Did you know that some of the most innovative food can be sampled at hidden spots in private homes or office buildings?
The New York Post published an article yesterday about underground dining in New York. Underground restaurants are started by serious foodies or chefs who have joined the “Dark Side” of dining, they grew tired of the commercial restaurant scene for whatever reason and aim to offer great food at bargain-basement price. They operate under the radar out of private homes, empty lofts or rented spaces and offer distinctive menus relying mostly on word of mouth. The guests are asked to give “donations” to pay for the meals, usually around $50 per person and there is a BYOD policy. Check out http://www.killtherestaurant.com/ for more infos and secret links to some of those places.
While it is illegal to operate any kind of restaurant without a license, authorities often look the other way, health inspectors won’t do a sting unless they have received a complaint. Still, operators avoid to advertise their business knowing that too much attention could result as getting closed down. The places mentioned in the New York Post article should be thinking of moving to new digs and FAST!
The concept of the underground restaurant is quite popular in Hong Kong where they are called “Si Fang Cai” which literary means “Speakeasy”. On a recent trip to HK i was lucky to be taken to a Speakeasy food tour of the island by some local friends. Some underground Chefs really do excel and have become local stars but my most memorable experience was on the 7th floor of an office building in the Indian quarter. After entering the building and sharing a tiny elevator with six Indian gentlemen (yes memorable i said!) I was lead through long and dark hallways to a white door with a “Members Only” sign. You would never expect to find several tables filled with happy diners at such an awkward location but here it was in front of my eyes. The room was decorated with Indian artifacts, pillows and carpets and an aroma of toasted spices filled the air. I couldn’t believe all my senses! The owner, who was also the server and the cook greeted us warmly and seated us. I suspect the guy to be also a psychic as he mumbled a “trust me” instead of taking an order and quickly started placing dishes after dishes on our table all of which were perfectly on target. The food was amazing! We left the building feeling like we had just experienced a two hours transcendental journey through India…except for the belly dancers.
Part of the thrill of underground dining is the Hipness factor of course and the “dangerous” part of the experience. But i like the whole rebellious idea behind it, it is quite exciting both for creative chefs who want to show off their skills and diners seeking a unique experience. So as far as i’m concerned… Long Live the underground restaurant!