Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I want a supper club.

The weekend before last, Adam and I trekked out to Virginia to experience Chez Le Commis, excited to try Tom Madrecki's increasingly well-known supper club run out of his Clarendon apartment.  (Okay, so it turns out he's only three stops on the Metro from me; entirely doable from DC.  We cabbed anyway.  Laziness for the win.)  We weren't sure exactly what to expect -- would it be awesome, or just awesome for home-cooking?  Bottom line: definitely recommended.

As instructed, we called from the sidewalk outside the building, and Tom came down to let us in.  He's very friendly -- expected, given that he routinely invites strangers into his home -- with an awesome backstory: no formal culinary training, just badgered his way into awesome stages (Zaytinya, Noma) post-college because he was interested in food.  Now he's got a PR day job and a consuming semi-professional hobby.  (Basically, he's living my dream.  I don't want to quit law, just take a culinary-related sabbatical to learn.)  In between runs downstairs to let in diners, Tom was focused in the kitchen, while the guests were left to get to know each other.  Entirely unsurprisingly, the group was predominantly young professionals with a serious interest in food.  (The four others at our end of the table included two who had heard about the supper club while vacationing in Chile, a recently-starting-a-new-career culinary student, and a woman who works at a firm that designs high-end kitchens who runs her own supper club.  Great dinner company; email addresses were exchanged.)  

The menu from Tom's website:
April 14, 2013
apple, honey, szechuan pepper
celery, jalapeno, gherkin
leek, mustard, sorrel
potato, maple
salmon, carrot, citrus
octopus, pomegranate-olive bbq, beet
popcorn, cheddar, caramel
The meal was accompanied by generous wine pairings, some of which worked quite well, some of which less so, but with a great emphasis on interesting, unexpected wines.  (I'll edit to include info if I get it from Adam, who had Tom write them all down.)  
We started with delicious, hot homemade bread and butter, followed by a circulated tray of Granny Smith apple chunks drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cracked szechuan pepper.  A simple, clean amuse.  The celery granita with pickled peppers was a good concept -- the play of icy, slightly sweet granita against pickled heat -- but could perhaps been executed with more interesting flavors?  Intriguing but not truly impressive so far.  The raw leeks dressed in a squid ink vinaigrette ended up being the low point of the meal -- fine, but not great, missing something -- and it made sense when Tom later told us that it was a last-minute creation due to disappointment with an ingredient received from a forager.  The salty baked potato wallowing in butter and maple syrup was excellent breakfasty comfort food, like home fries eaten from a plate shared with syrup-drenched pancakes.  
The final three courses were excellent.  Like, would-have-been-impressive-in-a-nice-restaurant great.  The salmon, seared on one side (after having been lightly cured? can't recall), was well cooked; the combination of caramelized carrot puree, grapefruit supremes, and charred dried lemon slices (plus some pretty baby carrots that added more texture than flavor) was fantastic.  A balance of sweet, rich, sour, and slightly bitter. The olivey bbq sauce on the tender octopus was also great; the beet was a bit too soft and didn't seem to add a ton to the dish.  The dessert -- popcorn-infused ice cream in a pool of dark caramel sauce and sprinkled with neon orange cheese powder -- was awesome.  One of the most fun, creative desserts I can recall in a long time.  A clever play on those tins of caramel and cheddar popcorn, the sweet-and-savory mix just worked.  (As anyone who has poured candy over movie theatre popcorn or eaten potato chips and cookies in proximity could attest.)  A board of three delicious cheeses followed, an unnecessary but very nice touch, while wine refills were offered all around.  After we'd all been fed, Tom chatted with the diners, answering our questions and just generally playing the host a bit more.  
A supper club as well done as this one seems to be a great way to hone skills and subsidize the cost of personal culinary experimentation.  For the recommended $50 donation, if you're laid back enough to enjoy dinner at a communal table in a stranger's living room, it's a great value and a fun, offbeat eating experience.  
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