Having already scored hits with his innovative, ultra-fresh cuisine and concepts at Relish in South Norwalk and Stamford’s , LeFarm chef/owner Bill Taibe is one of the pioneers of the farm-to-fork movement which has gained significant popularity in many of Fairfield County’s finest restaurants, including and in Westport.
Given the success of his newest venture, coupled with James Beard nominations, inclusions in cookbooks, and, most recently, Best Chef and Best Overall Restaurant Awards in this years' Fairfield County Readers' Poll, and an upcoming appearance at the at the Glass House in New Canaan, Taibe might have been comfortable to simply rest on his laurels.
But if you knew Bill Taibe, you’d also know that isn’t his style.
“We were doing a family meal once a month at the restaurant and (conceptual business partner) Marsha Glazer and I thought it would be a fun concept to take it on the road,” Taibe told Patch. “We felt it would be a great way to break down the walls of a restaurant, because at the end of the day it’s all about the food you’re eating and the people you’re eating it with.”
Thus was born “Souterrain.” And while the French term for “underground” can be used to trace the origin of many of ’s fresh, organic ingredients, in this instance the it relates to underground dining, or as my brother-in-law likes to coin it, the “Eyes Wide Shut” dinner.
Here’s the idea…
A mailing list is generated (you can contact the restaurant to be included), and when the date of the dinner is confirmed, an e-mail blast goes out.
The most recent one was last weekend:
WHEN: Sunday, May 22, 2011 @1pm
WHERE: Approximately 12 miles from LeFarm
PRICE: $160pp all-inclusive
Reservations for this event are first come, first serve. Maximum number of people per request is six. Please reply to this email letting us know how many seats you would like. You will receive a response confirming whether your reservation was accepted or not. If it was accepted, there will be a cc authorization form attached that must be completed and returned to us within 24 hours to secure your spot.
The twist is that diners do not know the location or the cuisine that will be served. Essentially, they are putting their trust in the very capable hands of Taibe and his team. The Souterrain destination remains a secret until 24 hours before the event. The menu is not disclosed until you get there. It’s dining at its most organic, common denominator.
“We just take what we have and build a restaurant utilizing the raw materials and backdrop of the space itself,” said Taibe. “We’re showing that you don’t need big build-out or designers to make a restaurant work.”
The themes and locations of the dinners are as diverse as the food. The first event was held last August in a Rowayton back yard, and featured oysters and corn fritters, heirloom tomatoes, battered hake, grilled pork shoulder, and homemade Cracker Jack.
Souterrain #2 took over an empty Wall Street storefront in Norwalk, with a menu comprised of smoked foie gras, butternut squash soup, roasted beet root and wheat berry salad, braised beef flap, and a heavenly quinoa and hemp milk pudding.
Souterrain #3 transformed the Lillian August showroom into an instant restaurant, serving fried pickles, chicken liver with bacon jam, split-pea soup with veal tongue, pink lady apple and cheddar salad, pork pot pie with bacon biscuits, and a decadent candy bar-topped coffee cake with whipped espresso.
And on Sunday, Souterrain #4 was held at Easton's . The latest lineup featured Sport Hill's own lettuce and herbs for a salad, smoked trout dip, 's custom-made bacon rosemary english muffins for a chicken-apple sausage, egg, pickled ramps, and cheese fondue sandwich, and yogurt pannacotta with strawberry water and rhubarb marmalade.
You don’t know where you’re eating, what you’re eating, or with whom you’ll be eating next to (most tables are community seating). But you’ll find that as the meal evolves, conversation does as well. Chances are you’ll become fast friends with your dining companions before the experience is over.
With word of these “secret” dinners spreading, and as the distribution list expands, it’s becoming that much more difficult to reserve a seat at the exclusive table. The events seat about 40 - 60 people, and they sell out in mere minutes (The May 22 Souterrain sold out 50 seats in 13 minutes).
“It’s getting a real big buzz, which is not what we intended because it’s important that we keep them small,” said Taibe. “But it’s really cool and a great honor and it shows how in touch diners are in Fairfield County to do something new and fun.”
(Editor's Note: The author is the husband of LeFarm’s General Manager.)