Friday, May 31, 2013

The PIxie and the Scout, or, Love in the Age of Restaurants

(A guest post from one of the diners at The Pixie and The Scout. You can find more of his writing on his blog, He Feasts!)

Dear Reader,

The difference between love and dinner is barely discernable under the right circumstances. If you were one of the fortunate few who booked a table at the Empty House Studio's recent Pixie and Scout dining event, then you know what I mean and need read no further.

Katy preparing a board of meat, lavash, and fig.
"Menu" is a relatively modern, 19th century word that comes, like most culinary things (except the word "culinary", oddly enough), from France by way of the Latin word for "to diminish." This is a realistic assessment of what it means to make a list - an exercise that shrinks the possible to the manageable or relevant. We're accustomed to dining out on diminution, and a menu is just as often a taxonomy of limits as it is a positive statement of what the restaurant or the chef can do. We need lists. We need to distinguish in any given day whether we are going to buy groceries or to the moon. Without lists - formal or informal ones - we might hope for everything and accomplish nothing. But Jonathan and Katie Hittinger (the creative geniuses behind the Pixie and Scout dinner) turned the idea of a menu into a creative exercise that made limitations into gastronomical liberties.

Bread and olives were the only things that came out to us unbidden. The bread - a handcrafted sour dough that deserves a poem written about it - was loosely torn into pieces and lay tumbled around a large wooden platter, interspersed with whole roasted garlic bulbs and herb laced goat cheese. This was delivered to our table along with what would under any other circumstances be considered a menu. It was a laminated sheet which was part quiz, part questionnaire, part doodle pad. The instructions for the food and the menu were the same - engage. And so we did. Bare handed and at once, we were tearing off hunks of bread, mashing the roasted garlic and cheese and jointly filling out our menu.

Being served by chefs with professional backgrounds that include Blue Hill and Parm in New York City, guests were prepared (in a BYOB environment) for fresh and seasonal food - and our table alone had stocked up for the adventure with Pilsners, IPAs, Saisons, a Dubbel and a handful of clever white wines. We were ready for anything - which turned out to be fortunate. Having drawn a picture of an onion, described our hunger level, mentioned a dairy allergy at the table, and found the right word to describe a ripe strawberry (this was how we filled out our "menu") we surrendered the document, and hunkered down for food.

We hadn't ordered. Not really. Certainly not in the accustomed sense of interacting with a waiter as charming messenger from the kitchen. The folks staffing this event at the Empty House Studio efficiently swept in and out, each of them serving every table. The sense of intimacy was startling. I happen to know Jonathan and Katy, through college and friendship, but I looked around the room and found the same sensibility of theatre in the round to be pervasive at other tables in the small space. Mechanical tolerances of selecting an item and awaiting its timely delivery belonged elsewhere, and restaurants (that one's a French word) were a distant memory. Our table was made up of friends, and effortless conversation moved along with the unpredictable certainty of weather and was woven into our meal.

What could I tell you about the food without betraying a confidence? It was flawless, of course, but it came as part of a diners discourse with the kitchen. Soft shelled crabs, calamari, radishes, herbs, chicken, liver pate and over easy eggs. These were responses. The fruits of knowledge. Edible conversation but without a hint of a gimmick.

Love is a curious frontier myth. It is the process of bringing hope and anticipation slowly into line with knowledge and experience. It is both the setting out and the settling down. Food love is something we usually only know at home, or with friends. And many restaurants have labored in vain to replace professionalism with an approximation of this kind of love. But it is a rare thing, and highly valued, to find it working - to truly eat together and be fed.

(You can see more of our pictures from this event on our Facebook page, "The Empty House Studio") 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Get Excited!

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 

[Virginia Woolf]

We are so looking forward to MAY 29th's dinner! 
Are you ready to reserve your spot? 
Details coming this week!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Save the Date!

The Evening of Wednesday, May 29th. 

NYC Chefs at The Empty House Studio! 

More info to come.

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The bathroom is finished!

We're finished!!! 

Well, mostly. I have to frost the window and get the lights fixed... but we're back in business, ladies and gentlemen! 

That IS the same bathroom. 

More pics to come!