If you haven’t already heard, the cool kids are bypassing Michelin stars and permanent menus in favor of a new brand of mystery and exclusivity. They’ve eschewed guidebook-listed restaurants and instead have turned to insiders’ word of mouth to discover this new trend of secret dinner clubs set in private homes and offbeat locations, and look to score a coveted invitation.
Why forgo the temples of cuisine in favor of the unknown? Easy: You remember the people you meet on your travels long after the last crumb disappears from your plate. What's more, planning travel these days is often like unwrapping a present for a peek before Christmas — photos, blogs, and reviews steal the mystery and surprise from travel. But at an underground dining club, you don't know what you'll be eating, who you'll talk to, maybe who the chef is, or even the location itself until the day of. It’s one big delicious surprise cloaked in the slightly illicit thrill of sneaking into an apartment where the landlord doesn't know his tenant is hosting a dozen people from around the world for dinner.
I dined at Hidden Kitchen in Paris a few years ago, where my tablemates included a producer from The Amazing Race and a handful of other in-the-know and terribly interesting travelers. We gorged on multiple courses of elegant fare paired with abundant wine. On another recent trip, I convinced the proprietress of New Friend's Table to make space at her table for my husband and me. Hours of candlelight, free-flowing wine, and uproarious laughter later, we pushed ourselves away from a table where we'd devoured a creatively prepared and truly delicious family-style feast, and subsequently exchanged emails with new friends.
The following night we joined some 60 travelers and expats at Jim Hayne's Supper Club, where the legendary Mr. Haynes reigned over, of all things, a classic American Thanksgiving dinner.
We'll remember these dinners, and the people we met, long after we forget what we ate at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. These are nine of the chicest and most coveted underground dinners around the world — a starter kit to the trend, if you will.