Every house on the block was dark. Either everyone in the quaint suburban neighborhood had gone to bed or they were hiding from the rogue things were about to go down.
Brendan and I walked up to the steps of the Arden Mead Youth And Community Center pensively. Could something so underground, so against health codes, so… badass, be happening in a building that belongs to Christ Lutheran Church?
Yes. And that made it even more badass. The high ceilings and large, rustic chandeliers were fantastically understated. One long, candle-lit table stretched across most of the room. To the right of the table, two volunteers were grilling pieces of zucchini, smelt, mussels, mushrooms and asparagus over Japanese coal.
I waited for someone to come up to me and say: “there’s been a mistake, you’re not close to cool enough to be here.” I would’ve nodded sadly and left.
But honestly, who is cool enough?? Only the Rogue Chefs themselves (who must remain unnamed).
Their incredible secret dinners fill up within 10 minutes of the dinner being announced. Then the Rogue Chefs design a menu that they have to execute in a tiny, ill-equipped kitchen. And the kitchen is a different kitchen at every dinner because the location changes every time. Pulling that off must require serious flexibility and planning.
After sitting down, we were told the rules: taking pictures of the food is okay but taking pictures of the chefs isn’t and try ingredients even if they sound scary (there were more but I tend to zone out when people explain rules… it’s been a problem for a while).
When they announced that the dinner was Italian themed (hence the red and white tablecloth), I almost jumped out of my seat with happiness.
The meal began with an amuse-bouche which was a rabbit stuffed crispy olive sitting on a sherry demi with microgreens.
I loved the combination of the crispy texture of the crust and the soft, slightly chewy olive. The piquancy served as a perfect palate primer.
The first course was the Rogue Chefs’ take on a caprese salad: strawberry carpaccio, fresh ricotta, balsamic pearls, micro arugula, and olive oil from Liguria (a region in Italy).
The fresh ricotta was wonderfully creamy but the balsamic pearls won my heart. They hit the tongue as small bursts of acidic sweetness that complimented the rich cheese.
The second course was a cobia crudo (“Italy’s take on sushi”) with greens, pickled shallot, almond milk, and grappa (Italy’s take on Moonshine).
I enjoyed the combination of nutty almond milk and crudo.
The third course was probably the most unusual: a foie gras soup shooter with candied chestnuts. Yes, you read that correctly, liver soup in a shot glass.
As excited and entertained as I was by the idea, there was no way I was going to throw back the whole thing at once. Sip by sip, however, it was absolutely awesome. The soup was delicate in a way that only foie gras can be. Brendan pointed out that the shot glass portion was the perfect size. Any more of the soup would’ve been prohibitively intense. Candied chestnuts sat at the bottom of the glass and their chewy sweetness offset the slightly earthy, extremely rich soup and eased the transition into the next course.
The fourth course was the Rogue Chef version of spaghetti carbonara. Instead of noodles, they served jowl and pea risotto. A raw egg yolk sat in the middle and we were instructed to whisk it into the rice. I love interactive dishes.
The result was a rich and extremely comforting bowl of super creamy rice that was complimented by occasional bursts of salty jowl and sweet peas. It captured the love of an Italian grandmother.
Then the Rogue Chefs announced that they had a surprise course. Apparently, they couldn’t decide between two versions of carbonara so they decided to do both. Not a problem.
The 5th course was, thus, a ravioli filled with ricotta and a raw quail-egg yolk over a bolognese sauce with pesto.
The small quail yolk added a bit of creaminess to the full, meaty bolognese but it wasn’t overpowering. One of the chefs promised that the sauce would be “what a bolognese should be. Not American bolognese.” I’m far from an expert on “what a bolognese should be” but I can say that their sauce was like the sauce I had in Bologna (which seems like a pretty good marker) in both texture and flavor.
The sixth course was a cannellini bean puree with dandelion greens, black truffle, and olive oil.
The bitter greens brightened up the earthiness of the truffle. I had no idea that bean puree could be interesting.
The sixth course was the scariest (and, thus, the most intriguing) course of the night: beef heart with porcini mushrooms, agrodolce cippolini onions, and balsamic vinegar.
I died and went to Heaven and came back again to write this post so that I could brag about the fact that I got to eat that beef heart. To the guy across from me who exclaimed: “you’re going to eat that?!,” you missed out big time. The beefiness of the beef heart was incredible. I feared that it might taste like metal because of the high concentration of iron but that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, it tasted like an extremely expensive, extremely delicious cut of beef. The sweet-ish onions and sweetness of the balsamic vinegar balanced out the richness of the beef and porcinis.
The final course was zuppa inglese, which is similar to tiramisu or an English trifle. Cookies are soaked in a specific Italian alcohol (which the Rogue Chefs had to concoct themselves because it isn’t sold in the US) and topped layers of chocolate sauce and an egg custard.
The egg custard had the consistency of foamed milk, which, when combined with the cookie in the center, made the dish feel like a sophisticated version of cookies and milk.
While the food was delicious, the experience the Rogue Chefs created was just as impressive. Of course, the secrecy adds an underlying tone of excitement. But much of the energy in the room came from the playfulness of the menu and the chefs themselves.
They were welcoming, accessible, and positive. The large amount of volunteers who participated in the event is a huge testament to how much fun it is to be there with the two chefs. Check out their website by clicking here.
Thank you for the adventure Rogue Chefs! Thank you Brendan (the Twitter follower who won the second ticket) for going with me and for being the perfect person to take! And thank you Dining Services for giving us the tickets!
I can’t wait to see what Dining Services has in mind for their own version of these secret-menu pop up restaurants.