The address arrives two days before the event with instructions: Wear black. Your password is Galileo.
I’m going to a Before and After Supper Speakeasy, an event by Bon Vivant Savant, and this month’s theme is the West African miracle berry that transforms flavors. Before dinner we’re to be treated to an exclusive showing at the Rauch Planetarium at U of L. A little more interesting than your run-of-the-mill dinner out to be sure. Oh, and I’m dining with strangers – some members of the Bon Vivant Savant club, others just curious foodies like myself.
The idea of supper speakeasies and underground restaurants has been picking up steam in recent years. I’m pretty excited that Louisville has one of our own. Each month Jo Self, Ms. Bon Vivant Savant herself, hosts a themed, multicourse dinner in a different – and unusual – location. Local chefs and mixologists (this is the term we use now, right?) join her to bring the adventurous diners multiple courses, accompanied by specially chosen cocktails. Stephen Dennison of Zs Fusion cheffed this month. Last night was my first time at one of the suppers.
I entered the lobby of Rauch Planetarium to find four tables set for eight, our names on our menus. And the menus! Ten courses, all named cleverly for our location from the Hubble Deep Field Photograph (a squid ceviche) to the Sister Suns (Lavash with curried spinach and potatoes) and Plasma, the Fourth State of Matter (Gruyere, Mozzarella and Parmesan fondue with strawberries and Hawaiian bread). After exclaiming over the menu for a while and sipping the aperitif of lemon vodka, grape vodka and club soda, we traipsed into the dome – like a field trip for grownups where drinking is allowed.
Fairly famished after the (fascinating!) show, we all fell upon the multiple dishes served family style at each table. Our goal: Try a bit of everything before taking the miracle berry, and eat it all again after. Though I passed on the meat-centered dishes like the crackling of pig ears, braised short ribs and the fried bologna, I had plenty thanks to the extra vegetarian dishes Jo brought me. It was all quite good, but we were anxious to try the berry and get started on round two.
As the servers brought out the platters with our miracle berry Jo explained the deal. This West African berry is known especially for transforming sour to sweet, but also for increasing the sweetness of any dish. Because the berry itself has a short shelf life and requires overnight shipping from Africa, we took it in tablet form. “Let it dissolve and roll it around to really coat al of your taste buds,” she instructed. We all did so, looking at each other a little sheepishly.
I tried the pickled red onions, sauerkraut and dill cucumbers first, a little skeptical. And no kidding, they were sweet! The most pronounced difference was found there. The aggressive garlic pesto became palatable (though this morning I wish I hadn’t eaten it by the spoonful!). Fruit went on sweet overdrive. More neutral dishes like pasta and bread didn’t show such a difference. The oddest part was grazing among my dishes – mushrooms to key lime pie to fondue to garlic pesto and back again, with no sense of being out of order because everything was sweet.
We finished up with iced coffee laced with fennel-infused simple syrup and Dumante (pistachio nut liqueur) then all sped home to see what we could scrounge out of our fridges to taste.
Bon Vivant Savant Supper Speakeasy
$75 includes dinner, drinks and tip
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