Minnesota’s Sub Rosa Dining Series Takes Local Food Underground

Chef Nick SchneiderChef Nick SchneiderUnderground dinners are becoming more and more popular, and not just for those who are “in the know.” These multi-course meals take place in private settings -- from art galleries to backyards to home dining rooms -- and give adventurous diners (who expect to eat with people they don’t know) the opportunity to be served in an unconventional, intimate setting, allowing for more personal connections between chef, wait staff, and eaters. Underground dinners also provide enterprising chefs with unmatched creative freedom -- in many cases, menus (and even locations) are not revealed until the last minute. The concept has taken off all over the world, in cities like Buenos Aires, New York, and London. But what about in the Twin Cities, where people have a reputation for being more polite than adventurous?

It turns out that we Twin Citians hold our own when it comes to unconventional dining experiences. Last year’s Paired was the brainchild of Chris Olson, now of Meritage in St. Paul. Olson’s hugely successful underground dining series featured meals inspired by, and paired with, the work of different local artists. The ever-popular Gastro Non Grata, while less clandestine than true underground eating, has traversed the 331 Club, Modern Café, and Triple Rock Social Club, and features gourmet food from local chefs, music from local musicians, and beer from local brewers. Daniel Klein’s Harvest Dinners, held in support of his terrific Perennial Plate video series -- feature local, seasonal ingredients and are held either at his South Minneapolis home or on a nearby farm. And on the subject of farm dinners, we’re already getting excited for the explosion of rural eating the coming summer promises -- check out Dinner on the Farm or Tour de Farm for some of our favorites, or grab your picnic blanket and wine and enjoy some wood-fired pizza on the front lawn of the A to Z Pizza Farm. The latest in fun, alternative, underground-ish, Twin Cities dining experiences -- the Sub Rosa Dining Series -- has just been announced.

The Sub Rosa Dining Series will spend four February evenings traveling through Minneapolis dining rooms, offering eaters a savory respite from the chilling winter by providing an intimate atmosphere enlivened with fine food and live music. The series will be presented by local gardener-chef Nick Schneider, known most recently for his tenure at Café Brenda and for his work with Mixed Precipitation’s annual Picnic Operetta. Chef Nick already has a season of underground dining under his belt, and he’s now presenting Sub Rosa as the winter counterpart to his successful summer dinners, Tavola Fresca. [Full disclosure: The author of this piece is helping out with the Sub Rosa Dining Series.]

According to Nick, “some of my best dining memories of New York City and Paris followed this kind of [underground dining] model, and different dining cultures really interest me. I love the traditional European open spaces with benches where people mingle and mix. It’s exciting to know that our metro area is open to outside-the-mainstream culinary happenings.”

Each Sub Rosa dinner will feature a four-course meal with wine pairings, and will be accompanied by a short program of live music from professional classical musicians, including an opera singer. Chef Nick is committed to integrating seasonal, local produce as much as possible. “While it’s difficult to do in February,” he admits, “the challenge of using local foods makes the experience all the more fun and rewarding.” Nick’s sample menu, for example, features a puree of Minnesota chestnut soup, Dungeness crab with citrus, avocado and local greens, venison medallions with beet-farro risotto, and a flourless chocolate cake with passion fruit sauce and coconut sorbet. An aperitif, coffee, and three wine pairings will be offered as well.

Nick says he’s “aiming to create an event that leaves people not only enjoying their food, but also with a deeper appreciation for this style of music, presenting a complete auditory and gustatory experience.” We can’t wait.

Sub Rosa events will be held on 2/11, 2/13, 2/14, and 2/20. For more details, including locations, musical selections, and reservation details, visit Sub Rosa Dining.

Photos courtesy of Nick Schneider.

Georgia Rubenstein works at an environmental non-profit in Minneapolis, and loves food in all of its forms -- growing it, cooking it, eating it, feeding it to her worms, and then starting the cycle all over. She can be found philosophizing about food, considering food policy issues, and working to harness the incredible power of food to save the world. She does all sorts of great things with SGT.