Exclusivity Is Overrated

Underground supper clubs invite strangers to break bread together

Nabbing a seat at a popular supper club in D.C. can be tricky. Especially when there might not even be chairs. “We’ve hosted meals at people’s apartments, out on farms and picnic-style in the park,” says Danny Harris, co-founder of Feastly, an online community of local chefs and adventurous eaters that holds regular supper club meet-ups for strangers. Feastly is just one of the many alternative dining options across the District that cater to foodies with restaurant fatigue. And while underground supper rings are nothing new, the engagements are no longer exclusive to industry insiders or in-the-know urbanites. “People are seeking more dynamic food experiences,” Harris says. “Look at the 60-somethings in suits on K Street eating curry out of a food truck. Adventurous eating is not just for the hipster crowd anymore. ”We’ve rounded up four of our favorite first-come, first-served supper clubs that would love to have you over for dinner.

Feastly

Friends Danny Harris and Noah Karesh started Feastly (Eatfeastly.com) as a way for people in the District to experience authentic, home-cooked meals from around the world. “It’s sad that D.C. has embassies from almost every single country, and yet you’re not able to find food from all these countries,” Harris says. The website is a virtual buffet of dinner parties to choose from (up to four a week) hosted by notable chefs and food lovers at rotating locations across the city. Themes have included holistic eating as taught by a yoga teacher, pasta-making instruction from Grace Lichaa of the Capital Area Food Bank and viewings of food-related TED Talks served with complementary dishes. Feastly offers members a way to connect with their food, as well as with other curious diners. “Some people have 2,000 friends on Facebook and are sitting at home by themselves watching Hulu while eating takeout on their couch,” Harris laments. “The dining room table is the original social network. We’re trying to make dining dynamic again.”

Visit Eatfeastly.com and submit your email address to be added to a mailing list.

Chez le Commis

The 20-something chef behind Chez le Commis (Chezlecommis.wordpress.com) has never stepped foot inside a professional cooking class. Yet he still landed kitchen internships at D.C.’s Zaytinya, Le Chateaubriand in Paris and Noma in Copenhagen (deemed the world’s best restaurant for the past three years by Restaurant magazine). “I read … a lot,” says the UVa. grad who goes by the name of “Tom” on his website and prefers to keep his last name private from diners (until they’re asked to cut him a check, that is). His multicourse meals hosted at his Clarendon apartment rotate according to the season’s bounty (such as mackerel with green garlic, and sweetbread with summer squash), average between $40 and $50 per meal and tend to go late into the night. “The definition of a good dinner party is when everybody has such a good time they want to stay at your apartment for too long,” he says. “I sometimes have to say ‘OK, we can go to a bar now. I have to clean up eventually, guys!’”

Check the website for upcoming availability, then email chez.le.commis@gmail.com to request a date.

Seasonal Pantry

If chef Daniel O’Brien seems a bit distracted when you first meet, you’ll have to forgive him. The former Equinox sous chef and owner of Seasonal Pantry (1314½ 9th St. NW, 202-713-9866; Seasonalpantry.com) has a borderline-obsessive commitment to handmade details that takes up all his time. “I work 120 hours a week. I sleep in my office. But I do it because it’s what I love.” When he’s not simmering beef bones to make his own stock or curing duck pastrami, he’s doodling ingredients that will comprise the supper club he hosts in his 240-square-foot Logan Circle shop every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. The five-course meals range between $75 and $95 (depending if you get wine) and include tax, tip and two hours of lively conversation with up to 12 strangers. Upcoming menus include duck with cherries and Swiss chard, shrimp and crab with dirty rice and a pimento cheese salad.

Visit the website and click on “Supper Club” for weekly menus; seats are available for purchase online no more than two weeks before the dinner.

Montserrat House

Known for its album release parties and intimate art shows, Shaw’s Montserrat House (2016 9th St. NW; Montserrathouse.com) is an incubator for creatives of all types. It makes sense, then, that the cozy rowhouse hosts almost-monthly dinners — often with an international bent — prepared by established and up-and-coming chefs. “It’s a laboratory,” says Sheldon Scott, the chief marketing officer at ESL Management Group, which represents Montserrat. “We want to give chefs the opportunity to spread their wings and do something nuanced.” Past sold-out meals have included Vietnamese pho feasts for 50 and a $50 prix-fixe Sri Lankan dinner prepared by cookbook author Skiz Fernando. People leave full and satisfied, but Scott suspects they come for reasons other than physiological nourishment. “Food is only a certain percent of the dining experience. People like doing something that’s slightly different and can’t be replicated. The fact that once the meal is done it’s not coming back certainly adds to the excitement.”

Check the event calendar on the website; it gets updated sporadically with upcoming meals, which you can reserve online.

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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