leave your inhibitions at the door
It was about ten years ago that I first heard about underground restaurants. The article talked about these cool little places where diners went for multi-course meals prepared by a professional chef. These weren’t “official” restaurants and were only open weekly or monthly with strictly word-of-mouth marketing. And since they didn’t have to deal with overhead, marketing, inspections, food inventory, and full-time staff, the suggested donations were often ridiculously low.
I sooooo wanted to do that (all except the low price part). We had a condo in a hip spot in Chicago that would’ve been perfect. I had some great concepts for themes and could’ve easily handled the wine pairings. Unfortunately, fate conspired against me. Usually when I say something like that, it translates to “laziness.” But this time, I mean it – we ended up moving to Ann Arbor and renting out the condo. With the new town and increasing family demands, that idea just joined the long list of others that would’ve been fun to do in a different time and place.
Last year, I came across a post for something similar here in Ann Arbor. It’s not so much an underground restaurant, but an event. While salivating at a picture of an amuse bouche of salmon tartare, seaweed salad, miso foam, and tobiko, I noticed a familiar face in one of the pictures – Aren, one of my favorite bartenders here in town. Aren is the wine director at The Black Pearl here in Ann Arbor that’s known for its martinis, fish tacos, and late night scene. We talked about the event briefly, but then forgot about it.
Recently, The Sicilian’s post where she re-created their tacos was mentioned in a local paper. Boom Boom and I went to the Pearl for some cocktails and Aren and I were talking about that taco post. He casually mentioned that they were having another event in a few days and asked whether I was interested.
Interested? Does the Pope poop in the woods? (Wait, is that right?)
Anyway, I accepted the invitation and showed up at The Dream House. The house is actually the condo where Aren lives with some other guys. Turnout for this event was a little light, but it was because it was somewhat of a last-minute idea. Also, due to prior commitments, the event had to happen in the late afternoon which made it tough for people to attend.
The chef for this event was Sean, the sous chef at Black Pearl. He was using the dinner as an opportunity to try new things that would help him further his craft and potentially bring back to the restaurant. Both during and after the event, Sean and Aren talked glowingly about the ownership and management of Black Pearl. I was really impressed with their level of engagement, drive for success, and how they encouraged creativity and buy-in with their employees. Part of that encouragement is their full support of this project.
Alright, enough of the intro and onto …
1st Course: Salmon Roulade – dill, salmon belly, lemon, cheese
Wine Pairing: 2012 Gruner Veltliner, Domaine Brunn, Austria
2nd Course: Classical Garden Salad – local seasonal selection, balsamic dressing
3rd Course: Smoked Schnitzel of Pork – apple-horseradish béchamel, charred pearl onions, seared fingerlings, chive-goat cheese
Wine Pairing: 2009 Riesling, Domaine Wachau Austria
4th Course: Rack of Lamb – lamb stock, thyme, oblique carrots
Wine Pairing: 2010 Zweigelt, Domaine Brunn, Austria
Dessert: Golden Sorbet – lemon, lime, orange, golden oregano, cane sugar
Wine Pairing: 2011 Biegler-Muller Ortega Trockenbeerenauslese, Rheinhessen, Germany
All of the dishes tasted great and the wine pairings were perfect. That Ortega TBA was one of the best dessert wines I’ve had in years – luckily, they didn’t mind my bogarting half the bottle. It had a marvelous balance of acids and sweetness with a velvety mouthfeel. The Zweigelt was an interesting wine for me as it’s not very common. The best I could describe it as is somewhere between a a Cotes du Rhone (spicy, floral) and a Burgundy (lighter, cherry notes).
Overall, I was really impressed with the dedication and execution of the whole event. The Austrian theme may have handcuffed them a little in terms of what they were able to do creatively with the food. But I also got the sense that it’s been a while since they had one and were looking to start up them up again. I think with some different themes and as the events expand, there’s going to be a lot more playfulness and inventiveness.
I’m definitely going to be there to see if I’m right…
If you’re interested in attending a future event, check out their Facebook page.