If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice that I have been dining at “Chef’s Club Studio” a few times recently. Conducted in the private room of a gorgeously decorated restaurant called Chef’s Club, the private dinners for 16 people spotlight the cuisines of different chefs that visit every month. These “popups” last 1-2 nights with a menu that hovers around 5 courses.
I keep coming back because it’s essentially a “new” restaurant every time with refreshing menus heralding from Providence, Dallas and Austin, and Portland among others. Each dinner is a unique experience filled with people from all walks of life: food bloggers, sous chefs at Michelin restaurants, culinary magazine editors, or just civilians who aren’t in the industry but enjoy the food and the interactions that come along in sharing a meal with like-minded folks.
How I ended up at Chef’s Club is not your typical story. In early February, I was eating a delicious bahn mi as part of a food tour curated by my friend Julia. The natural light streaming from the window was a rarity since the NYC winter was dreary for months on end so I instinctively took a shot. It’s by no means an amazing shot or anything special, but somehow it garnered 523 likes when my avg is 14 likes.
While Julia was helping me analyze how and why this "avalanche of likes" happened, she saw that chefsclubny liked the photo. She clicked on that account and found out about the popups occurring in the studio. Julia, Davis, and I booked our seats for Chef Ben Sukle of the restaurant, Birch, from Providence, RI and proceeded to have one of our most memorable meals in a long time.
After checking in with the hostess, we were led past the bar, an open kitchen, and tables filled with pretty people enjoying even prettier food. A massive door cracked open and a manager, Ricardo, welcomed us into an intimate space. The tables were set up in a U shape and adorned with pine cones and tea lights.
The dishes of the evening were elegantly scribbled on the chalkboard with the raw lamb and whoopie pies piquing my interest the most. We received a tasty cocktail customized for this dinner by gifted bartender, Anthony Bohlinger, who has been with CC for a year and a half. He ran the beverage program in the inaugural location in Aspen before getting involved in the opening of the NYC flagship location.
Anthony explained how the “Root Down” cocktail (Gin, Mezcal, Roasted Red Beets, Cardamom, Lemon, Celery Bitters) came to be:
"We decided to pair a cocktail with Ben's amuse involving beets. Ben gave me full freedom to come up with an interesting pairing. I chose gin for its full body and earthy characteristics. Pairing that with the beets and earth mezcal just made sense."
Sure enough it paired nicely with the potato, blood sausage and a thin crispy slice of beet on top. The other amuse of raw clams were nice and briny.
At this point, we finished mingling and began taking our seats. Introductions were made: Chef Didier Elena, Culinary Director; Jerusha Frost, Sommelier; and Ben Sukle and his team behind the counter.
The meal started off with a bang. I’ve had beef tartare before but this raw lamb with kohlrabi, olives, and coriander had a more intense gamey flavor. Incredibly soft texture while it melted on the tongue. If I had to do a TTT (Ten Times Test), I’d choose lamb tartare 9x and beef tartare 1x.
In the next dish, the squid looked and tasted like chewy noodles. The mushrooms added a hint of earthiness and the citrus helped round out the dish. The sauce was light and fragrant.
The next dish looked like a cocoon but with thinly sliced turnips instead of tightly woven silk. The combination of dried shellfish and caramelized parsnip made for a savory one two combo.
At this point, Davis made a thoughtful observation. A typical tasting menu usually begins with light amuses and builds in intensity as vegetables march toward proteins. But here we had the opposite: Proteins gave way to vegetables while flavor intensity decreased.
Celeriac is such a versatile vegetable. At Jose Ramirez’s Semilla, they were pulled into thin pasta. I’ve also had it as a puree (think mashed potatoes but probably healthier) and tonight, the roasted celeriac were covered by a bright green parsley puree that tasted so fresh, you’d think they just harvested the vegetables from a garden outside. This balanced dish could have easily appeared on Noma’s menu, a nod to the time he spent staging at the vegetable-centric restaurant.
The barbecued cabbage was special. You could still smell the smoke as the dish was set on the table. It reminded me of the first time I had the grilled romaine salad at Mile End. I remember seeing Eli taking the romaine and putting it in a hot pan. The smoke and sizzle looked like an unnecessary gimmick but I was soon floored by the delicious smoky flavor it imparted.
Taking a bite of Sukle’s barbecued cabbage brought back that delightful memory. Flanked by charred edges and juicy flesh within, this cabbage made me a firm believer that most vegetables should be grilled as much as possible.
Instead of settling for the traditional chunks of cheese on the ubiquitous charcoal rectangle plate, Sukle paired the cheese with tarty quince and crunchy turnip. Shaved on top was a tussle of truffle for good measure. In terms of texture, it reminded me of cooled down nachos, the plasticky cheese lazily clinging to the crunchy tortilla chips underneath.
The menu then moved into desserts. The caramelized whey is probably one of the best desserts I have had. Light as a cumulus cloud and quivering like Jigglypuff at the slightest touch, the whey had just a hint of sweetness while the raspberry and the rose preserves gave some nice floral tartness.
Davis, Julia and I kept scraping at the plate until the server had to forcibly take it from us. We thought we were making it easier on the dishwashers.
Next, we rushed over to the counter to watch the chefs make our last course - Whoopie Pies! They laid out the half dollar-sized discs of chocolate cake and began piping the cream filling and then delicately placing the chocolate disc carefully on top with a slight squeeze.
The only thing I could compare this to in my food memory bank was the box of Oatmeal Cream pies I devoured after school.
Airy and not overly sweet, these bite-size pies were the perfect finish to my first but certainly not the last Chef’s Club Studio experience. Thanks Ben Sukle for the memorable meal and Chef's Club Studio for hosting!
Menu: Loved the reverse progression of starting with meat and then finishing with vegetables. Top notch ingredients in flavorful, creative compositions. Will try to visit his restaurant on a future road trip. Liked how he explained the ideas behind his dishes. Every dish was solid - I didn't have one bad dish
People: We sat next to strangers but everyone was really friendly and chatty. We met Paul Gerben who is a talented mixed media artist that has sold art to musicians and celebs. We met Aaron who runs Chef Club's social media and has the envious responsibility of traveling and trying out new restaurants in order to bring the chefs to the Studio for future popups....if you ever need a second opinion...I can clear my schedule. Also his lovely wife Diana and friend Chris who both worked at Mile End in Brooklyn. I used to go there on wknds to get the Breakfast Burger and poutine when I lived on Livingston. Bumped into Kate Krader, who still remembered our first hilarious meeting. All in all, met some great people who bonded over the love of food - the universal language.
Reservations: Limited seats sell out quickly. To get yours, call 212-941-1100 and ask to book a seat for the Studio dinner. Upcoming dinners are listed on their website.
“ROOTDOWN” by Anthony Bohlinger
2 oz Fords Gin
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Cardamom Syrup
1oz roasted red beets (Beets were marinated in EVO, thyme, black pepper, roasted at 375F for 20 minutes.)
Thyme salt (1 cup of Maldon salt with 10 thyme sprigs, pull the leaves of the sprig and with a mortar and pestle grindaway. Let dry and sift away thyme from salt.)
1 organic egg white
Mezcal rinse on the glass
Directions: In a large tin, muddle 2 slices of roasted beets, add lemon, cardamom syrup, gin, egg white. Dry shake, then add ice and shake for another 10 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled tulip glass rinsed with mescal. Garnish with black pepper and thyme sprig. Cheers!
CHEF'S CLUB NEW YORK
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