Ever been to an underground dinner? Here’s how it works. You know the date, time, theme and cost of the meal in advance. That’s it. The exact location is kept secret until it’s nearly game time, and you don’t know the details of the menu until you’re sitting at the table. Fun, huh? Yep! It adds an extra element of serendipity and adventure to dining. The folks at X-marx have it down and have been cranking out creative meals since 2009 for fanatic foodies throughout the city.
I attended their latest underground culinary adventure earlier this month — a $52 six-course tribute to New York’s Kenny Shopsin. X-marx likes to pay tribute to the so-called “unsung” heroes of the restaurant industry in all of their eclectic glory, and Shopsin certainly fits the bill. His restaurant in New York features hundreds of wacky breakfast and lunch dishes from sweet to savory — things like macaroni and cheese pancakes and unusual soups. Also, take note — Shopsin won’t accept parties larger than four under any circumstances. Luckily, X-marx did because the 30 some foodies at dinner were die-hards and wonderful to chat with. Several were repeat attenders, having been to at least one X-marx underground before, and they relayed rave reviews from their previous experiences.
This particular dinner, held in a cozy art gallery that shall remain nameless (because part of the fun of an underground dinner is not knowing where it will be, and the team has used this space more than once), was impeccably run from start to finish. The food was creative, fun, and spicy — so spicy, that it paired very well with beer (the dinners are BYOB and pairing suggestions are sent in advance as needed to diners). Although I’ve never eaten at Shopsins, I think that chefs Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo must’ve done Kenny proud.
“We like to take ideas,” Conlon explained, “and say ‘Humm what could WE do with that?” He went on to say that he finds Chicago to be the very best testing ground for his food because people want to try new things.
Highlights of the menu included chipotle infused vodka Bloody Mary’s; hamburger soup — an entire slider drenched in a flavorful broth; a macaroni and cheese pancake topped with pulled pork, peppers and plantain; and Ashura cereal — a savory take on oatmeal that frankly, I wouldn’t mind eating every morning. But perhaps my favorite course (and the jury is still out) was the “Sinwich” dessert wrapped to-go because everyone was so full. What’s a Sinwich? In this case, it’s a sandwich made with two large pieces of homemade banana bread, Nutella, marshmallow fluff, and bacon. Each course was decadent, over-the-top and had a “wow” factor that made me go in for a second bite.
Visit the X-marx Web site and call for details about the next underground dinner — it was the best 50 some dollars I’d spent in awhile, and I’m still thinking about the food. There will likely be one more underground dinner in March before the team heads to China for a little culinary inspiration. I can’t wait to see what tastes and techniques they’ll bring home. Also, ask for information about soups you can buy from the team to stock your freezer. So far, I’ve had the lamb stew and the parsnip soup, and both have made me look forward to a meal at home.