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Dinner with Strangers

DIY eateries across the United States are giving travellers a taste of homegrown cuisine and culture. What better way to fit in with the locals?

Sam Richman

Like many of his fellow makeshift restaurateurs, Sam Richman focuses on fresh, local ingredients at his Brooklyn, New York supper club, Dinner at 525. “I pretty much just go to the market and see what’s available,” says the chef, whose pedigree includes stints at Fat Duck in London and Jean Georges in New York. Last November, one meal featured fennel, celery, sun chokes and a fish native to the northeast Atlantic called tautog, sometimes referred to as the poor-man’s lobster.

Richman is, unsurprisingly, very busy. His Williamsburg apartment plays host to an informal, family-style dinner – think sweet-and-sour meatballs – during the week and more elaborate feasts on the weekend. Diners who attend the weeknight event can expect to pitch in about $25, while weekends edge closer to $40. “This is my full-time job,” says Richman.

din din supper clubPhoto by Tim Gunther

The same is true for Courtney Sproule of Portland, Oregon’s din din supper club. Dinner parties for friends turned into events that now range from 15 to 60 guests. Prices are between $45 and $85 per person, including wine pairings or drinks. “We have fun creating an overall experience,” says the self-taught chef.

For her Valentine’s Day “sexy din din,” cooks served silky purées and liquor-laden sauces in high heels and pearls. She also threw a “jardin din,” or French garden party, where the main course was rack of lamb with lemon sabayon and walnut-stuffed artichokes. A recurring event dubbed “din mini” features miniature food and drinks set on gargantuan tables with equally sizable flower arrangements.

Eating Vincent Price Photo by Jon Tyler Core

Themes are not unusual in home-restaurant culture, but some are more unusual than others. Efrain Cuevas of Chicago’s Clandestino runs the Eating Vincent Price event, named after the famous horror-flick actor. “People have no idea that Vincent Price was such a big foodie,” says Cuevas. “But he travelled all around the world collecting recipes.” The dinner series, held every four to six weeks, explores international cuisine from Price’s 1965 cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes. Tickets are $55, and dinner is BYOB.

Though food is the main attraction of these “secret” restaurants, home chefs also like to show visitors, even locals, things they might not know about their cities. Cuevas once planned an event in an industrial space near O’Hare International Airport where “no one ever goes,” he says. And Richman loves to shock affluent Manhattanites and visitors from America’s less densely populated locales with his tiny “dining room” – really an extra bedroom.

Hearsay Supper ClubPhoto by Jeanne Feldkamp

At a recent dinner hosted by San Francisco’s Hearsay Supper Club, members of the chef’s family gathered at a long communal table along with two fashion types in their 20s, a couple of forty-somethings, two Silicon Valley executives, a lawyer and his yoga-obsessed girlfriend. The wide-ranging conversation bounced from Will Ferrell and northern Argentina to penguins and petting zoos. Hosts Jeanne Feldkamp and her boyfriend, Dan Diephouse, managed to keep up with the discussion while almost imperceptibly slipping in and out to serve butternut squash soup, kale salad, egg yolk ravioli, seared buffalo and maple-bacon bourbon cake. For $85 to $100 each, guests are treated to gourmet food and drink, like Prohibition-era cocktails.

To sum it up, Courtney Sproule suggests thinking of this experience as “a dinner party with strangers who, by the end of the night, are, if not your friends, at least no longer strangers.”


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Comments… or add another

Randall Shirley

Monday, April 2nd 2012 11:50
I love this article--had never heard of this before. Just when you think you know lots about travel, something new comes along!


Monday, April 2nd 2012 16:55
Is there such a place in New ORLEANS or Tampa or St, Pete's Beach


Monday, April 2nd 2012 19:07
Great concept! And if the timing works one could add such an experience to a weekend getaway.

We have seen similar success( but with smaller groups via in Europe where individual travellers who are curious about local life & culture wish to meet up with real locals.
Food generally gives strangers a comfortable starting point for cultural exchange and travellers are thrilled to be able to ask Qs on anything from local health care to recipes from those who really know - the locals.

Great article Sarah! Could this mean the Local Travel Movement is starting to take off in the N.A. too?

Ron B

Tuesday, April 3rd 2012 09:29
I see this in Cozumel..been done forever!
I don't know how the apartment thing works as in lots of places its against bylaws of some kind. I'd love to do this(as a business) but not feasible in my city, we're not exactly a "destination" anyway. :)


Tuesday, April 3rd 2012 20:53
Wat does the acronym "DYI" stand for, please?


Wednesday, April 4th 2012 10:42
Hi Neil,

It stands for Do-It-Yourself

Online editor, enRoute


Wednesday, April 11th 2012 23:31
Great article. Looking forward to trying this on a future trip. Is there a website that aggregates all of these experiences?


Thursday, April 12th 2012 10:14
Hi Jon,

You can try (

Online editor, enRoute
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