The burgeoning trend of the supper club, a fashionable and clandestine alternative to traditional Paris restaurants, has long intrigued me, and though I regretfully missed the Hidden Kitchen heyday, there are still plenty of opportunities to dine like royalty in cozy private settings, mingling with strangers and eating whatever inspired dish is put in front of you. I recently had the pleasure of attending the inaugural dinner of Crave, Paris’s newest supper club, and now I can say I’m a strong proponent of this daring dining trend.
Eric Kaufman*, Rita Chen, and Camille Lisette Glass, three young Ferrandi graduates who now intern at some of Paris’s chicest and busiest restaurants, like Frenchie and l’Astrance, recently began Crave as a way to spur their own culinary creativity and try out new recipes on adventurous and trusting diners from around the world. With just eight seats available every other Sunday at a sleek private residence in the 11th Arrondissement, Crave offers a select and lucky group of visitors the chance to try a spectacular four-course meal in an intimate and cozy setting.
As with any other Paris supper club, the essential ingredient for both chef and guest is a sense of adventure. Since you’ll be seated at a table with complete strangers and given no choice in course selection (though Crave does inquire about and respect the food allergies and general preferences of its guests), the key to enjoying this unique experience is to head in with an open mind and mingling spirit.
As we sat at a communal table and golden oldies spun on the portable record player beside the fireplace, Crave opened our Asian-inflected meal with hearty slices of country grain bread and homemade miso butter, followed by an amuse-bouche composed of delicate spots of crab, cucumber kimchi and salmon roe on a thin slice of turnip, which, with a citrusy-salty brightness, gently tapped on the doors of our culinary judgment, politely asking to be let in.
Once admitted entrance, the parade of flavor continued with a first course of transparently thin slices of fresh salmon atop a small pond of wasabi mayonnaise and ponzu vinaigrette, dotted with fried capers to round out the orchestra of flavors and add a much-needed zing of crunch to the small bites.
Our fish course, a salty mélange of sea bass, green veggies and crispy carrot crusted by a light brioche crumb, swam in a miso broth that warmed our winter hearts and bellies as the wine, conversation and meal flowed naturally. All six guests got to know each other, sharing Paris experiences and commenting on the food, which seemed to emerge perfectly timed, dish by dish, served by the sweet and accommodating Kaufman, as he, Chen and Glass constructed our thoughtful dishes in the kitchen, which never seemed to betray a single sound of stress.
Our third course was the most daring dish I’ve ever experienced: a group of flavor bites centered around a seven-hour braised pork snout. Even with my enthusiasm to try new foods, I never imagined that I would voluntarily eat pork snout, but even more difficult to imagine is how much I would enjoy it. Soft, rich and buttery, the snout was lovingly selected and carefully cooked to a luscious tenderness unimaginable unless experienced. Its savory depth was offset by shavings of Asian pear, and to its sides sat complementing bites that included lightly fried kohlrabi tater tots, king trumpet mushroom and preserved plum, not to mention a homemade black mustard to add a shimmy and shake to each relished bite.
After such an intense meat course, the palm-size bowl of lemon crémeux, olive granita and olive oil, layered together in a burst of icy freshness, was a welcome palate cleanser, erasing any memory of savory flavor and setting us up for one more, all-important course: dessert. Our dense and moist chocolate cake brought the dining adventure back to a comforting home territory, but lest you think this final dish too traditional, it was accompanied by a sprinkle of matcha powder and chili whipped cream, giving a cool bite to the well-needed, soft sweetness of the chocolate cake.
In a nutshell: Crave is the perfect unusual experience for adventurous foodies and social minglers alike who seek a delicious change from Paris restaurants.
Price check: 45 euros for four courses and two bites*.
*Update: Eric Kaufman isn’t staying with the team; Rita Chen and Camille Lisette Glass are continuing on. On Sunday, April 7, 2013, the cost for six courses was a suggested 30 euros.
For Crave inquiries/bookings, send an e-mail to [email protected]
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking tour, check out our DIY downloadable Paris tours.