From the silence around here, you might think that underground is where I have been for the last six months, but it's really only my blogging inspiration that's been MIA. The rest of me has been healthy and well, getting settled into a new job and doing plenty of summer traveling and cooking... and eating!
Eating was definitely in mind when I signed up for a dinner last Saturday with One Night Stand - Zurich's first underground supper club. Supper clubs began appearing a few years ago in cities like San Francisco and New York, and have since spread around the world. One Night Stand was started by Mike Goguen, a good friend of mine and the owner and chef at Melt Catering, with the help of his wife Nicolette. "I wanted to start something spontaneous and creative in Zurich where people could have a chance to meet new people and try different and creative food in an interesting location," Mike explains.
Supper clubs are often run by cooks who work out of their home kitchens and don't have official licenses to sell food to the public - thus the necessity of remaining "underground." As a trained chef, Mike has all the necessary credentials, but keeping the element of surprise and secrecy is part of the appeal. The only way to find out about upcoming One Night Stand dinners is to join the Facebook group or by word-of-mouth. The menu is not revealed ahead of time (though you can mention dietary requirements when you reserve), and the location and directions only emailed out a few hours before the dinner begins.
Mike has made good on the promise of interesting locations and creative food. Previous events have included an "eclectic Californian" night and a cocktail evening with a professional mixologist, and there is often more to dinner than just dinner. In April, when One Night Stand was held at artist Michelle Bird's studio, we ate surrounded by easels, brushes, and half-finished paintings. After dessert, Michelle gave a painting demonstration accompanied by her husband Stefan on the hang - a type of steel hand drum invented here in Switzerland.
At a restaurant, you usually already know who will be at your table, but supper clubs are different - getting to know your 20 or so fellow diners is another part of what makes the evening so much fun. When Matt and I arrived at Blumen am Stauffacher, a tiny flower store in the heart of Zurich, everyone was already chatting over crab cakes and champagne and exclaiming over the beautiful tables that Petra Faller, the owner, had created for us.
In addition to colorful flowers and candles in the center of the tables, place settings were adorned with their own miniature arrangements, each one unique and special. The many vases of blooms and greenery, and a riotously colorful wall of orchids and butterflies, only added to the elegant atmosphere. Petra explained to us that she loves color and does not sell white flowers, except for one special all-white week in January to "cleanse" the store for the new year. I love to linger in flower shops - small oases of beauty that leave me feeling refreshed - so it was a real treat to be allowed to spend a whole evening in one.
Swiss/Canadian sommelier Christian poured the first wine of the evening as we took our places - a Laurenz V Singing Grüner Veltliner from Austria that went beautifully with the chilled melon soup starter. By day, Christian is a teacher at Marathon Sprachen, a language school geared towards professionals in Zurich. Off the clock, he puts his great passion for wine into practice by partnering with Mike and organizing other gourmet events in Zurich.
After the melon soup came a spinach salad with fresh figs and crispy pancetta, followed by delicately seared tuna slices with a macadamia-nut crust. The tuna just melted in my mouth and was accompanied by a papaya salsa that was the perfect acidic counterpoint to the silky fish.
In keeping with our surroundings, Mike carried the flower theme through to his menu, decorating each dish with edible flowers or even incorporating them into the food itself. The main course of ricotta and beetroot ravioli was accompanied by stuffed fresh zucchini flowers, while dessert proved to be a heavenly duo of white chocolate-lavender crème brûlée and orange-orange blossom sorbet, with a sweet white port to drink. Mike's cooking style and tastes are right up my alley - there wasn't a single dish the whole evening that I didn't love!
Great food often leads to great conversation, and I had the pleasure of getting to know a number of interesting people at my table. I quickly discovered that Leeanne, a 28-year old Californian who moved to Switzerland a year ago for work, was just as excited to rattle on about cooking and chefs and restaurants as I was. Down the table, Matt chatted with a woman who turned out to be on the board of trustees at our school, and Petra told us all about what it's like to own a flower shop in downtown Zurich.
As the evening wound down and we finished our last glasses of wine, Petra urged us to take our little table decorations home with us and invited us to come back anytime we needed an especially colorful bouquet or flower arrangement. On Monday morning, our special dinner location would be back to being the corner flower store, and the next One Night Stand would already be in the works...