the fate of vagabond
never before have i had to apply to eat dinner. i may have had to secure a reservation, but reservations aren’t based on merit or writing ability.
to join the email list of gypsy dinners, seattle’s most prominent underground dinner group (an oxymoron?), you must first fill out an application. you must describe your most amazing food experience. and you must assure them that you don’t work for the health department.
i’ve long been a sucker for underground dinners. i feel like i’m in the know and i love the social aspect, being united with strangers by a meal. and because they’re “underground”, as in unlicensed, un-examined by the health department, these dinners tend to be untraditional in other ways; by making you eat family style, sit on the floor, or by offering unusual food.
the culinary communion is a house on beacon hill. though a family (that of gabriel claycamp, the mastermind behind gypsy dinners) does live there, it also contains a more impressive and expansive open kitchen than many restaurants. wine coolers line the walls and long tables fill an open, but comfortable room. while gypsy dinners rove from host home to host home (presumably making them more secretive), younger sibling vagabond, a more casual underground dinner, happens here, nearly weekly.
and so it’s hard not to wonder. how can such a clearly expensive set up pay it’s way if it’s such a challenge to come to dinner? well, it’s really not. open up the right issue of seattle magazine and find out everything you need to know. ask google and you’ll find the explicative website.
this assures that most dinners fill up and bills are paid; it also makes the less underground.
our friend jj johnson was the guest chef this vagabond monday, with a menu titled “ode to a northwest spring”. cute considering it had snowed the week before.
we ate homemade potato bread with perfect butter. spring greens were slightly wilted and combined with fennel pollen-covered goat cheese for a satisfying salad, but gabriel’s homemade bacon, tossed with the greens, stole the show (he was the guy in seattle weekly a few issues ago who helped butcher the pig – this bacon was from that pig). thickly cut, it had just enough melt-in-your-mouth fat to balance the hearty, maple-y meat.
the main course was baked alaskan halibut, with duck fat confited fingerling potatos and saffron-vanilla beurre blanc (poured tableside by jj himself). everything was fresh, clean, and springlike, and the meal was just $55 including wine.
wine is whatever shows up on your table, generally a very worldly selection, and the same plate and cutlery last you all meal. excepting dessert, all courses arrived on large platters, to be shared among the four people sitting closest to you. this forces you to converse with these people, whoever they may be, and almost guarantees a new friend or two before the night is over. the food is eventually gone, but this stays, and i can’t help but think that this is the true draw of these dinners.
it was only days later though, that i got an email from the gypsy chefs. i knew it was bad when i read the subject, ‘please read. we have been betrayed. the end.’ the email was short, sad, and direct. though the specific betrayal wasn’t elaborated on, the letter said that the dinners were going “much deeper underground” and that all dinners were cancelled for the moment.
this isn’t the end of gypsy and it’s not shocking that it happened. but it’s disenchanting and limits our quirky dining possibilities just a bit more.