Wolvesmouth (Underground dinner)
Address? Unknown. Menu? Unknown. Guests you will be eating with? Unknown. Cost? Donation based. This is about as much information guests invited to an underground dining experience at Wolvesmouth are initially provided with.
We’re still in the beginning of 2012 and I have a lot of meals planned for this year, but I’m already making the prediction that my recent Wolvesmouth experience will definitely appear on my Top Ten Memorable Meals list.
Underground supper clubs became all the rage in 2011, but perhaps the most sought after underground dining experience in Los Angeles is Wolvesmouth, headed by Chef Craig Thorton and his team. Wolvesmouth offers about 3-4 public dinners a month and getting an invite is a lot like trying to win the lottery. A dinner consists of 16 people, but generally this means only 8 people are chosen since each person is allowed to bring one guest. If you are lucky enough to be chosen, you’ll receive an email with a physical address about 12 hours before your dinner. You’ll find out who you are dining with and what you are eating once you arrive.
I first heard accolades about Wolvesmouth over a year ago from various LA bloggers. I immediately put myself on the email list, which alerts you to the public dinners offered. I’ve been following along the various posts on both public dinners and private, including one jaw dropping 40 course private birthday meal. Again and again I put my name into the lottery pool with no results. It’s been an annual tradition that for my birthday weekend, FH and I go to Los Angeles to try out some special restaurant I’ve been dying to try. This year, I couldn’t seem to come up with anything in particular that I really wanted (other than Wolvesmouth). I ran a list of choices by my LA food adviser KungFoodPanda, but he vetoed everything I suggested, telling me it wasn’t worth my time. When I asked him what he would recommend, he replied that nothing in LA was interesting to him right now other than a dinner at Wolvesmouth. Of course that didn’t help me since I’ve already been trying for over a year.
Then, a week before my birthday, an email announced that they were doing a public dinner on the same day I had originally set aside to celebrate my birthday. Hoping for some birthday luck, I put my name in the pile again. And on a day when millions of people were learning that they did not win the Mega Lottery, I won my own personal lottery. (Actually, technically FH got the invite. I knew he was good for something ;-).)
We arrived at the designated spot at the designated time. Other guests soon began to gather and introductions were made. Then we were ushered up to the Wolvesden, a spacious loft where our dinner would be held. The dinners are considered dinner parties and I soon found out why. Once we entered, we were encouraged to mingle with the Wolvesmouth crew. We were allowed to be in the kitchen, look over the ingredients, talk to them while they prepped and cooked. You could stand right next to them at the stove if you wanted to. I had assumed that we would be watching them cook from afar, but being able to be in the kitchen with them was such an indescribable experience.
The menu consists of a single sheet of handwritten notes posted on the fridge and the public dinners are usually around 10 courses. Yes, that’s right. 10. One thing I liked was that after each course was served, they would record what time it was served, so you could see the pacing of the meal.
The Wolvesmouth crew that night consisted of six people: Chef Craig Thorton, Chef Paz, and four of their friends who simply love to cook. Chef Craig is a classically trained chef who previously worked as a private chef for a celebrity. He now does private dinners and the Wolvesmouth public underground dinner parties full time. This hardworking crew managed to churn out ten courses for 16 people in a span of just a little over 2 hours. I was thoroughly impressed. All the while, they happily chatted and answered questions, washed silverware and plates between courses, folded napkins when we got up to use the restroom, etc.
Between courses we would walk around, look at what was being plated next, drink some wine, chat with other guests, and make room for more food to come.
The experience in itself was already surreal and memorable. But there was still the food. Each meal offered at Wolvesmouth varies, with entrees rarely repeated on the menus. Guests basically are eating whatever Chef Craig is into at the moment.
Here’s the BYOB table, where everyone was encouraged to bring drinks for sharing:
Chef Craig told us that he really enjoys concentrating on various components of a dish and how they interplay with each other. He also really likes different textures, especially adding a crunch. Throughout the dinner, we saw this again and again. Flavors and combinations I’ve never seen before and I’ll probably never experience again.
pork belly, rice paper, snap pea, wasabi pea, pea tendril, pork jus, black sesame rhubarb vinaigrette
This was a bold way to start the meal, but it was explained that they wanted to start with something strong so that it would immediately open our palate and we could enjoy such a heavy dish on an empty stomach rather than later in the meal.
One bite in, and most people at the dinner table had the same collective thought “How do I get myself invited to another one of these dinners?”
The surface of the dish consisted of pea tendril, wasabi peas, black sesame rhubarb vinaigrette and crisp snap peas which tasted as fresh and crunchy as they looked. The snap peas are handpicked from the ground by Chef Craig who goes to several sources when shopping for his meal ingredients.
Then there was a layer of rice paper, which was supposed to be cut up and eaten with everything else, adding an interesting texture. At the bottom of the dish lay a very thick fatty slice of pork belly, which was absolutely heavenly.
This dish was definitely an eye opener and one of my favorites of the evening.
fried green tomato, crab, green strawberry, crystal
This was such a playful dish and I can finally say I’ve eaten a fried green tomato. A few guests looked at the unripened green strawberries with caution, but ended up being fans. The unripened strawberries added some acidic flavor to the dish without being too tart for the palate. The crystal sauce was a hot sauce similar to that served with buffalo wings.
black cod, celery root tartar sauce, hooks cheddar fritter, clam
Chef Craig likes to work with seasonal ingredients, and cod was fresh and available at the moment, so he made a cod fish dish. This was another one of my favorites. The standout of this dish were definitely those cheddar fritters. They would make a wonderful party snack. The moist fish was served on a bed of tangy egg salad.
asparagus, shallot, radish, almond, raisin, parm, 20 yr balsamic
After three fairly heavy dishes, guests were beginning to get full. As if he could read our minds, a much lighter course arrived.
scallop, bacon onion romaine relish, sweet potato veloute
This was also one of my favorite dishes of the night, particularly the sweet potato veloute which was so good I wanted to lick my plate clean. Throughout the night, there would be audible groans of pleasure around the table and this dish definitely garnered quite a few. I’ve always thought putting bacon with scallop usually results with the bacon overpowering the scallop flavor, but somehow Chef Craig cooked it in a way where this wasn’t the case. I could definitely taste the scallop and I could taste the richness of the bacon seeping into the sweet potato veloute.
cabbage, beet, potato, carrot top emulsion, cucumber, avocado, chicory malt soil, apple
I thought this was the prettiest dish of the night with the vibrant colors. Who would have thought that eating a vegetable medley could be so exciting. The dish consisted of vegetables and fruits in both raw and cooked forms. The biggest surprise for me were that the tiny red balls were actually apples. I’ve never seen apples so small. I loved the colors of the cabbage sauce and the carrot top emulsion.
rabbit, fig, brussels, mustard rabbit cream
The rabbit-based meatballs were so very tender and soft. This may be the first time FH has ever eaten rabbit without complaining.
goat, cabbage, potato puree, yellowfoot, black trumpet, horseradish, pickled beet stem
I think maybe because this was the last savory course of the night and I was already getting quite full, but I didn’t quite enjoy this dish as much as the others and found it pretty heavy. I still enjoyed it enough to clean my plate; I just wasn’t head over heels like with the other entrees. Also I couldn’t really taste that it was goat.
chocolate genoise, butterscotch, butterscotch mousse, whiskey, banana, freeze dried banana
My favorite part was the butterscotch mousse.
buttermilk panna cotta, citrus, blueberry, berry meringue, vanilla shortbread
After the first dessert, I felt ready to burst and didn’t think I could swallow another bite. Then this beautiful finale arrived. The berry meringues are what is giving the pretty pink color. I finished my plate before most people were even half done with theirs. So much for being too full. And I don’t even usually like meringue.
After the meal we were given red envelopes where we could anonymously place donations and gratuities for the meal.
16 strangers come together for an unforgettable dinner experience. . .
It almost sounds like a premise for a movie. And that’s pretty much how I felt for the most part.
If you don’t mind making the drive to LA, I highly recommend getting your name on the email list and trying to get a spot at one of these dinners. If you simply can’t wait, you can always arrange a private dinner which has a set fee. Several people asked me after if I would do it again. Yes. In a heartbeat. I feel so extremely lucky to have experienced this once and hope that I will again someday.