Back in March of this year, Danielle and I found ourselves in matching outfits, drinking tequila in a bar in Station North at 2am on a Monday. Just like you, we were wondering…how did this happen? Like so many great mysteries, it started with an invitation to a secret club. Even better, a secret foodie club; Underground Kitchen had invited us to attend its maiden voyage to Baltimore.
Founded in Richmond, Va., Underground Kitchen (UGK) is an ultra luxurious, pop-up style, dinner club that gives off an air of “secret society.” Everyone is welcome to register for an invitation to the event, however tickets are extremely limited (25-40) and typically sell out within minutes. Disclosing the details of each individual dinner only in the 11th hour, UGK features top chefs in unconventional locations, deviating from the idea of a traditional dinner party and pushing the boundaries of culinary creativity. From their press release, “Dinners are based on themes in keeping with the season or the chef’s culinary direction, with theming woven throughout the atmosphere…Previous pop-up locales including art studios, cultural centers, historic homes, warehouses, urban squares, and farms.”
Danielle and I were told the date and theme of March’s dinner and nothing more. We were given the location two days before the event. It wasn’t until we showed up at 6:30p for cocktails at the historic 1840’s Ballroom off of Front St. in downtown Baltimore, that we were privy to the menu and name of the chef. The theme of the evening was Spring Fling, coupled with Executive Chef of Heart & Table, Tim Delling’s personal theme, In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb. (Sidenote: it was this Spring theme that lead to Danielle and I both wearing the same floral shirt in different colors to the event. *insert Miranda Priestly quote about florals for spring* )
Cocktail hour kicked off with a fabulous rosé and mingling with other attendees. Approximately, a half hour later, CEO of UGK, Micheal Sparks, took the floor to welcome us, say a few words about the evening and encourage us all to sit next to someone we did not know in order to enhance the magic and mystery of the evening. Micheal also explained that each quarter, UGK partners with a nonprofit to receive partial proceeds from the events. This particular evening supported the Carol Adams Foundation which works to provide emergency assistance to women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
The Real Reason You are Reading This (Food Pics)
An Underground Kitchen dinner ranges from five to seven courses, each paired with a glass of wine (bless). Chef Tim Delling prepared a five course meal for us, plus a palate cleanser between courses three and four. The first course, burrata and crostini with dandelion greens (In Like a Lion), was delicate and full of flavor, with raisins adding bursts of sweetness to an otherwise savory dish. The crostini was a tad chewy, but despite this, it was my favorite course of the evening.
Impeccable steak with crisp and fresh asparagus (I’m normally not a big fan of this vegetable but could have eaten a whole plate) served over pickled smashed potatoes followed the crostini. What we thought was goat cheese, turned out to be powdered butter, which held up better and looked much more refined than regular butter as a part of the plating.
Cured salmon made for an unexpected pairing with rhubarb, beet rounds and goat cheese (for real this time). Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to eat all of these ingredients together… that didn’t stop me though. The smokey salmon balanced well with the tart rhubarb and earthy beets making for quite the play on ‘surf n turf.’
In between the salmon and soup was what Chef Delling dubbed “Butterfly Tea ‘Snow'” which resembled a blue granita. The “snow” turned violet when an acid was introduced and all the guests had a blast squeezing lemon juice into their glasses and swirling the mixture together. (Shout out to everyone at my table and our server putting up with me as I fought to get the perfect boomerang of this chemistry at work.) This kind of food performance art, coupled with the intimate setting, really separated UGK’s dining experience from any other dinner club or high-end restaurant (pop up or no) I have attended in the past.
A small confession: my notes on the final courses became shorter and shorter as the evening progressed, and more significantly, the wine kept flowing. I simply wrote ‘sea salt’ and ‘cool’ about the chilled pea soup, but I can assure you it was both of those things in addition to being light and delicious. The final course was a most inventive take on dessert, given that it wasn’t sweet at all. Cleverly resembling a biscuit and cup of coffee, the lamb jus in a mug with a cheesy, herb biscotti was Delling’s cheeky and savory sign-off to the meal (Out Like a Lamb).
Oh, and the bit in the beginning? About the tequila at 2am? I confess it was a hook to pull you in, but it all happened too. Taking Micheal’s words to heart, we got chummy over the meal with the folks seated at our table. In fact we enjoyed the camaraderie and conversation so much, that we decided to venture out together afterwards to continue the evening….hence the bar in Station North.
We have to thank UGK not only for the foodie’s paradise they’ve created, but for the engaging and stimulating atmosphere they have provided. As a person who leans more towards being Type A than Type B it was actually refreshing to walk into the unknown and allow a situation to surprise me. You can catch Danielle and myself at Underground Kitchen’s return to Baltimore on Monday, May 22nd. We don’t know what to expect from UGK this time around… but then again, that’s the point.
To register for the Underground Kitchen invitation list click here or try your luck with a ticket purchase here. There is a two ticket limit for members and pricing includes the meal, wine (a different one for every course. every. course.) and gratuity.