Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fun Dining With Strangers

On my recent birthday, we decided to do something completely different. We enjoyed Dinner With Strangers, a collaboration between Please Catering (which also has a small website here) and Made in the 216. They don't seem to have a website, but their Facebook page is here. As explained on the FB page, Chef Ryan Santos selects a theme and creates a five course menu, and partner Danielle DeBoe selects approximately 24 guests from a list of people who have expressed interest, and who hopefully don't know one another (for the most part). Selected guests are notified by email, and pay in advance online. The dinner costs $30 per person and is BYOB. The theme this evening was: BBQ.

We arrived at the patio of Chartreuse, in Lakewood Ohio, at the appointed day and time. Since the host venue was a design firm (NOT a kitchen design firm) and not a restaurant - how would Chef Santos pull off the food prep? A method dear to my heart:

Kitchen Improvisation

Everyone brought a beverage of choice, and we spent some time sipping and introducing ourselves. We then took our seats around the long table (there were actually two tables, to accommodate the two levels of the patio).

Loved the Water Pitchers a/k/a GLBC Growlers

Looking around, I discovered that I actually knew a few of the attendees (well, one I had only known by reputation until this evening). 

Chef Ryan Santos Introduces the First Course

It was a perfect evening - the day had been hot and hazy, but by the time we took our seats around 7pm , the weather was pleasant, especially with a cold glass of wine in hand. Since it was my birthday, we'd brought enough to ensure a celebratory experience.

Amuse: Grilled Lemonade

The lemonade was the perfect refresher - though I honestly missed the "grilled" part - no matter.

Amuse: Fried Black Eyed Peas + Old Bay

This crunchy snack started us off with a bit of salt, texture, and a unique flavor from the Old Bay seasoning combined with the toasted legumes.

1st: Pickles: bread & butter + kool aid + dill + rosemary garlic + scape, green tomato jam, pig trotter rillettes, duck chicharron + hot sauce + black salt, cornbread crackers

Well now, that description is certainly a mouthful. I'm pleased to report that despite the presence of four different cucumber-based pickles on the plate - I loved this dish! The rilllettes and chicharron were prepared perfectly, and their richness was nicely cut by the refreshing green tomato jam.

Kool Aid Pickle

Yes - the camera does not lie! I drank the Kool Aid, so to speak, by taking a bite from this pickle. I almost wanted another. Almost. (Sorry Ryan - loved the Kool Aid treatment, but I really hate cucumber.)

2nd: Candy Onion + beet & rootbeer BBQ sauce, beet greens + char puree + jowl bacon

Another beautifully executed dish - I love jowl bacon (or guanciale), no matter how it is used, and here it  highlighted sweet grilled onion and a purree of beet greens and char, accented by a touch of root beer flavor. 

This plate was followed by an amazing Intermezzo:

White Dog Sour: Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1, lemon juice + egg white + sugar + regan's orange bitters

A bottle of the star ingredient was passed around for us to investigate, but I was too busy enjoying the cocktail to take a photo of it. While I'm not ordinarily a big fan of whiskey, I found this to be a well-crafted, balanced cocktail that did indeed refresh my palate. 

It was somewhere around this point in the dinner when Danielle asked those who had a cafeteria-style serving tray under their place to please pick it up and move themselves to another seat. She did ask, not require, that people do this, and most of them did with great merriment. And that way, we all got to meet some more strangers!

3rd: Bourbon Braised Pulled Beef Beef Cheek + Watermelon & Sour Apple Tartare, Watermelon pickle + Green Jalapeno Puree + Smoked Salt, Sweet Potato & Radish Coleslaw

Unfortunately, by the time this plate came out, we were losing the light, and I was losing my appetite because I had enjoyed the first courses so heartily!

Though this Watermelon/Apple Tartare did not hold its shape as well as was probably intended  - it succeeded in evoking a visual of its namesake, while providing crisp, refreshing flavor and mouthfeel to counterbalance the heavier beef, which was tender and redolent of the gentle bourbon treatment.

Dessert: "Peaches and cream" Mousse + Sun Tea Roll Up, Shaved Caramelized White Chocolate + Corn Coulis + Blackberry, Lemon Verbena Scented Pie Crust 

One look at this plate and I instantly regretted not saving more room for dessert. The photo does not do justice to the fresh, fresh ingredients and Ryan's artful combinations.

And so, I had great fun playing with the food of Please and the company of Danielle and the other guests she selected for my birthday dinner. If you live in or near Cleveland and this kind of surprise/eat it or leave it dining appeals to you, I suggest that you check out the Dinner With Strangers Facebook Page and get on the guest list for a future dinner!


  1. lol, how long did it take you guys to cook all that? the sun was down already when you guys had dinner?