Supper clubs – especially those of the secret or underground variety – seem to be all the rage these days. The AJC recently published an article on a couple of local versions, and their reasons for being range from testing out the beginning phases of restaurant ownership, to creating a more socially focused dining experience, to highlighting celebrity chefs and making money. Heck, my future brother-in-law runs a pretty darn successful ”underground restaurant” out of a teeny tiny San Francisco apartment (you can check out some of his menus here). My first true supper club experience came last month in Athens, Georgia, when my husband and I were fortunate enough to eat with the Four Coursemen.
I first heard of “T4C” when Food and Wine magazine published a short piece about the group’s concept and featured some of their recipes. Further Googling also showed another mention, this time in Garden and Gun magazine, and a host of random photos and blog posts about previous dinners. The idea was certainly intriguing – a bunch of buddies who love food and cooking, inviting strangers into their home and experimenting (both socially and culinarily). So simple, yet so compelling. I quickly signed up for their email list, so that I would be notified of upcoming events.
It wasn’t until the end of January that our calendars were empty enough to attempt to RSVP for a dinner. An email went out, indicating that the website would be open at a certain time on a certain date, and only at that exact moment would people be able to try to reserve seats (of which there are only 24). Luckily for me, I was able to have my hand on the ol’ buzzer at the precise time, and I scored two coveted spots at the table. I learned later that this particular dinner, on January 23, 2010, sold out in about 2 minutes. Jason and I were really stoked as we drove up Highway 316 to Athens, dressed up and ready to experience something special.
We arrived at the secret location (only disclosed once the RSVP was accepted and confirmed) and milled around for a bit, chatting with other guests and sipping on pre-dinner drinks (wine pairings are included with the meal, but folks brought their own libations for before and after); there seemed to be a good mix of return customers and first-timers. When the proverbial dinner bell rang, we all sat down at two large, communal tables and began the feast. Every course was explained and every wine pairing discussed, but not in a pretentious or intrusive way. Instead, the guests really got to hear and understand where the ideas for the dishes came from, and why certain wines were meaningful to the sommelier, and why particular ingredients were favorites of the cooks – that sort of thing. Here’s what we ate and drank…
“Oyster Po’Boy on a Half Shell” – served with a demi sec sparkling wine. These were Blue Point oysters, which I love, and my only complaint was that the cornmeal batter was a bit heavy. The slaw underneath the oysters was really tasty and added a nice crunch to the dish. Very refreshing, particularly when paired with the selected wine.
“Slow-cooked Salmon with Apple and Grana Padano Ravioli, Thyme, Saffron Beurre Blanc, Celery Leaves” – served with an Italian Sauvignon blanc. This was by far my favorite dish of the night. The salmon was stunning, both in quality and presentation (my crummy camera doesn’t begin to capture the beautiful color of the fish), and the ravioli was tender and intensely flavorful. The dry white wine was a perfect complement to the buttery notes of this course – it was an absolutely beautiful pairing. Even my husband, who is normally somewhat picky about fish, ate the entire thing, even the skin (which he usually avoids like the plague).
“Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon Lardons, Vanilla Brown Butter, Brazil Nuts” – served with a California Pinot noir. The flavors of this soup were nice, but the texture was a bit off for me (first, I prefer something a bit thicker and smoother, and second, the soup was separating a bit, as you can see from the photo). The Brazil nuts were an unexpected but pleasant surprise, and the smoky bacon stood up nicely to the wine. Overall, I’ve definitely had better-executed butternut squash soups, but I appreciated the thought that went into the dish.
“Roasted Tri-Tip Beef with Red Wine Poached Egg, Arugula” – served with a Ridge (California) Zinfandel. You don’t see tri-tip on too many high-end menus, but if it was prepared like this, it would be a best-seller. What a delicious play on steak and eggs! I was a little worried about my husband during this course as well, since the only way he’ll usually eat eggs is scrambled with cheese (LOTS of cheese, so he can’t taste any egginess). But, he surprised me again and devoured the dish, poached egg and all. With the richness of the egg, I definitely appreciated both the leaner cut of meat and the bitter arugula. Having visited the Ridge winery before, I was really looking forward to the pairing, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
“Orange and Lavender Steamed Pudding with Honey Creme Anglaise” – served with a French blanc de blanc. Lately, I have been much less interested in dessert, usually preferring an additional savory course to something sweet. This evening was no exception, though I definitely appreciated the effort. The flavors were appropriately delicate, and I loved the creme anglaise, but I found the pudding itself to be way too dense. Jason really enjoyed it, though, so perhaps I was just hoping that they’d bring out another portion of the salmon dish. Hey, a girl can dream!
After dinner, once everyone had paid (the requested minimum donation was $60, which I thought was MORE than fair, given the amount and quality of food and wine we were served), the atmosphere in the house turned into one of great joy and celebration. The guests were able to talk to the chefs and the sommelier – and, more importantly, to each other – about the meal and the experience. The feeling of camaraderie was truly amazing – people were sharing stories, sharing wine (and even some homemade infused spirits), and sharing a very special experience. If we didn’t have an hour-long drive home, we could have stayed and partied all night. Maybe it was just because I was back in Athens, but something about the evening with the Four Coursemen brought back all the youthful exuberance of my college days. I’m sad to report, however, that it did not bring back the alcohol tolerance of my college days. Live and learn.
T4C is a special group of people, and I wish them much success in all of their endeavors. If you ever get the chance to dine with them, dive in and don’t look back – I think you’ll really cherish the experience.
"You have to watch it all the time or it burns up."