I’m not really sure how to write about our evening Saturday night with The Four Coursemen. Perhaps by starting with what I remember?
We arrived at the house a little after 7:30, with a bottle of wine in-hand. The email said that while paired tasting pours would be provided with each course, you were welcome to bring anything with you that you might want to drink before or after dinner. We took that as a gentle suggestion to show up with some form of alcohol, so we brought a decent (by our standards) bottle. The location of the dinner was a historic shotgun house in an eclectic part of Athens; we had thought it was the living quarters of one of the chefs, but it’s just a house that they use to cook and host dinners. A classic shotgun, it has 4 rooms, all in one line, with an entryway in the middle; the front room is for before- and after-dinner gathering, the middle room is the dining room, lined with two long tables (each sits about a dozen people), followed by the kitchen and a bathroom.
We arrived to an already-assembled group of guests mingling outside, and were greeted by two nice women who took our wine, opened it for us, and brought us glasses. They encouraged us to mingle, and informed that we’d be gathering at the tables a little before 8 o’clock. The place was sparsely furnished with mid-century pieces and bold, stylized chrysanthemum paintings. A 1940’s refrigerator stood in the corner of the lounge, seeming completely at-home. The dining room was lit solely with candles, and a look beyond showed the kitchen, with its industrial oven and prep-table abuzz with laid-back yet precise preparations. We were encouraged to take a peak into the kitchen, and you had to walk through it to get to the bathroom; the chefs, even while busy at work, were friendly and casual and overall created a warm, homey atmosphere.
We were called to dinner, and sat at a table filled mostly with individual couples (the other table had a party of 12). The way it worked was, before each course, a chef would describe the thought behind its creation, and then the wine girl would explain how she paired the drink with the dish. It was immediately clear that, while these guys think a lot about what they create, that this is definitely their pallette for experimentation. Descriptions were followed by phrases such as, “so, enjoy — I hope it works!” They couldn’t have been experimenting on a more eager crowd of people; everyone in attendance seemed to understand that we were participants to a unique eating experience. The food was delivered by the chefs (plus a couple other assistants? I couldn’t really keep up with who was who), and the drink poured by the same. You were instructed to keep your utensils, and the drinks were repeatedly poured into the same glass (there’s no industrial dishwasher; on a trip to the bathroom, I saw the wine girl hand-washing dinner plates in a regular kitchen sink).
I wanted to link to the menu, but so far they still haven’t put it up on the website. It’s hard to give an idea of the balance of experimentation and elegance we experienced without writing it all out:
Smoked Crawfish w/ Frissee & Carrot Mignonette
Brooklyn Schneider, Hopfen-Weisse, NY, NV
Grilled Watermelon w/ Ricotta Salata, Lemon Basil & Black Licorice Vinaigrette
w/ Loredonna, Viognier, CA, ’08
Poached Farm Egg w/ Morels, Pickled Garlic & Dandelion Greens
w/ Leal Vineyards, Chardonnay, CA, ’05
Seared Ostrich Filet w/ Blueberry Sauce, Jellied Preserved Lemon & Foie Gras
w/ Glen Carlou, “Grand Classique,” SA, ’03
Trio of Ice Cream: Cheese, Pickle, Bread
w/ Gloria Ferrar, Blanc De Blanc, CA, ’04
The whole experience started and ended with success, albeit sometimes surprising and unbelievable. In between were a scattered a question mark or two, but nothing was a failure. Early on, we were wowed by the grilled watermelon salad; it was reminiscent of a watermelon-feta salad we had once at Five & Ten (we later heard that dish had been written up in In Style magazine). I’m not a huge watermelon fan, but something about the acid in the vinaigrette and rough texture of the cheese made it delectable, and I found myself scooping every last drop of leftover juice and dressing from the shallow bowl. The poached farm egg was a work of art on our plates; pristine white, perfectly-shaped, impeccably cooked — it was the poached egg that I will never produce. The foie gras was described, a little tongue-in-cheek, as being from “as happy a duck as a foie gras duck can be,” and was buttery in texture, a perfect fatty complement to the lean ostrich (which I had never had). Tim and I agreed that the jellied preserved lemon, presented as a cubic jewel opposite the filet, was too intense a flavor to really complement the rest of the dish; even eaten as in-between bites of filet, it overwhelmed the subtle flavors of meat and blueberry sauce (which together, alone, were perfect).
At this point in the story, we come to dessert. But before I describe in detail the characteristics of pickle ice cream, I must point to a weakness, for me, in this whole dinner setup. The title of this post recalls the spoof ads that ran on Saturday Night Live in the 90s(?). One could say that the following easily add up to something that would qualify as a bad idea:
- A smallish mother of three who doesn’t get out much
- A before-dinner small glass of wine (from the bottle we brought)
- A five-course ‘tasting menu’ consisting of the most minuscule proportions
- 3-oz tasting pours of alcohol served with each course (3 ounces? Is that normal?)
Are you following me here? Let’s just say that, by dessert, I was wondering not only how I was going to adequately write about dinner, but more immediately important — how I was going to walk to the car. I am an unbearable lightweight, which is, most of the time, pretty convenient. It means I just don’t drink much — I’m a one-drink girl. Now, why I didn’t think through the consequences of the proportions of the evening, well — I’m going to conveniently blame that on several things outside of myself: the fact that I thought I’d actually be eating dinner, rather than bites here and there of delicious food; the upbeat, somewhat magical atmosphere of the evening; and the rare occasion to actually partake of wines that have been perfectly paired with food — it was an amazing experience, and I didn’t want to miss out on a single bite/sip (to my detriment).
So, to those crazy ice creams: they were a delight. The cheese ice cream was made from raclette, a stinky Swiss cheese used in a traditional broiled dish of the same name. The pickle variety had, well, diced pickles. And the bread ice cream had a yeasty flavor, topped with bread crumbs. They were admittedly odd — the oddest being the pickles. But the cheese and bread varieties, I would’ve brought home a quart (the inherent question there being whether I would’ve wondered why the next day).
The overall consensus: the evening was great fun. We sat across from a friendly and interesting young couple, fresh out of school. Can’t remember their names to save a life, but they were both destined for big cities with big plans, and by the end of the evening I felt as if we’d made friends of strangers (friends, er, who’s names we don’t know). I would love it if they could find a way to serve a little more food; this way, I wouldn’t feel like I needed to eat a pb&j before I went. A cup of coffee or tea at the end of the meal would be nice, too. The dining room was also unbearably loud at times, but I talked to a hostess who said they’re working on fixing that; but in some ways, it underscores the novelty of eating not at a restaurant, but at someone’s house. Like walking through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, you can’t help but feel you are at an intimate party with 24 of the closest friends you’ve never met. Which has its charm.
I say go. It’s totally worth the money (sheepish confession: we were actually short on the cash, because of a forgotten previous purchase, so I guess when I ask if they can cook more food, they can return with their own legitimate request). It’s a rare treat, especially in a town this size. So get on their mailing list, set aside your moneys, designate a driver with a healthy tolerance, and enjoy the art of The Four.