Last Sunday harkened the beginning of a fresh new culinary offering in Fairfield County…a dining experience without walls and without rules. It represents the next generation of the "family" table, bringing people together with just their love of food as the communal bond. Is your interest piqued? It should be. When you make THIS reservation, you won't have an address. You definitely won't know what's on the menu. But you will know one thing for sure…this surprise dinner party is going to be extraordinary because Bill Taibe of LeFarm gastronomic fame is the man behind "Souterrain." For those of you who need brushing up on your High School French, underground dining has finally made its way out of the urban centers and into Fairfield County.
Confused? Don't be…. "Souterrain' is simple. Every other month Chef Bill Taibe and his creative partner Marsha Glazer will scout out a unique location to serve as a backdrop for a group of lucky diners. Be prepared for the unknown. Your dining venue will vary from a poolside patio to a Norwalk warehouse, and the location is only revealed 48 hours prior to your reservation. The fare also remains a mystery until you walk in the door, but with Chef Taibe at the helm, you can be assured that fresh locally sourced ingredients and creative preparations will be on the evening's menu.
Eager to find out what Fairfield County's first foray into "underground" dining would look (and taste) like, 45 enthusiastic guests gathered last Sunday at a private home in Rowayton. Here's how Souterrain's inaugural event went down:
Arriving at the emailed address, we strolled into a home that perfectly mirrored LeFarm's elegantly rustic aesthetic. It was later revealed that this was the residence of LeFarm's co-creative visionary Marsha Glazer, and the inspiration for LeFarm's well appointed interior. Rose hued summery cocktails made with icy citrus, muddled raspberries, Agave and St Germain were instantly in hand…a recipe I now covet. In the backyard, crisp white clothed tables displayed arrangements of brilliantly colored heirloom tomatoes alongside cutter bug spray. "Le Menu" lay hand written on each table next to decanted bottles of red wine, unmarked other than a label that simply read "red." Every detail was beautifully and expertly staged with a casual elegance that reflected the host.
Chef Taibe mingled with guests while keeping a watchful eye over the kitchen as they readied the first course. After the requisite cocktail chatter, the group was assembled and we were called to dinner. Anticipation was in the air as we sat down in groups of eight awaiting our first bite….
A flurry of activity from the well choreographed servers signaled the warm-up which arrived as a light buttery almost cake-like cornbread served with sweet nectarine butter. Sounds of pleasure were audible at every table. The next dish perfectly embodied summer, watermelon bites served with creamy chevre and a hint of spiced olive oil. These were served with "grass" toothpicks which we later used to fight for the last morsel remaining on the stone platter.
The following course came as a complete surprise, perhaps a last minute market inspiration, as it was absent from the hand written menus. MA oysters, succulent and subtly briny with a sweet finish were seasoned with Tabasco butter and topped with sublimely prepared corn fritters. This clever pairing melted in your mouth, and I could have begun and ended my meal right here.
We referred back to our menu just as the "plate of tomatoes" arrived revealing a huge white bowl of thickly sliced devastatingly fresh heirloom tomatoes in vibrant hues. They were simply prepared and stunning amidst a sprinkling of faro and pickled onions. Cast iron pans of yellow and green "shaved squash" came next to the table. Presented like spaghetti, and dressed with pignolis and fresh mint, this dish had a uniquely bright nutty flavor. One of my fellow dining companions wondered aloud if we could ask our server for seconds? Indeed, we could.
The impromptu kitchen created by Taibe and his talented team of chefs runs like a well oiled machine, and it should be noted that the friendly staff who announced every course upon arrival were not just hired hands. These were people who have worked closely with Chef Taibe for years and were intimately acquainted with his every culinary move. They were happy to answer questions regarding sourcing, ingredients, and preparation, and with the sun rapidly setting, these details were quite illuminating.
As we continued our virtual walk through the Farmers Market, Frank (who you will find at LeFarm on any given night), brought over what he called "a bunch of different beans with a bunch of different tomatoes." While the title describes the players, it does not do justice to the smoky heat that we enjoyed with every baked spoonful. Battered and fried Hake with "Russian dressing" and a side of tangy pickled beans heralded the entrees, and as we dug in yet again we wondered how we could go on. But carry on we did as beautiful platters of grilled pork shoulder demanded our attention. This is where things got fuzzy and I could have sworn I heard Frank say "grilled pork with F*@!-ed up tomato marmalade." Our table descended into heated deliberation. Did he describe our dish as "F*@!-ed up? Yes, he did, and the chilies and toasted breadcrumbs in this tomato marmalade were anything but F*@!-ed, displaying nice heat and great mouthfeel. I like a chef with a sense of humor.
As the dishes were cleared, guests sunk back happily in their chairs, and new friends exchanged business cards. It was during this pause that I stepped into the kitchen to watch as dessert was being busily prepped by team Taibe. As typical of Taibe's dessert menu, there was no chocolate mousse or brulee this evening. Bill's signature treats defy convention, often starring ingredients like bacon, corn, or fresh herbs. Tonight was no exception. Generous slices of zucchini bread were piled with corn gelato and local honey, sharing the plate with a playful partner...homemade Cracker Jacks. It was a clever ending to a brilliantly executed evening.
With only 40-60 seats at each "Souterrain" happening, this may be the hottest ticket in town. We hear that the next dinner will take place sometime in September, so keep your eyes open for updates and information on CTbites.com. Reservations for Souterrain will only be accepted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Wondering what this meal will cost you? Prices will fluctuate depending on the market, so like many of the details for each event, this too shall remain a mystery. Expect to spend about $125-$150 a person for this unique evening. Personally, I'd take this over a Broadway show any day. Who knows if the next Souterrain dinner will be as special as the first, but I'm willing to take that gamble. Hope to see you at the next Souterrain…..If we can get in.
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