(Fava Bean raviolo with spring onion and herb broth)
I told some friends in the U.S. that I was going to the Hidden Kitchen for dinner. Then came the onslaught of questions, "Hidden, what does that mean?" How do you find the secret meeting place?" and "Who do you have to know to get in?" And, the one from my paranoid auntie, "Isn't that risky?" Yes, the name suggests secrecy, illegality, and a little risk---but that's part of the fun. In reality, as Laura--one of the persons behind this supper club--said, "The kitchen's not really hidden anymore." It's immensely popular in the foodie blogosphere I made my reservation 3 months ahead, and it seems I was lucky to get in. The seats fill up fast and so does the waiting list.
There is still a wee bit of mystery involved in the dining experience. They email the address to you only a week prior to your reservation date. The email with the address, also told me to look for the red door and gave me the secret code to get in. (Okay, so all the building doors in Paris need a code.)
Braden and Laura, two Americans now living in Paris, run the Hidden Kitchen from their home. Laura told me they initially began having the dinners twice a month to meet people in Paris, but word of mouth spread quickly, and dinners are now six times a month to meet the overflow in popularity.
The entire dining experience feels more like you've been invited into an old friend's home for a party. When I arrived, I was greeted by Laura and a glass of champagne. As each guest arrived, Laura introduced us to the others, and the party started from there. The long dining table seated all 12 of us and was swathed in ivory linens and candles. At the table, I sat across from a couple from England and next to another couple who have a restaurant in Manhattan Beach. By the end of the night, we felt like old friends. The chatter around the table was warm and animated, so much so, that when Braden came in to introduce each dish one of the guests would cling his glass to quiet everyone down.
Dinner is a 10-course medley of seasonal fare, and 7 of the courses are paired with wine. Braden is in charge of the food, and he comes out at the start of each course to explain the dish and answer any questions. When asked how he plans the menu, he said he looks at what's in season, starts with the vegetables and matches proteins to the vegetables, then goes from there to add the final touches and sauces. Laura is in charge of wine pairing and desserts. She gives information on the wine that's paired with the courses. The wines were well-paired with each dish. All dishes are a blend of French and American flavors, leaning a little more heavily on American flavors; these included grits, red pepper flakes, a buttermilk cake and even a Rice Krispie treat. Plating was executed exquisitely, with perfect attention to detail.
At the end of dinner, even the dog Tatie came out to join us. Braden and Laura sent everyone out the door with a French two-cheek kiss, just like you would with friends, expecting to see them again soon.
I was having such a good time talking with my table mates, plus the glasses of wine, that some of my notes are illegible and other parts nonexistent. But, I'll do my best to describe the menu to you.
Amuse Bouche -- A little bite of "enjoyment to the mouth"
2nd Course -- Fava bean raviolo with spring onion in a herb broth -- the flavors of spring in one raviolo.
3rd Course -- Poached egg with chilled white asparagus and a parmigiano mornay sauce -- This was one of my favorite dishes. The egg looked like a beggars purse sitting atop the white asparagus. The mornay sauce added a richness and the grated pepper added a nice touch of heat.
4rd Course -- Seared salmon with rhubarb lime sauce and kohlrabi slaw -- Also one of my favorite dishes of the night. The rhubarb and lime sauce was sweet, but not too sweet, and went very well with the salmon.
5th Course -- Pan fried mackerel with glazed fennel barley and preserved lemon chutney
6th Course -- The palate cleanser was their take on a Mint Julip -- It was a bourbon gelee with sorbet and mint.
7th Course -- Herb stuffed pork roulade with cheddar grits and green pepper relish with a Pernod cream sauce -- This was beautifully plated and all the flavors blended well together. I really liked the grits and the onion ring addition.
8th Course -- "White Salad" -- This is a little fuzzy (red wine always does that to me) -- It was a vegetable....pretty sure it was cucumber with parmesan cheese.
9th Course -- Buttermilk cake with strawberry tarragon sorbet -- rich cake with a tangy sorbet
10th Course -- Petits Fours -- we had four of them -- one was a rice krispie treat, the other pate aux fruits (gelled fruit square), a chocolate truffle with chocolate and cardamon, and a soft caramel -- all of them were little bites of heaven--especially the soft caramel.
It's a dinner that starts with a welcome and champagne and ends with scrumptious petit fours and lasting memories, and even some new friends along the way. I will definitely return the next time I'm in Paris.
There are no secret codes, and you don't need to "know" someone to get a reservation. You just need to make the reservation well in advance. The cost was 80 euros for the meal and wine. You can contact Braden and Laura at www.hkmenus.com