Friday, February 14, 2014

So how was that cassoulet for 500, anyway?

Posted By on 02.14.14 at 12:35 PM

Menu with optional tattoo

A month ago I chronicled the process by which Sunday Dinner Club, the underground half of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, made cassoulet for 500 people for its month-long, entirely polar-vortex-appropriate series of cassoulet dinners. (You can see part one here, and part two here, and the audio version of the story is here.)

But it wasn't until last night that I could answer the main remaining question—how was it? I attended last night's dinner, a full house of 24 people in Sunday Dinner Club's space, which is laid out like an apartment and has the feel of dining in someone's dining room, even though it's attached to a commercial space.

Chef Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski and team welcome guests.
  • Michael Gebert
  • Chef Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski and team welcome guests.

Foie gras torchon on duck fat toast.

Not being a restaurant—like, uh, their actual restaurant—remains a key part of the evening's feel, beginning with chefs Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski introducing themselves and their crew, and telling the story behind cassoulet having become one of their signature events over the past nine years. It's something other than a restaurant not least because we're all here, one way or another, because of a personal connection—as Kulp explains, over a decade they've built up a mailing list of 5,500 names, every one of which has a connection to them, or to someone else who's been coming to the dinners. And many of the guests have been to the cassoulet dinners before—including the woman at our table who's become a vegetarian in the meantime, and now gets the vegetarian version, but still wouldn't miss it.

Salade niçoise.

The first two courses are deliberately small and light—a foie gras torchon and a salade niçoise deconstructed into its constituent components in jars. That's because the main course, cassoulet, is anything but either small or light.

Cassoulet by the pan.

Like a lot of long-baked things, a bit monochromatic.

Restaurant dishes are usually built around finishing with a minute under a blazing hot salamander. So the thing that really makes this experience not a restaurant experience is that the food has the deep comfiness of food that has slow-cooked for hours, soaking duck fat and the flavors of its many porky sausages and cuts into the very essence of its being. This is a soulful, preternatural meatiness—which is why Kulp confesses that from a kitchen-eating-the-leftovers point of view, they're always glad to have a vegetarian in the crowd after a few weeks of serving, and noshing on, the meaty cassoulet.

Not to mention, leftover fried chicken. And speaking of fried chicken, after having enough requests during Sunday Dinner Club events for to-go orders of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, by now they simply take orders directly in between courses—and deliver brown boxes to diners at the end of the meal.

The Elvis—chocolate mousse with peanut butter and bruleed bananas.
  • Michael Gebert
  • "The Elvis"—chocolate mousse with peanut butter and bruleed bananas

Food writer David Hammond models his new tattoo.

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