Underground supper clubs. Secretive, exclusive privileges granted only to those who are lucky enough to know somebody who knows somebody, or to those diligent food-obsessed detectives whose persistence will eventually pay off in the form of an invitation to an incognito world of food and wine. It may take you to a warehouse or lead you into a private mansion, sometimes even through the attic of a furniture factory (I have done all three)- but at the end of the road there is always a special meal, one that will never repeat itself except in the memories of those who experience it. New to the world of LA supper clubs is Rogue Upstairs, with its very first dinner featuring a wonderful collaboration of Momofuku alums.
The dinner was set in a beautiful apartment upstairs from Silverlake’s Intelligentsia, where attendees were welcomed with champagne and canapés to a breathtaking balcony view of the hip neighborhood. The real charm of the space, however, was inside, a home turned art gallery where each piece of art had a story that the host, Stella Café owner Gareth Kantner, was more than happy to share- mostly of starving artists whom he discovered, sculptures that he commissioned or acquisitions made during his extensive travels. He has exceptional taste in art- this man who seems to know everybody in LA, and whom everybody in LA seems to know- and as we were about to see, an extraordinary gift for throwing an amazing dinner party.
The first guest chef to start off the Rogue Upstairs series was Chef Tien Ho, Vietnamese born and Houston raised chef who, after working as sous chef for Café Boulud, quickly rose to Momofuku fame. He ran the kitchen at Momofuku Ssäm Bar for 4 years before opening Momofuku Má Pêche where his modern interpretation of Beef 7 Ways (Bò 7 món) broke new ground in contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. Having just left his position at Má Pêche, Rogue Upstairs was graced with his presence and his food for 2 special nights in collaboration with another Momofuku alum, former GM and beverage director Cory Lane who oversaw the wine pairings.
Generous heaps of succulent Santa Barbara uni topped with diced peaches and scallion slivers made for a most phenomenal amuse, paired with 2007 Domaine Rolet Crémant du Jura sparkling wine. There were multiple servings for all 14 guests who swooned and swirled with every sweet spoonful.
Warm canapés of chicken liver toast topped with pickled daikon, pickled carrots, cilantro and red chile sauce were the best rendition of bánh mì in a bite, the tangy acidity of the vegetables working well with the luscious liver pâté.
Part of the charm of underground supper clubs is to meet interesting people and make new friends through a common love of food and wine, and this predominantly Silverlake and Los Feliz crowd was no exception. There were photographers, dancers and yoga instructors at the table, of all nationalities and backgrounds, all enjoying Chef Ho’s special meal and free flowing glasses of wine to a backdrop of contemporary art.
There were bottomless bowls of crispy shrimp chips and deep fried black sesame chips, light airy crackers of rice and tapioca flour that were augmented with Chef Ho’s special cashew butter- a nutty spread of toasted cashews infused with the most subtle hint of fish sauce and garlic that made it simply irresistible.
Cucumbers, diced pears and little black dragon fruit seeds added delightful crunchy textures and subtle sweet nuances to the tender scallop crudo, a plate of elegant flavors but for a bold spike of vibrant Kaffir lime oil drizzled with restraint. The wine pairing with a 2007 Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett, a beautiful Riesling with bright citrus notes, was particularly fantastic and memorable.
Roasted Prawns/Spinach/Chanterelle/Sauce Choron
The meatiest of roasted prawns, its taut flesh bursting with juicy sweetness, sat atop a bed of sautéed chanterelles and spinach, brought together with a creamy and pleasantly acidic Choron sauce and paired with a 2010 Matthiasson Sauvignon Blanc/Ribolla Gialla blend from Napa Valley. Simple and classic, yet superbly executed and incredibly delicious, this was the dish that amplified the crowd’s level of excitement to a festive frenzy.
There was comfort and love in the bouncy rice noodles curled into garganelli, chewy little tubes of pasta tossed in a bowl of ground lemongrass chicken, Chinese broccoli and crispy fried shallots. It was a long time Má Pêche classic that many of us Angelenos were happy to experience for the first time, a satisfying plate of heart and soul paired with a 2010 Scholium Project La Severita di Bruto Sauvignon Blanc.
A majestic tower of eggplant caponata and tomato Thai basil bruschetta stood tall behind two seemingly innocent beef medallions, which upon close inspection revealed themselves as cuts of hanger steak molded with meat glue. It was a clever disguise, one that would have easily gone unnoticed if not for the chef’s confession, but one which we would promptly appreciate after the first bite into the most tender and flavorful piece of meat. The meat course was paired with a bottle of 2009 Frith Grenache from Napa Valley, a personal wine project of Cory Lane’s that showed tremendous potential.
Velvety cinnamon gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York was served with wedges of oatmeal crumble and plump grapes sautéed in butter, honey and rosemary, the refreshing notes of rosemary filling our palates with each successive bite. There were endless refills of cinnamon gelato for the table along with generous pours of 2007 Rieussec Sauternes to conclude the meal.
With amazing food from a celebrated and loved chef, unique wines to explore and a beautiful venue in a hidden location that added to the mystery and allure, the first dinner at Rogue Upstairs had all the makings of a successful underground supper club, but there was so much more to this one. There was a genuine joie de vivre shared by all who entered through the door, a contagious spirit emanating from the Rogue Upstairs hosts who treated newcomers with as much familiarity and love as their close friends. By the end of the dessert course the crowd had tripled and the music amped, and it had become a hub of wine, conversation and even more food- a home away from home. Keep your antennae raised for news on Chef Tien Ho’s upcoming ventures and future Rogue Upstairs dinners. Come for the food and stay for the fun.
Random trivia: Did you know that a hanger steak is a cut from the diaphragm of a steer? The diaphragm is one large muscle, cut into two parts- the hanger steak and the outside skirt steak.