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« CT Taste Organic Festival 2010 | Main | What's New @ The Westport Farmers Market »

LeFarm Goes Underground with "Souterrain"

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.  

Photo: chatNchow.comWith 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 Reservations for Souterrain will only be accepted via email to  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. 

For more photos of Souterrain, check out our Flickr Photo Gallery. 


Follow Souterrain's Blog for updates and information. 

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Reader Comments (14)

Sounds like a lot of fun, with some really good food, but it's really "faux underground." no?

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Let's not get too technical here, shall we? Underground implies "what's the secret password," which also instills a sense of wanting to be part of what's not readily seen or easily accessible. Hats off to Chef Taibe for creating that atmosphere of uniqueness in dining coupled with his, and his staff's, devotion to having fun with food.

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMSquared720

I don't think it is "too technical" to ask for an accurate identification. Again, I'm sure the food was good and the event fun. But this is "Dinner on the Farm" without the farm. And "40 to 60 seats" are more than the restaurant holds - so I doubt the secret password is all that secret.

My experiece with Underground Dinners has been in intimate settings with small groups, served food by talented (and generally young) aspiring chefs and non-professional chefs (with virtually no staff) who, in avoiding the usual restaurant expenses and bureaucratic hassles, can follow their dreams.on a small scale, while diners escape anything resembling a usual restaurant experience and enjoy the company of a small number of (as in a dozen or so) like-minded food lovers. (Not to mention BYO. Because nobody with an underground restaurant has a liquor license!)

Fun off-site prix fixe event? Absolutely. Underground Dinner? No.

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Chris, I believe you have a right to your opinion, but your comments imply that Chef Taibe is neither young, talented nor hungry. I find that insulting to his intention and his mission statement. What started off as your discourse on what the definition of "underground" implies segues into what your definition of what YOU believe "underground" actually encompasses.
This is where I part company with what "comments" are about in a blog or any kind of review of one's dining experience. I am tired of the mean spiritedness that appears to be the pervasive feeling in so many public domains. Do you know Bill? Have you eaten at leFarm? Why split hairs about the etymological definition of "underground"? The spirit in which this review was written warrants an "atta boy" or a "good job," not a diatribe, which I'm well aware I invited with my response, about whether it was a prix fixe farm dinner or not.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMSquared720

M-squared... setting aside that I prefer to exchange comments with other people who identify themselves, rather than lecture me anonymously...

I noted in both of my prior posts that the event sounded fun, with good food. Any inference that my comments were a criticism of Chef Taibe's skills is incorrect. He has been around long enough and built a nice enough track record that he can open up a restaurant like Le Farm. (And while I do not know Bill, I have dined at Le Farm.) That is a different situation from the chefs and dreamers that are motivated by necessity to create underground dinners and supper clubs.

But the piece read like a press release. And say what you like, this isn't underground dining. It's contrived underground dining for Gold Coasters who want to feel cool. I'm sure the food was good, but this is an event with nice marketing benefits being described as something it is not. It's no more splitting hairs than if you said the sky was green and I replied "no, it's blue." Only since you asked if I have been to Le Farm I will reply in kind by asking if you have been to an actual underground dinner?

I would hope that a local food community like CT Bites is capable of balanced presentations of local restaurants, chefs, and purveyors. If it is only about cheerleading, what good is it to consumers? In the fifteen years I have lived in Westport, Fairfield County has improved from a culinary backwater to something better. And I'm glad there are a good number of food blogs and food bloggers. But critical thinking should be part of the equation.

I count a fair number of farmers and food purveyors among my friends. One of their fears is the trendiness factor - that they'll ratchet up production just in time for Gold Coasters to move on to the next trendy thing. When authenticity is removed (as in the misidentification that has irked me), it only reinforces the idea of trend triumphing over authenticity. There is nothing wrong with off-site, prix fixe dinners - but to identify them as that which they are not merits at least a comment.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

I need to jump in here and say that trendy or not trendy the underground dining experience will feel more "underground" and less "Dinners at the Farm" once the venue changes from a backyard to a warehouse or wine cellar. Less farm...more unusual and unexpected. This will be Bill's challenge. These meals are about bringing people together in unique settings...and yes Bill uses local ingredients, but it is not necessarily about the farm.

Additionally, as the reviewer I would have been more than happy to pick flaws in this event, but I simply couldn't find any. It was very well orchestrated, much like Dinners at the Farm, but it was particularly impressive as it was his first go-round. I appreciate your keeping us honest however.

August 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterStephanie Webster

Thanks for the comment, Stephanie. Again, I was not being critical of Bill's food with my comments.

As I was relaying this exchange to someone this morning, they noted the first of Don Ruiz's the Four Agreements, "be impeccable with your word." While there are certainly far more important examples to the contrary in this world of which I can and have gotten worked up, it (obviously) irked me to see "underground" morphing from a substantive description to the latest style or marketing angle.

(Of course, "Farm-to-Table" suffers even more of the same fate - becoming a catchphrase to draw in customers, rather than a point of culinary inspiration. Also NOT a barb aimed at Le Farm. But F2T is becoming as omnipresent as "hi-fi" was in the 70's. We've all been to F2T restaurants passing off uninspired and overpriced food... been to farmstands selling produce grown out of the area... seen imported "faux organic" food being sold at mass merchandisers. That's why authenticity is important - and why all involved should be impeccable with their word.)

Finally, as the same person said to me this morning, maybe criticism is not the point of CT Bites. If it is about supporting local business and encouraging locals to do the same, that's a fine and reasonable aim and I shouldn't expect something more than that - which is completely fair.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Well said, Chris. And my name is Mimi.

I think this debate, as you will, is something that would be much more interesting to have in person, rather than over a series of comments. The points you make in your subsequent responses to me are spot on and something I know Bill takes very seriously. Like everything else in our world, a trend spreads like wildfire, people rush to be "first" to get in on it, and then as quickly, it's abandoned. Bill is impeccable with his word, and true to the movement of which he seems to find himself head cheerleader. I have no idea whether others will abandon this F2F concept down the road or not, but I do know Bill is serious in his dedication and determination to local farms and farmers.

In the end, I can see how the way this review was written may have seemed overly effusive, perhaps even too familiar. Again, that's the risk with social media and the power of today's blogger/critic. There's no doubt that CT Bites has some favorites. In the long run though, I feel that we all have a responsibility to try not to judge so sharply or critically the efforts made by anyone in a (creative) business. It truly is all subjective and we can go and enjoy what we see/eat/drink/hear or we can move on to something else a bit more palatable.

I can see now that what you enjoy most is authenticity, whether in a person, the written word, or even an underground dinner. I respect that quality myself. And I will leave it at that.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMSquared720

Well said, Mimi. Cheers! cg

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Sound delightful and fun, but that price certainly narrows the audience.
I'm enjoying the vicarious experience.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

My name, as well as my email address, should be apparent in the blog information. If not, and I'm hesitant in doing so, but here is my cell, 203-889-1896, and email address, It's not often I come across this type of response. You write well,

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBryant Abbott

Sounds like a cool event, look forward to (hopefully) hitting the next one!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCTBurgerlover

It all looks really nice. It makes me hungry and wanting to cook. Well done to the author for the blog!

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPolish Girl

I am beginning, quietly, reflexively rebel against the culture of the "celebrity chef" that is springing up around here, as well as the lady who hangs her underwear in public:).

I don't want a damn celebrity chef...I want great grub at good prices without the posers.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrealguy

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