It takes a good bit of faith to drop $85 on a dinner ticket without knowing the menu or location, but the Blind Pig underground supper club has held two dinners in Raleigh in the past month and both sold out fast.
The Blind Pig is an Asheville institution that brings together area chefs to prepare a multi-course menu for more than 100 guests. Proceeds benefit local charities, and the events have been so successful it’s likely the mountain tradition will catch on here in the capital.
I called my source Sunday afternoon (ticket holders receive an email) and he instructed me to go to the newly opened Merrimon-Wynne house on Blount Street at 5. The attire was black-tie and B.Y.O.B., he said.
The communal dining experience promises new friends and good company. My companions, a Richmond couple, had attended the first Blind Pig event in Raleigh at the restored Gethsemane Seventh Day Adventist church downtown. It was “a little grubbier” than the majestic Merrimon-Wynne, but the food beckoned them back, they said.
The seven-course menu, themed “Seven Degrees of Separation,” was prepared with local seasonal ingredients by Asheville chef Brian Canipelli, with Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Vin Rouge in Durham and Danielle Centeno of Escazu Chocolates in Raleigh. (Vegetarians are welcome; servers will give you a meat-free plate if you ask.)
A team of around 10 prepped and cooked the food onsite. I caught Stanbury co-chef Drew Maykuth doubled over a charcoal grill on a back patio, frying vegetables and kumquat for okonomyaki, while prep cooks ladled dips onto long planks of wood.
The “mezze board,” the first course of the evening served on a 2-by-4, was not conducive to self-control. I tasted and re-tasted the rainbow of dips, a smoky hummus to a tangy babaganoush, a sweet beet yogurt and a hot chili sauce. The board was sprinkled with cups of olives and pistachios, collard green leaves stuffed with currants and spices and slices of radish.
“It’s cool to see such a raw, organic presentation,” said fellow diner Timothy Myers, an N.C. Opera conductor, while some of his colleagues serenaded us with piano music.
Next, the scallop crudo was an unexpected explosion of flavor and texture, with blood orange, more beet, white asparagus and trout roe. Then came the okonomiyaki: topped with country ham and flakes of bonito, it was every bit as good as the charcoal grill portended.
The fourth plate, foie gras, was fried into a French-toast like pastry, served with a bittersweet marmalade, ham, sherry, maple and peanuts. The veal cheek Blanquette came in a salty, creamy broth, with cauliflower, shimeji mushroom and onion. The final plate, duck leg, was cooked to perfection with mole, winter squash and celery root.
For once, I saved room for dessert, spicy ice-cream (read chocolate and chili) and éclair.
Fully sated and entertained, I know I’ll be back to the Blind Pig, though the next event may not be until April. Keep your eyes and ears open.