This concept was not new to me. My ilk and I have been discussing doing something like this for years. I did my homework, finding that there were about three of these groups in Austin. I sought one out, the Supper Underground, joined the mailing list, and waited. I was unable to attend the September and October meals, and entered the lottery for the November dinner upon my return from London. To do this, you must reply to the invitation within the allotted time period, and be lucky enough to win a seat.
Of over one hundred and fifty entries, thirty people were selected, including one Bearded Weirdo. The undisclosed location for the event ended up being about five blocks from my house, which was convenient for me, and gave me time to clean up from the brunch I had hosted that morning. I was excited. I didn't know what to expect, who would be there, what we'd be dining on; I was outside of my massive comfort zone. As someone who has lived in and around Austin for most of my life, I have a hard time going anywhere (really) without running into people that I know, or that recognize me, so it's nice to find yourself in a posh North University home, surrounded by complete strangers. I ate dinner with an ad guy, two women who were really, really excited to be there, and the head of Travis County's Democratic Party. It was interesting. There I was, this produce guy, which in this circle was found to be more interesting than someone in politics?! Food-people.
There were appetizers set out when I arrived, and wine was flowing freely. I was hesitant to take pictures for some reason, and there was a guy who was there to do just that, so there won't be any in this post (you can view the offish photos here). The appetizers consisted of little pieces of toast, some with an olive tapenade, others with some sort of livery patè. I was actually feeling somewhat shy, so I drank some wine, and wandered around the nicely decorated house-turned-restaurant-for-the-night. A glass in, and I was socially limber enough to approach and speak to a group of strangers. There was a nice diversity of age groups that night, which made things seem a bit more casual, than, say, everyone were blue-hairs talking about the McCain loss.
The hostess, Hannah, and her crew, were all dressed in whites, serving us wine until it was time to sit down. There was a brief introduction and welcome, and then service began. The first course was a curried apple and butternut squash soup. Butternut squash soup is almost cliche, but this was a fresh spin on this champion of fall American menus. The apples were a nice touch, lending tartness to the sweetness of the squash, which was accented wonderfully by the flavors of coriander and cumin.
Next up was the salad course. It was a simple salad, with dried cherries, stilton, pecans and a fig balsamic vinaigrette tossed with mixed greens. Nothing too fancy, but still a nice play of flavors. Stilton can be overpowering, and the cherries and the vinaigrette stood up to its intensity very well. The wine kept coming.
For the main course, we were served braised beef short ribs, over roasted garlic, spinach, mashed potatoes, and haricot vert covered in a mushroom demi glace. You could braise a boot and I'd eat it, which is not to discredit this tender and delicious short rib, but a good disclaimer about this forgiving cooking technique. Being fresh off my London romp, I found the mash to be ironic; I definitely did not think that I'd be served mash at this dinner. It was a good mash though, however, texturally, it wasn't the best foil for the tender beef. The perfectly sized green beans were nicely cooked, and provided the only textural variance in this nearly mushy course.
Coffee was served, in French Presses, just before our dessert of chocolate, peppermint mousse. Served in coffee cups, with crushed peppermint candies on top, this dessert was light and fluffy, with a delicate peppermint flavor that supported, rather than overshadowed the richness of the chocolate. Delicious. Especially with some strong coffee, and wine.
Overall, I enjoyed this meal, and would go again, if selected. I found the food to be very solid, not too adventurous, yet not boring. The service was top notch, and they seem to really have their timing down. Consistently pulling off an event like this would be difficult, but they had their act together. If you are interested in trying to attend a Supper Underground dinner, go here, and register. The meal was $65 per person for four courses, and free booze. I felt that it was worth it, if not for the food, for the experience.