THE List of Underground Restaurants Worldwide, Brought to You in a SaltShaker

The FuNK Eye, Bhavishya Kanjhan,

In the land of Web 2.0 there exists an eyes-wide-shut kind of secrecy that only spies could formerly dream of.  For example, if in the privacy of one’s room, a Gujarati Jain girl were to get it into her head that she wanted to start an Indian supper club, call it HUSH, tell the world, make reservations, find volunteers, screen strangers and be featured in the Washington Post, she could manage it all without so much as showing her ankles or sharing her surname.  Why?  Because in Web 2.0 land, a website, email address, Twitter account, Facebook page and a mask can still equal anonymity.  Bizarre?  Tell me about it!

But therein lies the beauty for the underground culinary sleuth.   Where only a few years ago finding underground restaurants involved a trail of bread crumbs, today hundreds are ready to be found on a computer screen.  Luckily Dan Perlman of Casa SaltShaker has done the heavy google searching for you.

(I)n Web 2.0 land, a website, email address, Twitter account, Facebook page and a mask can still equal anonymity.  Bizarre?  Tell me about it!

Dan started Casa SaltShaker as a blog in Buenos Aires before his venture into the underground, or behind locked doors (puertas cerradas) as they are called in Spanish.  When Casa SaltShaker turned into a wildly popular secret supper club, he abandoned the idea of unlocking the doors and starting an official restaurant.

With seats filled and his waiting list weeks long, Dan decided to pay it forward on the web by compiling a list of other spots where people could dine.  Others wrote in to share their new finds, and the list continued to expand. Today, while not the complete list of all things underground, Casa SaltShaker provides the definitive starting point for anyone looking to share a communal table with strangers in a strange home or a strange land.

The Casa SaltShaker List

Do you know of any underground restaurants that aren’t on the SaltShaker list?  Please share with us!


New June Dates and a More Organic HUSH Supper

An early summer is upon us, and the June menu will reflect the need to cool the palette in the heat.  A new cocktail in need of a name, rose petals and ice cream in a glass, mangoes galore, minty chutney, and corn with a twist.

Also, HUSH has decided to up the organic ante with as many organic, local, and freshly picked ingredients as possible.  The HUSH garden has been planted.  This summer mint, tomatoes and bell peppers will be harvested hours before each meal.  HUSH uses only organic dairy, but will be adding organic cilantro, corn, carrots, and other vegetables, grains and legumes whenever possible.  All organic ingredients will be listed on the menu.

The new dates:

Friday June 4 at 7 PM.  Donation $75

Friday, June 18 at 7 PM.  Donation $75

These dates are confirmed.  HUSH mama might be making another celebrity chef appearance the last weekend in June.  We’ll post more dates next week once flights are confirmed.  Please complete a questionnaire on the reservations pages to request a seat at the supper table.

Snowpocalypse 1, HUSH 0

My speech was lovingly plagiarized, with a few HUSH references inserted for effect.   Henry V’s monologue on the Feast of St. Crispin’s Day fit like hand in snow mitten for the Inaugural HUSH Supper on February 6.  White mountains of stony frozen water would be traversed by a hearty few in quest of stories and spices.  Feast and oratory I would provide.

Geeta I’s Feast of HUSH Supper Club Speech

This day is called the feast of HUSH Supper Club

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of HUSH.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours.

And say ‘To-morrow is HUSH Supper Club Day’

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day: then shall our names,

Familiar in his mouth as household words

Geeta the chef, Brandon the server, Manju the line cook,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And HUSH shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that shares spices with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition

And gentlemen in DC now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks

That dined with us upon HUSH Supper Day.

Alas, the speech was not to be.  The weather gods won the epic battle, and HUSH guests were informed that 22 inches of white wrath had bested the bravest HUSH server.  Our feast was forgone, and Henry V’s glory at the battle of Agincourt was spared mimicry.

Instead of feasts and glory, I was left with kilos of basmati rice and moong beans.  But Shakespeare still had his say.  I joined the Malcolm X Park snowball fight at 16th and W, NW.  Hundreds of fighters pelted each other as I resurrected the battle of Harfleur:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our DC dead.

No one heard me or got the reference…  I missed many marks, avoided the worst of the balls hurling at me, and raised a glass to the feast that wasn’t.

Delayed, but not discouraged.  HUSH will return.

Kenneth Branaugh as Henry V – St. Crispin’s Day

Henry V – St. Crispin’s Day Speech

I can say it, bl, blo, blog…

Blog, blogger, blogging, blah.  Or rather, blah, blah, blah.  What a hideous little sound the tongue creates during its brief journey from ‘bl’ to ‘g’.  Snob that I am, avoiding the term blog has become a lexical sport.  Writing project, website, essay, article, column, memoir.  All these words are fair descriptions of the genres of writing you’ll find on this bl, blo… I’ll get there.

A series of posts arranged by date on the inter-web is called a blog.  But it’s the emotive content of those posts that causes the tongue, or finger, to stutter.  Blogs are routinely mocked as the endlessly inarticulate, emotional outpourings of people unschooled in restraint, decorum, or spell-check.  Not I!  Though I joined the free, convenient blog-world, my aims are classical – research topics of import to my readers, then calmly lead them with clear thoughts and clean language to a better understanding of the Indian landscape.  Emote in private, with dignity and grace.

But then HUSH went live, and people clicked, and a few food bloggers mentioned it, and thousands more clicked, and dozens pleaded for the wondrous prospect of joining little ol’ me in my kitchen, and then it became clear that my lines were being drawn in sand.

So f—k it.  It’s time to talk feelings.  I’m awake, alert, wired, giddy, giggly, and filled with a sense of present purpose that has eluded me for an age.  The sincerity of this week’s response to HUSH has me radiating happy hopes of happy guests.  The coupling of supper and storytelling is almost religious in sacred simplicity.  Yet I lacked the audacity to imagine that more than a few minor acquaintances would entrust me as their guide.

But so many of you have said yes, and I am thrilled.  Who is this ‘I’?  We’ll come to know one another, using stories and spices.  Through this blog, and at my table.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.  I am honored to meet you.

Julia Child Loved a Good Rave…

ME:  I’m starting a secret supper club.  Or maybe you know them as underground restaurants.

Sonal:  Underground what??  Is that like Julia Child hosting a rave?

ME:  Well, not exactly, but now that you put it like that…

Julia Child at a rave is an image more likely to appear in an REM-induced dreamscape than an archival photo of a real event.  Nevertheless, as an ‘x’ meets ‘y’ creates ‘z’ formulation, it’s useful when answering the question, ‘What is a supper club or underground restaurant?’

If Julia Child wanted to create a spontaneous evening for guests unfettered by predictable menus, inspectors, payroll and routines, what would she do?  Go underground, of course!  Where supper clubs and raves part company are, well, at the part where drugs, trance music and police busts come in.

Essential Ingredients of a Supper Club

1. It’s hush hush.  Word of mouth, tweets, emails and URLs are allowed, but addresses, phone numbers and open doors are not.  Send an email, wait for a response and always knock.  A cocktail awaits inside.

2. Social tables, aka, dinner party roulette.  Most underground restaurants have at least one large table with open seating. If you arrive as a pair, try sitting apart from a friend or date.  If you arrive alone, leave with a new friend.  In DC, it’s likely the man to your left is back from a USAID mission in Uganda and the woman to your right just finished a second tour in Afghanistan.   Chew, sip and listen as the daily headlines are rewritten, with the juicy bits added!

3.  Cash donations only, please.  No need to leave a paper trail.  Remember, hush hush.

4.  Dine with the chef.  She’s part cook, part hostess, part storyteller, part waitress, and all smiles.

5.  The menu is fixed so enjoy what you’re offered.  I promise it’s yummy.  Allergies?  Say something.  Remember, Indian food is notorious for hidden ingredients.  Ask before you taste.

6.  Never the same meal twice. The menu changes based on season, mood, religious holidays, and whether my mother makes a celebrity appearance.

7.  Wine and beer are BYOB.  Share with others or take home what you brought.

8.  Seconds are allowed.  We are not in France and even their supper clubs must have more to offer than a spacious, near-vacant white plate.  Prepare for  plates to overflow.  Embracing a day of hunger is wise preparation for the evening meal.

9.  Stories, songs, and whatever else the Muse of Spice conjures. Share a talent, or encourage a shy guest to do so.  By the third glass you can blame it on the wine.