternoon–what I had been excited about for weeks suddenly seemed like a lot of work and coordination. But thank goodness we went.

2. THE VIBE

Here’s the rub–the menu changes EVERY night, so dishes I rave about may not show up on your plate and vice versa. You don’t get to choose your tablemates either–unless you are a large group and have strength in numbers. So be open minded. Be open minded about the conversations at the table, the fact that you’ll be rubbing elbows with strangers, and that you don’t choose the menu either. I’m always up for the latter–I often choose the Chef’s menu: why not pick what the Chef (who’s doing the cooking) recommends? It’s a total adventure!

Despite my sassy ‘tude on this blog, writing forums, and with good friends in familiar environments, I’m more on the reserved and uncomfortable side when it comes to new social fronts. So the “hanging out with strangers as dining companions” was the most challenging. Walking into a stranger’s house full of strangers can be intimidating! But not to worry–you all have a common bond: food! Personally, I was awakened by this group experience, intriguing to hear the different voices circulate around a common menu.

Anyway, what I was saying is that things are very dynamic over at Sub Culture Dining: changing menu, changing dining companions, changing dining locale!

So what’s the common denominator? I think it’s the focus on food and his philosophy behind it. And that is how the Dissident Chef differentiates himself from The Rest (like the other underground eating clubs like Ghetto Gourmet, which I hear is more social–correct me if I’m wrong please).

3. Let’s get to it: THE FOOD (why is this NUMBER 3?!)

The dinner starts off with a lot of personal touches and decadent details that just wouldn’t work with restaurant volumes. For instance, while we were waiting to be seated, SCD handed out apertifs (the one we had was to die for, and I neglected to get its name or what it was made of–but I want to drink it EVERYDAY before dinner now–Updated: I found out it’s called “Ronin’s Dark and Stormy” and it has some sort of gingerale or ginger in it plus dark rum). The water on the table? It had a hint of something citrus, reminiscent of lemon but sweeter. We asked and found out: the water’s infused with buddha’s hand!

Dissident Chef-menu

The ingredients are fresh. It’s what the Dissident Chef touts as his philosophy, and I think it’s well supported by this roving model (there is no huge fridge in the back of a restaurant to store things, and I imagine knowing how many diners book in advance helps in managing ingredients too). This makes for dishes that just feel…alive. In her review, Amy of Cooking with Amy writes that the food reminded her of tasting menus at Campton Place and Silks. Though she was more lukewarm on the experience, I noticed there are twists on tradition, and some of them really really work. Like I said, the vibe is that of passionate adventure and experiment.

Each course comes with a wine pairing. I was happy to see that the wines ventured out of California into France. Following is the dinner menu, and a few sentences to describe each course…just my impressions.

1st Course: Local Dungeness Crab Soup
A friend of mine said it didn’t look that appealing in the photograph, but if you were there, you’d have smelled how delicious this soup is. There is a big-ass chunk of local dungeness crab in there, too–so sweet.
Dissident Chef--1st course Local Dungeness Crab Soup

2nd course: Bay Scallop Crudo with Black Himalayan Truffle and Shrimp Vinaigrette
Huge thick slab of truffle (continuing with the “shit that would not happen if this were a restaurant” theme). Peeps at our table thought the vinegar was a bit overpowering but the scallop was amazing–pulled out of the ocean that day, I think.

Dissident Chef--2nd course: bay scallop crudo w/ black himalayan truffle and shrimp vin

3rd course: Oxtail Steamed Bun with Handmade Cardoon Ricotta and a Guinea Hen/Dijon Sauce
Oooh, Asian style steamed bun! I was excited because I loved steambuns. I was so focused on taking a picture that I didn’t hear her mention the cheese–so when I bit into it I exclaimed, “CHEESE!” Now, I love cheese, but am not sure it worked all that well in this combo. It came off super salty more than anything. But the oxtail meat in the bun was a luxurious alternative to the traditional pork or ground beef.

4th course: Pork Trotter Consomme with Porcini and Matsutake Mushrooms
I’ve never had a pork consomme before (mostly because I don’t normally eat pork), and this was great. It was simple and pure.
Dissident Chef--4th course: pork trotter consomme w/ porcinis and matsutakes

5th course: Borriano orzo style Farro Risotto with Chestnut and a blonde Carrot/Celery Root Puree
I am a fan of farro, and was happy to see it presented as a risotto. It really delighted one of our fellow diners, an Italian woman who was tripped out by the usage of farro in risotto. She loved the interpretation of a traditional Italian dish. I loved the puree.
Dissident Chef--5th course: farro risotto w/ chestnut and a carrot/celery root puree

6th course: East Coast Fluke with Broccoli Romanesque Puree and Buckwheat Natto Vinaigrette

I could actually taste both the cauliflower AND the broccoli in this puree. Great balance of flavors between fish, puree, and vinaigrette.

Dissident Chef-6th course: east coast fluke w/ broccoli romanesque puree

7th course: Seared Venison (“Misoed”) with Savory Pan di Zucchero Bread Pudding, and an Herb Nage
The bread pudding/pan de zucarro was AMAZING. I want to eat it again and again. And again. It was a unique compliment to the venison.

Dissident Chef-course 7: seared venison (

8th course: Clementine Sorbet
Palate cleanser–I detected hints of grapefruit in this sorbet, but Dissident Chef said the sorbet had one single ingredient: clementines. Maybe it was the pith? I loved the pulpy texture of this sorbet (they put it into the freezer late and it worked well), but I had mixed feelings about including the membranes (was it rustic? or annoying?). Nonetheless, I loved this sorbet and how it tasted–so fresh. It was exactly what I wanted to eat at exactly the right time. This was a hit at our whole table.

Dissident Chef-course 8: palate cleanser, clementine sorbet

9th course: Braised Pumpkin-Almond Cobbler and White Alba Truffle Ice Cream
Dessert–I could taste the truffle in the ice cream–and it tasted a bit like buttermilk?

4. RANDOM STUFF

It’s an intimate experience–you can talk to the servers, I peeped into the kitchen. I was surprised by the serene and organized nature of the kitchen. I fully expected to see some level of chaos–but nope. I saw neatly arranged soup bowls, ready to be filled with consomme. Things were simmering on the stove in a mild manner–all in the kitchen of a private home. There’s Dissident Chef on the right edge of this photograph, moving so quickly he’s a blurrr.

Dissident Chef--kitchen view.  soup bowls lined up.

We were seated in different rooms throughout the house, I imagine this will differ from venue to venue. The servers all double as chefs (“Ronin” is also the sous chef, and “Crash” is also the pastry chef)–no “front of the house” or “back of the house” here; it’s all one house, one team, and that probably lends to the very calm and organized service.

Dissident Chef comes out at the end of the meal to say hi to everyone. That’s cool.
“Muffin Top?” he stuck out his hand as he approached me.
“Yes!” I replied, shaking his hand. (Thank goodness I didn’t pick “F*ckheads Eat” or some other vulgar name for this blog).

Check it out. It’s worth the wait for a really unique social experience focused on food. Dude keeps his promise.

13 responses to “Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef

  1. Hi C(h)ristine – thanks for letting me know. It sounds interesting, but even though the D.C emailed me recently to invite me to try it out I am not sure. His 9-11 course dinner is $120 which is even more expensive than the 19-course blow-your-mind dinner I recently had at Manresa, freshly minted with its 2 Michelin stars, and a chef who was able to cater gracefully and willingly to Fred who eats no fish or seafood. “Don’t Fear your food, just eat what I give you” says the DC, which may work for someone adventurous like me, but it doesn’t work for everyone and I don’t want my dining partner to be uncomfortable, especially at that price.

    Its a leap of faith – I am glad you took it with excellent results.

    sam

  2. hi sam–yes, i lucked out: though my hubby and i would have eaten anything, it just so happens that the menu hit all our sweet spots. and though i didn’t specifically mention it–the $120 price point for the 9-11 (yikes, a fateful number combination) course meal is steep for most folks. (there is a $65 pricepoint option, still out of reach for many people)

  3. have you ever been to Manresa? I would wonder how the two would compare, especially as Manresa ssems much better value for money ($115 for 19 courses)

  4. Hey sam:
    No, I haven’t been to Manresa yet. It is on my short list of places to go these days. I went to the Ritz Carlton Dining Room for its extensive salt and pepper menu a few months ago–it is one of my best San Francisc0-based meals at that price point to date. Of course, Ron Siegel has a big staff and kitchen at his disposal.

    Hard to compare the Dissident Chef to these restaurants because his resources are much more spare, and the setting very different. But that we are comparing him to these venues is remarkable for a roving meal.

  5. This looks amazing! Everything delicious and beautiful…

  6. Actually I have to apologize, I didn’t catch that the price included wine pairings. At Manresa that costs extra. $115 is food only.

    Is that right?

  7. Yup–the price includes wine pairings.

  8. Is the photo of Dissident Chef? I know him, I am sure of it. Did he go to the California Culinary Academy? It’s also possible I know him from somewhere else. I never forget a face.

  9. This looks fantastic.. there is an underground restaurant here in Melbourne http://www.zingaracucina.com that I am trying to get a booking at.. seems like this idea is taking off all over the world.. kind of refreshing!

  10. did any of you know that he doesn’t pay his employees who bust thier asses for 14 hours a day at times for him…..thought that might interest someone. he shows up on the weekend with new tattoos on his arms, hmmmm bet he paid the tattoo artist. it must be nice to have zero labor cost

  11. nice anonymous post.
    If you read her article you’d have found this

    You pay in advance (but don’t forget to bring tip money to your dinner–the staff is composed of CCA students who work for tips).

  12. Hi C(h)ristine, I just discovered your BLOG after doing a search on DC. As a fairly newbie foodie my friend and I would love a chance to experience this. Any chance on helping us get a referral?
    Thanks!

  13. If you want an invite, just email me offline (christineDOTzilkaATgmailDOTcom) and I’ll send you a referral.🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s