One of my favorite things about dining is the shared experience of passing plates and swapping stories with an interesting group of people. As a kid, dinner was the one time of day my family was all in the same place at the same time. It was an opportunity to get caught up and discuss pressing issues, while ideally staying out of trouble for not eating my vegetables. I don't think I could get into any trouble now for not eating enough of anything, except maybe the infamous banned foie gras since I can't get my hands on it.
Sure, anyone can make a reservation and dine in a restaurant, but it's the off the beaten path adventures that I crave, like in Paris when I got to have an amazing 10 course meal in someone's home with 15 strangers from around the world. I think that's half the fun - uncovering your food while you're learning about different people and their food culture. I was happy to return to LA (well, happy about a few things) to see that LA now has a thriving underground dining scene as well. I wasted no time and started my exploration back in February with an all red Valentine's Day extravaganza with Amy's Decadent Dinners.
Amy Jurist has been a caterer for 10 years in the Los Angeles area, and also does themed dinners on a bi-monthly basis. The themes caught my eye because it wasn't just like wear a funny hat meal, or we're going to make gumbo for Mardi Gras night. Amy gets more ambitious like an all chocolate dinner with a sweet taste in and on every plate, or a bacon fest where you'll find some form of pork product in your drink, salad, main and dessert. I was intrigued.
I chose the Bite Me Valentine's Dinner. The location isn't revealed until after you've paid, three days before the meal. Even when I got the address, I was still unsure of where I was going. All I knew is that we'd be heading up the windy Topanga Canyon road into the woods for dinner with a bunch of strangers.
We were slightly nervous when we arrived to find a lodge at the end of a long dark driveway, in the middle of a pitch black field. Once we walked in we were greeted with a sea of red - roses, lamps, flowers. I'm guessing this park house had never looked or smelled so good.
There was a diverse mix of people, ages, ethnicities and even attire with some looking like they were on their way to hit the Hollywood clubs to others who may have been camping for the week in Topanga just outside the door.
A French Kiss Martini was the cocktail that welcomed us with Godiva white chocolate liqueur and a hint of vodka, chambord and pineapple juice. It was probably best they ran out after one drink because I wasn't sure I could get another one of those sweet suckers down.
While we begged (unsuccessfully) for another cocktail, hold the chocolate, chambord and pineapple, we were distracted (successfully) by the beautiful passed hors d'oeuvres including polenta crusted eggplant, shrimp and pork croquettes and chicken sausage cheese blooms. All were uniquely displayed and well prepared, which I hoped was a good sign of things to come.
Eventually we all unfolded our plastic chairs and sat down to meet our neighbors and begin dinner. While we didn't have any international visitors, we did meet people who had traveled from as far away as San Diego, Temecula and N. CA.
The drinks may not have flowed so easily, but the food certainly did. There was a large salad of beets, radish, apricots, pine nuts and goat cheese to start us off.
Then we had a really nice free form cannelloni with mushrooms, onions and ricotta in a garlic cream sauce.
Light? No. Good? Yes.
Live music entertained us between courses when we weren't learning about our dining companions, which was good since there was a decent wait until our main came out, but looking at the portion sauce, I'm not sure how and where they could have cooked all that was served to us.
We had a fall off the bone port braised veal osso buck with mashed potatoes and creamy spinach. The portion size could have fed me for an entire week, and after the rich pasta, it was a lot to take in, but there was great flavor and the meat was well cooked.
Dessert was a delicious frozen espresso walnut meringue torte, served with a beautiful array of homemade chocolates, including a little gift bag for our ride back.
Best meal of my life? Nope, but a fun and different way to dine. It's like going to a friend's dinner party where you may not know everyone and may not have ordered what your hostess was serving, but you still leave feeling happy and like you had a good night.