Wednesday, November 13, 2013

DC Secret Suppers

*Sponsored Post
Secret Suppers are an exclusive underground supper club that roams the nation. Chefs perform interpretations of various trends and themes for an intimate group of VIP guests.  Secret Suppers is a production of Dishcrawl, a locally run company focused on re-imagining the way people think about food, drink, and their community.  Here in the nation's capital secret societies play a vital role in everyday life, so attending a Secret Supper event is quite fitting.  We were invited to experience the first DC Secret Supper with an exclusive 6 course dinner made by two local chefs.

Chef James explaining the menu.
Leading up to the event we were left clues as to the location and menu via Instagram and Twitter with hash tag #SecretSuppersDC. We soon learned that the venue would be Federal Restaurant in Adams Morgan.  About 18 guests attended this first Secret Supper.  Chef James Robinson is a personal catering chef from Kitchen Cray.  He was very outgoing and forthcoming with explaining the ingredients of each dish in the menu.  He jested with his competition, Chef Nate Hopkins, who was a bit more subdued and presumably nervous, as he was not as experienced as Chef James.  Nevertheless, Chef Nate did not show any hint of intimidation and held his own ground throughout the night.  For this inaugural Secret Supper, the two chefs decided to "battle" it out and each present 3 courses plus a family-style amuse, for a total of 8 courses.

Chef James' shrimp  vs.  Chef Nate's mushrooms
First, we all shared a starter of Shrimp Skewers topped with lump crab meat prepared by Chef James.  The shrimp was very flavorful and the lump crab meat made it extra luscious, however it was a bit clumsy and hard to share with others since they were still on the skewers.  Then we sampled Chicken Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms topped with Feta cheese.  I truly enjoyed both dishes, but the consensus on the table was that Chef James' plate won this round.

Chef James' wintergreen salad  vs.  Chef Nate's arugula salad
Next, for the salad course Chef James prepared a Wintergreen Salad topped with fresh berries and a berry vinaigrette, while Chef Nate prepared a peppery Arugula, Tomato and Parmesan salad.  I preferred the wintergreen salad, while others appreciated the straightforward presentation of the arugula salad.  I'll say this course was a tie, leaving Chef James still in the lead 1-0.

Chef James' chicken  vs.  Chef Nate's salmon
For the main course, we were served full portions of Pan Seared Chicken topped with a sunny egg and cream sauce, accompanied by wilted spinach and roasted potatoes made by Chef James.  The chicken had an explosion of flavor that I enjoyed at first, but then became a bit overpowering.  The play on chicken and egg was clever, but the star of this dish was the lightly roasted potatoes.  They were perfectly seasoned and cooked, and just rounded out the dish overall.  Chef Nate prepared a BBQ Salmon and Garlic Mashed Potatoes with more wilted spinach.  Most everyone at the table remarked how they had never had salmon with barbeque sauce like this before.  It was on the sweet side but palatable, and the fish was expertly cooked.  Plus, the mashed potatoes were garlicky (in a good way) and decadent.  This course goes to Chef Nate, leaving the score 1-1.

Chef James' banana cake  vs.  Chef Nate's red velvet cake
palate cleanser
By now, I was pretty stuffed but we were told mouthwatering desserts were on their way out.  I am a sucker for desserts, so took a deep breath and willed my stomach to make room.  Chef James' pastry chef prepared an Upside Down Banana "Cray" Cake.  It came with a tequila banana sauce topped with spiced nuts.  The banana flavor really came through to give a tropical ending to Chef James' meal.  As a palate cleanser between desserts, we were presented with a spoonful of lemon sorbet sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.  This tart bite was refreshing, but should have been served before the banana cake as our segue from savory to sweet.  Finally, to finish out the round, Chef Nate presented an elegant slice of Red Velvet Cake.  The red velvet was traditional in every sense, and although it is usually my favorite cake of all time, Chef James edged out the win with this round since his dessert was more original and creative.  Thus, according to our score, Chef James won the first DC Secret Supper battle 2-1!

We were not sure what to expect from this first Secret Supper event.  Organization seemed a little scattered at first, and the entire dinner was a bit long lasting well over 3 hours.  A few others at the table remarked that they appreciated the full size courses and the extra starters, however would have preferred a cohesive 6 course menu that flowed and progressed together, rather than a course vs. course battle.  I agree about 60%.  I found the playful competition between the two chefs to be a fun format and gave a little spin to the common tasting menu concept.

The restaurant ambience was perfect for this secret event - dark and mysterious.  However the long banquet table setup was a little awkward for serving, as we were in a tight space.  We eventually resorted to simply passing each dish down the line, which might not have been a problem for only a handful of guests, but there were over 20 sets of hands touching eat plate - germaphobes beware.

Chef James, Chef Sean, Chef Droop, Chef Nate
Image via Instagram
All in all, I was most impressed by Chef James, Chef Nate, and the Dishcrawl coordinator Qui-Juan.  They were warm and welcoming and really passionate about the dishes they prepared for this dinner, making the first DC Secret Supper a success!  Stay tuned for the next Secret Supper to come to another secret location in DC sometime in January 2014.  Check out @dishcrawldc for upcoming announcements.

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