A group of 10 strangers find themselves in a living room, upstairs in Gary McIntire and Logan Mitchell's Normal Heights apartment, which looks like a mixed-media art installation.
There's a TV studio "Applause" sign. Mysterious paintings (one canvass has a vacuum cleaner and the phrase "Try Sucking Less"). A deer trophy head overlooks the family table covered in time-honored white cloth, and decorated with classic kitchen towels (doubling as napkins), good tableware, a black candelabra and fresh flowers.
As the Cellar Door underground supper club hosts cook, the guests feel each other out and share foodie commentary.
"San Diego is always behind, culinary-wise..."
"It's getting better."
"There's nothing good in North County, except for the surf."
There's a couple that likes to ferment foods without using vinegar. A pair of scientists. A pair of brothers (one's a pastry student). Another couple. A woman from Fallbrook who says the last good restaurant there just closed. Also a food writer.
Dressed in a chef's coat, the burgundy-haired Logan pushes through the Japanese half curtain outside her kitchen. She cups her hands to her mouth and announces the amuse-bouche for this $40 (suggested donation) midweek, three-course meal: It's a house-made (literally) tapenade (pine nuts; nicely sour Calabrian olives) on a Bread & Cie baguette-turned-crostini.
Next Gary explains his creation: a sugar-rimmed glass with Agora Bean & Leaf's Organic Coconut Pu-erh black tea, Bacardi 151, brandy and house-made rosemary simple syrup blended with cream.
It gets the caffeine-cocktail job done. And when the alcohol is ratcheted up - tall Pyrex beakers of wine are delivered to each diner, the equivalent of a half bottle -- the supper club sounds like an extrovert happy hour. The neighbors seem okay with this, and it's a Wednesday.
"You know how you can save money? Quit buying things!"
"We met at (another) supper club, Black Label Table. It's a great way to meet interesting people."
"For me, I want San Diego to be cooler than it is."
"Celebrity chef isn't the same thing as chef-chef!"
The raw Dinosaur kale with Dijon vinaigrette, Marcona almonds and Fuji apples comes with many, many feta-cheese clumps. Someone piles her goat milk offering away from the earthy, dark greens.
"When you massage your kale, and this is a completely serious question..." one half of the fermenter's club begins his inquiry to the chef - The benefit of a not-necessarily-legal supper club is that the menu creator discusses ingredients and techniques.
For the second course, chef Logan, who worked at Zuni Café in San Francisco and maintains a non-cooking day job here, announces: "Your entrée is a seared and roasted pork tenderloin with squash, (grilled) asparagus, with honey mustard jus from the pork."
The kuri squash, picked at Suzie's Farm and roasted with rosemary, is a well-seasoned fave, though there is some resistance to how well done the pork is. Foodies are sometimes fine with pink meat.
Read Keli Dailey's full story and more on utsandiego.com