Monday, March 16, 2009

Would You Try This?

There's this new alt-experience happening in Toronto: underground dining.

Apparently - and I learned about this first from BlogTO which, while fun and informative, is not exactly subversive - hip, happening peeps are supper clubbing in secret locations (!) all over the town.

The gist is that you email "private" organizers (who work with a chef), make plans, are notified of the address to your intimate event, attend, enjoy and pay. It's like a restaurant only it's not. And by this I mean, there isn't really the same quality accountability, one imagines. Not to mention it's vaguely illegal re: licensing and food prep. Not that I'm all fussed about that. I mean I do eat in holes-in-the-wall in chinatown occasionally. (OK, I never do but I'm making the point that I'm not all fussy about it.)

(OK, I'm totally fussy about it but I'm trying to sound all urban and reasonable.)

Blog TO refers specifically to two such organizations: one of which looks pretty pedestrian (same place, same time, same folks, same food) while the other is for serious food people i.e. you have to fill out a survey and make the cut before you are invited to attend.

When speaking with my mother about this, she advised that they have a similar scene in Italy. Apparently, reputable hotels will set you up with a host who treats you to the real experience of Italian eating, homestyle. You can do it alone or with other couples you don't know. It costs about 40 euros a person.

I'd love to be a part of a fee-free culinary network in which someone like me maintained a database of others like me - decent, hand-washing, food-loving, excellent-dessert making, ambiance-inspired, music digging, vaguely vulgar, plugged in urbanites with bite - who could pair up (maybe randomly). One would host, the other guest. Like a key party but the sex would be food and everyone would get it on en masse!

Wouldn't you love to check out some sweet house in Cabbagetown/Yorkville/High Park/Riverdale/Dufferin Grove/Queen West, meet the inhabitants, drink some wine (brought by you, natch, a good guest) and eat a completely spontaneous meal with people you've never met? At its best it could be the most terrific hook-up of your life. At its worst, a food-pushing, awkward experience you could chalk up to nerviness. Maybe guests could arrive in groups of 4 (all of whom know each other) so that, even in a worst case, there would be lively conversation.

It's kind of risky, huh? Actually subversive - if friendly. And I don't think anyone's doing that yet.

I'd actually willingly take on either side of that equation - host or guest. What do you think?


  1. Sounds like a party. Sign me up!


  2. Just thinking about it is giving me a panic attack. I totally see the appeal, but it's just not for me. If you go, though, I want ALL the details! I'll live vicariously through my brave, foodie friend.

  3. i am on the fence on this one.

    i've heard about some other restaurant somewhere on planet earth (possibly in the u.s.? the details are quite vague!) that has no lights. pitch black. it is supposed to make you enjoy the food more as you rely on your tastebuds more while you are in the dark and can't rely on eyes to show you what you are eating.

    and it is supposed to show you what it is like to be blind. humph.

  4. Sounds to me like a funny party.
    If you go give us details, please :)


  5. I remember when this kind of guerrilla dining used to happen in NYC in . . . the mid 90s(?) I think it's a great idea. Go have some fun!

  6. vaguely vulgar - I love it! sort of blush-making.

  7. My sister would love this. She loves to snoop inside other people's houses.

  8. WOW!
    Sounds great?!;D
    Can u give us more details?!
    By the way,thanks for sharing it to us..;D
    Have a nice day.

  9. We have this brilliant programme on chanel 4 called come dine with me which centres around 4 or 5 people who don't know each other and they have to entertain each other at their houses - the snopping, the food analysis and the competitiveness to win a £1000 is compelling viewing.
    PS I've bought and wrapped twiglets but have been so wrapped up in essays I've not found a moment to go to post office xx

  10. Anthony Bourdain did this when he visited Seattle. The local chefs did it as a way to 1) get around zoning and other laws 2) experiment with things you're usually not likely to see on a menu that has to appeal to a lot of people 3) serve things that might be illegal (I think the show featured sausage and cheeses that were snuck through customs. It totally made me want to find out how to go.

  11. We've done this once or twice over the years, just through word-of-mouth -- I prefer almost no degrees-of-separation -- someone needs to vouch for the cook's integrity.
    I've lost the link, but I know you can do this through a mediating/vetting organization in Paris, so that you go to someone's home and get to meet "vrai Parisiens"!
    on this topic, have you read Timothy Taylor's Stanley Park? a fun novel for a foodie, set in Vanc'r, it illustrates some of the excitements and hazards of subversive chefs. . .

  12. I'd love to attend, as long as I wasn't required to host. I recently turned my oven on for the first time since I've lived in this house (7 months). I love to eat good food, but cook it, not so much. And peeking in other people's houses is always fun.

  13. I love meeting strangers, but it's easier to just go to open houses on the weekend to do some snooping... sometimes I get lazy and having to be witty and charming makes me tired.

    Want to go to some open houses on Saturday?

  14. Drollgirl the dark restaurant is called Dans le loir. I don't think I could eat in the dark without making a total mess. Probably best to wear black.

    I am also kind of scared of this food-key eating party idea. But, if you do try it please tell us all about it.

  15. I love the idea of underground dining! ...and would totally do it.

  16. D.: Ah, an adventurer after my own heart!

    Sal: What freaks you out? The idea that the food might be bad? Or that it might be "off"?

    droll: They have that dark restaurant in Montreal - at least they did a couple of years ago. Gotta say, there is absolutely no appeal for me in eating in the dark.

    Seeker: You know I will!

    Miss C: Did you partake in the 90s? I'm seriously considering the more "foodie" option (hate that term). Not so much the one that seems mainstream. Cuz if you're going to go underground, I say, dig deep!

    Tessa: I try :-)

    Wendy: Secretly, I'm as interested in the snooping as the food.

    Solo: Gotta wait till I try it and I'll keep you posted.

    CC: Why doesn't this surprise me? :-)

    Kate: I've never heard of that show but it sounds fantastic. I want on! And please don't worry about the Twiglets. I'm sorry I suggested it at such a busy time. Whenever you can send them, I will be so grateful. Let me know what I can send you from TO!

    Ambika: Eeek. I love Anthony. I loved Kitchen Confidential! I love unpasteurized cheese!

    mater: You are our role model here. Love that you've tried it - and more than once. I haven't read Stanley Park but I must go out and get it. Sounds like just my thing. Thanks.

    Janet: I hear you. Maybe you'd prefer to do the home restaurant model (with real chef) rather than my version where regular people host, then guest. I can appreciate that.

    T: I used to go to open houses like a vulture! Then someone told me it was disrespectful if I wasn't really looking to buy. Hell, I'm always looking for a good bargain :-) Really. And I would love to. Still trying to work out the weekend schedule but I will email soon...

    Bel: They have one in California too? What am I saying? It was probably invented there! I will def keep you posted. Still trying to convince my posse.

    Maegan: You would be the most fun guest! You could regale them with stories of Goddess. And go under the code name Isis!

    Jill: I have an adjunct version of this food scenario - bloggers invite other bloggers for dinner. All you have to do is get to TO and dinner will await you!

  17. I've heard about this sort of dining happening in Hong Kong. I remember reading about it in some sort of guidebook a few years ago.

    drollgirl: There was an episode of CSI based on dining in the dark!

  18. Disrespectful to whom exactly? That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard....

    I disagree and will continue to snoop and judge people's homes. I'm a giver that way.


  19. Sal's comment has me ROTFL..can't say I'm a fan of all this subversive dining and the eating in the dark thing (which I saw on Nip/Tuck) makes me think that diners are doing more than eating...not around my pineapple ham steaks...perverts!

  20. The idea sounds cool to me.

  21. Y: Doesn't surprise me that they'd be on the fast track in HK...

    Dr. M: You are just the kind of person who would make this experience fun!

    T: Apparently to the process of real estate purchase. It's louche to look in houses you don't intend to buy (just relating the message - does not express my views). I'm a giver on that front too.

    Mattie: You so know people have their hands on something other than the dinner rolls...

    E: Doesn't it? You, Monkey and I could host a party...