Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Chilltown Kitchen Supper Club Experience

Last summer, Chilltown Kitchen started hosting monthly supper clubs, each one with a different theme and corresponding tasting menu. Founded by Alysis Vasquez, the supper clubs are centered around the idea of communal dining and a shared experience. The meal is a multi-course format and prepared by a group of local chefs using seasonal ingredients.

Recently, I attended the January supper club which was "The Italian Menu". In the interest of full disclosure, I need to be clear that I did not pay to go. I was invited to attend as a guest, not in exchange for publicity or a review of any kind, but just as a kind offer to say thank you because I'd been sharing the menus on social media. The decision to post my experience is entirely my own and I am striving to make it as unbiased as possible. That said, I had long wanted to attend and was excited to find out just what it was like.

The supper clubs are pop-up events in different restaurants and are generally held on Monday nights when those restaurants are closed so that they are a) less expensive to run and b) more welcoming to a private group in the space. So while the reasons are practical, the effect is actually fantastic. To have an entire space dedicated to this one group and this one meal very much feels like you're a member of a secret dining society where you are part of this private and unique culinary experience - which, in fact, you are. In short, it's exactly the right vibe for a supper club.

The evening starts at 6pm with what is more or less a cocktail hour - drinks can be purchased at the bar, people socialize and chat (and are very welcoming - I was alone and within about 3 minutes, people started introducing themselves), and for those who can't show up right at six, it gives you some leeway before dinner which begins around 7pm. Each course is introduced with specific details by the person who made it and there is serving staff walking around, filling glasses, making sure you have everything. There was a little bit of lag time here and there between courses, but overall, it was very well-paced and the overall feel of the event was upbeat, social, relaxed,and light-hearted. Everyone was there to have a good time and eat great food.

This particular meal was six courses and we actually started off with a rosemary infused limoncello shot that set the tone for the evening before being served our first course, a citrus salad with roasted fennel. The next course was the stand-out for me and not only was it a stand-out for the night, it's probably one of the best dishes I've had over the past year, if not longer. It was a pressed ricotta brulee with pomegranate, pistachio, and mint. The creaminess of the ricotta was not only astounding (the smoothest and creamiest ricotta I've ever had), it was a wonderful follow-up to the intensity of the citrus in our previous course. The option to be creative is one of the key benefits of an event like this - ingredients can be played with, more time can be taken to morph something into a better version of itself - and the diner is the beneficiary of that creativity. The memory of that ricotta will be with me for a long, long time.

All the rest of the courses were also excellent. There wasn't a bad one among them. After those initial courses, there was a seared scallop course, some beetroot risotto, and an oxtail ragu pasta before the sweet and perfectly light dessert of anise shortbread, grilled stone fruit, and mascarpone. Portions were sized accordingly, but it still ended up being a lot of food. If you have a delicate appetite, this might not be the event for you.

The downside to the supper club is that it's not cheap. The price range is usually between $60-$80 (normally on the lower end of that scale), but considering the amount and quality of the food, it's entirely justified. The cost had actually been part of what held me back prior to this event (keep in mind I do run this blog which necessitates my spending a fair amount on frequently dining out which I consider when looking at the price of any meal) but I can assure you it won't hold me back any more. Will I go to every single event? No, although I met several people there who do. But if there's a menu that really appeals to me, I won't hesitate and I'd make that same recommendation to anyone else. If you like food and feel comfortable spending that amount on a dinner, this is a great option.

The other important aspect to consider with regard to the cost is that this is a fairly small, community-oriented, grassroots organization run by young chefs trying to do something different and collaborative and they're doing a really great job. By keeping the events fairly small but the preparation and creation fairly large, the costs do go up but these are efforts I do consider worth supporting. It was a unique, laid-back, and enjoyable experience that left me thinking, "Serious food. Fun time."

The next Chilltown Kitchen Supper Club will be this upcoming Monday, 2/29 and they'll be serving an all-vegan, gluten-free menu.

12 comments:

  1. great, the day my fiancee works until 8pm! this sounds great. I just wish drinks were included at that price.

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    1. Whats wrong? Dont like shelling out almost $70 for a bunch of produce plated fancily?

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    2. Hey Richard! Hopefully you can make it to an event in the coming months! We'd love to have you.

      We start the dinner with a drink/shot to cheers to the night once everyone sits for dinner- but I'd love to buy you and your fiance your first drink when you join us in the future!

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    3. Hi Richard - I definitely understand where you're coming from but I can also assure you, you'll feel like you got your money's worth from the food. There really is a lot of it and as Chilltown Kitchen mentioned above, they do also give out a drink at the start of the meal to kick everything off.

      Additionally, the drinks really aren't too expensive. They are actually sold by the restaurant/bar the event is held at, not through Chilltown Kitchen, so these aren't $20 paired cocktails or anything. I had an excellent and huge gin and tonic for I think(?) $6 when I went.

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    4. Hey Chilltown, who gets the money from your liquor sales at your "pop-up" restaurant?

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  2. First, its commendable that you openly disclosed you didnt PAY for this experience. I would assume you wouldnt either given the circumstance....you are a good writer with an in-depth look.

    But theres a lot to question with this attempt at "getting the community together".

    I have to know, is Alysis Vasquez a world reknown, awarded chef? Are we paying for HIS 'talents'? A quick google of him only shows he's owner of this. Because words "communal" & "shared" are thrown around in the effort to project a wholesomeness or goodwill, but it doesnt change the fact this is still a FOR PROFIT business - with them gouging people $65-80+ each for dinner. Or is he trying to make a buck off of other people's restaurants and equiptment, selling trendy dishes? Its pretty lame they charge for drinks too.) Oh! And does "Chilltown Kitchen" themselves have a liquor license to charge people for those alcoholic beverages.

    "The cost is that this is a fairly small..." NO, its not. Ive been to two others of these (one on the Jersey Shore, one in Brooklyn) that both were $30-40/each. This is almost DOUBLE that.

    Give me 3 courses, a complimentary wine paring (even just one), and put it under $40 and you might have something enticing to bring people together.

    But $70 for veggies, cash bar and a inflated sense of "community" from an unknown chef? For shame.

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    1. Hi Vincento - so first, Alysis is a woman and yes, we are paying for her talents along with several other very talented chefs - they collaborate together on each of these events. As far as world-renowned, there actually aren't that many of those and believe me, we would be paying a whole lot more for a six course dinner if that was the case :)

      So yes - this is a for profit business, but I really don't consider this price-gouging. Each of these chefs work at other restaurants, but what they're trying to do is come together, share talents, be creative, and try new ideas. Please consider this isn't their job but it a lot of time and a lot of effort that they dedicate to this - coming up with a theme, a menu, shopping, test runs, marketing, cooking, serving, and clean-up. It's a once a month special occasion where they are trying to do something different and fun and create a unique experience for the consumer. They pay rental fees to the restaurants they use as pop-up locations. They pay for all the ingredients and because it is a once a month event and a pop-up, they buy everything fresh for each meal. It's not as though they can rely on general restaurant supplies/stock but they also can't buy in bulk knowing the ingredients will get repurposed for other dishes later in the week the way restaurants do. They're shopping for each event as it comes, including doing their own trial runs and sample dishes, tweaking and perfecting the menu long before it actually gets served at these pop-up events. I didn't really go into detail about that on the post, but that's what I meant when I said it was an important aspect to consider when thinking about the cost. I hope that makes more sense now.

      In addition, I actually don't think the cost is that high when you consider the number of courses and the quality of cooking. It's more expensive than going out to dinner, sure - but it's not just an ordinary going out to dinner evening. It really is about enjoying some excellent food, getting to know new people, and having a shared culinary experience. It is a lot to spend on a meal. But it's not expensive for what it is and for what you get. I often go to dinners, even at casual places where it ends up being $40 for an appetizer and an entree and this is far beyond that.

      As to your question about alcohol, the whole point is that Chilltown Kitchen themselves actually do not sell drinks. I assume it's because they're not licensed to, although couldn't say for sure. The drinks are sold by the venue the event is hosted at. That said, as I mentioned, Chilltown Kitchen does generally provide a drink to celebrate the evening.


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    2. Thanks for your response. I apologize for the gender confusion with my Alysis assumption. You wont convince me a vegan meal for $70 is any value. LOL. However....

      "Chilltown Kitchen themselves actually do not sell drinks. I assume it's because they're not licensed to, although couldn't say for sure."

      You are assuming this (which is fine), but this seriously needs to be investigated. If even one penny of the drink sale is going into Alysis's pocket thats a huge violation - which would impose a fine on her AND suspend/terminate the location's booze license. Plus, since these locations are technically closed/not operating on these Chilltown Kitchen pop-up evenings, I dont know if they can legally sell alchohol like this either.

      Im very skeptical - both the price and selling alcohol (who ever it is).

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    3. Hi Vincento,

      Thanks for your response. I understand your concerns. Let me be explicitly clear in what I meant about the liquor license.

      I don't know if Chilltown Kitchen has a liquor license. I would assume not, but I truthfully couldn't say for sure. That was my only assumption.

      I know for a fact that the restaurant or venue is the one selling the drinks and receiving the profits. It's the restaurant bartenders who are working, as is standard with a venue rental, and it is the restaurant selling the drinks. This is made explicitly clear in an email sent out to the attendees prior to an event. As for the legality, I can assure you it's not an issue. This kind of thing is standard with private event rentals and with pop-up agreements which are becoming increasingly common in today's world.

      I hope that helps clear things up.

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  3. My experience with Chilltown Kitchen has always been a delight. From the food, to the employees TO the overall vibe of the event, it has been an overall amazing. Chef Alysis love for food is clear in every bite of her cuisine. It is definitely something to be experienced!

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