If you haven’t already heard, the cool kids are bypassing Michelin stars and permanent menus in favor of a new brand of mystery and exclusivity.
They’ve eschewed guidebook-listed restaurants and instead have turned to insiders’ word of mouth to discover this new trend of secret dinner clubs set in private homes and offbeat locations, and look to score a coveted invitation.
Why forgo the temples of cuisine in favor of the unknown? Easy: You remember the people you meet on your travels long after the last crumb disappears from your plate. What's more, planning travel these days is often like unwrapping a present for a peek before Christmas — photos, blogs, and reviews steal the mystery and surprise from travel.
But at an underground dining club, you don't know what you'll be eating, who you'll talk to, maybe who the chef is, or even the location itself until the day of.
It’s one big delicious surprise cloaked in the slightly illicit thrill of sneaking into an apartment where the landlord doesn't know his tenant is hosting a dozen people from around the world for dinner.
I dined at Hidden Kitchen in Paris a few years ago, where my tablemates included a producer from The Amazing Race and a handful of other in-the-know and terribly interesting travelers. We gorged on multiple courses of elegant fare paired with abundant wine.
On another recent trip, I convinced the proprietress of New Friend's Table to make space at her table for my husband and me. Hours of candlelight, free-flowing wine, and uproarious laughter later, we pushed ourselves away from a table where we'd devoured a creatively prepared and truly delicious family-style feast, and subsequently exchanged emails with new friends.
The following night we joined some 60 travelers and expats at Jim Hayne's Supper Club, where the legendary Mr. Haynes reigned over, of all things, a classic American Thanksgiving dinner.
We'll remember these dinners, and the people we met, long after we forget what we ate at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
Here are some of the chicest and most coveted underground dinners around the world — a starter kit to the trend, if you will.
New Friends Table: Paris, France
The host and chef of New Friends Tablehosts dinners every other week in her tiny loft. She carefully curates a table of interesting, well-traveled folks from around the world, whom she regales with tales of explaining to her wine merchant why she buys case after case. No photos are allowed of any tell-tale architecture, lest her landlord learn of her clandestine parties.
Casa SaltShaker: Buenos Aires, Argentina
This Buenos Aires-based "salon for food and conversation," called Casa SaltShaker, serves "fancy home cooking" to 10 guests in a private home. Likely to be spicy, but not traditional Argentine cuisine, the meals are at the whim of the chef and the menu is kept secret, though the week's flavors are posted online.
No Fixed Address (NFA): Vancouver, BC
NFA feeds up to 14 diners at one big table in the chef's home (bigger parties get a warehouse), offering fine dining to "adventurous foodies" looking for something beyond typical West Coast fare — seasonal, local foods are showcased.
Hush: Washington, D.C.
Fill out a questionnaire and provide a photo of yourself to request an invite to the secret Hush supper club in D.C.'s U Street neighborhood. Organic and elaborate Indian vegetarian fare is on offer here, and guests are treated to a spice tour from the chef.
Mama Isa: Padova, Italy
Gather around a table with four other guests, Mama Isa herself, and her family, for an hours-long taste of Mama's Italian cooking. Dinners are held in her apartment, which she calls an "anti-anti-restaurant." One drink is included with the three-to-four courses, but BYOB is fine.
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