Seasonal Pantry Supper Club

Some secrets I like to keep to myself, but some are eventually revealed despite my best efforts. Dan O’Brien chef/owner of Seasonal Pantry was recently unveiled as a cheftestant on the upcoming season of Top Chef Seattle, so it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the city – and probably the country – catches on to what’s been quietly going down in the transformative Shaw neighborhood for the last year or so.

By day, Dan and his tiny staff are peddling all sorts of handmade goods like pasta, sauces, jams, flavored salts, you name it out of a tiny little storefront. By night, the Seasonal Pantry crew transforms the small space into a dinner party for 12. And a dinner party that is ultimately more than just the sum of its parts.

Here’s how this works. Every couple of weeks, Dan comes up with a new multiple course menu that’s usually based around what’s seasonally available, but there’s often also some sort of theme. The menu gets posted on the site and the scramble for the limited available seats begins. It does require at least a modicum of planning – basically remembering when “tickets” go on sale, usually about 2 weeks ahead of time. The whole night will cost you less than $100 for more food than you should be eating, a few glasses of something delicious and alcoholic, and that’s it – tip and tax essentially all included. A scream of a deal when you think about it.

On the night of, show up just before 8, and if you haven’t bought out the whole table with your friends, you’ll introduce yourself to bunch of other like-minded, adventurous food-people that will be your companions for a fun and filling night. And, honestly, a lot of the fun is the fact that you’re having dinner with a bunch of strangers. I’ve met some really interesting folks with some really interesting stories.

That would be great and all on its own, but if the food Dan and his assistant are serving wasn’t any good, it’d all be for naught.

The first night we went, the main attraction was fried chicken. But, to be honest, I thought the chicken, albeit really good, wasn’t the best dish of the night. The sides that accompanied that course were amazing, all of it served family style. A summery succotash-like salad, corn pudding, and deeply flavorful baked beans stole the show of the course. But, I’ve skipped to the end on you. Preceding all of this were some of the tastiest devil eggs I’ve had, a pimento cheese and salad that changed my perception of pimento cheese. Continuing the southern theme, there was a delicious dirty rice with generous amounts of crab and shrimp. All of this accompanied by a lethal punch flavored with peaches, vanilla, and sparkling wine that might just have been the best thing of the night. No one left hungry, and there were mounds of leftovers. A magnificent introduction to the supper club phenomenon.

The second and more recent time we went, the menu on paper looked just about perfect to me. But, here’s the fun part of it. The menu is really just a list of ingredients for each course. The surprise is what Dan is going to actually serve for each course. How are those ingredients going to come together? First out was “Egg, mushroom, oyster, bacon.” Pretty much 4 of my favorite things. What came out was probably the best thing I’ve had there. Crispy oyster mushrooms, a couple of lardons of really good bacon, a creamy, earthy, and briny sauce made of oysters, all topped with a slightly runny omelette. I seemed to be the last one finished each course, but I lingered with this one possibly a little too long, as Dan asked if I was intending on licking the bowl before he cleared it away.

Next out was an ingenious squash soup. On the surface, it looked pretty straightforward – dark orange with a dollop of creme freche. But what lurked along the bottom of the bowl was a brown sugar custard that you scooped at to raise the sweetness of the soup. Crazily creative, but also crazy good. Third course was a pasta – small sheets of pasta, wrapped around a simple ricotta filling with the ends twisted so it looked like a caramel candy. Accompanied by a sauce featuring bits of salami, again, a dish totally up my alley. Next up was a dish I think Dan ought to start offering up at the market for take out. These would kill. A steamed, slightly sweet brioche bun filled with braised chicken thighs in a spicy sauce flavored with Dr. Pepper and chiles. Imagine something like a steamed bao. It was about half through stuffing this bun in face that I started to realize just how full I was. But, to hell with it, there are two more courses!

Course five was a pretty traditional braciole in a brightly flavored tomato sauce. Really good. Just wish I could’ve eaten more of it. At this point, I did something I rarely do – throw in the towel and leave my plate unfinished. Well, at least until dessert showed up – a small cake with pluots and sabayon.

As you can see, there are so many reasons why this experience is so special. The hands-on service, the camaraderie of total strangers, the seemingly endless stream of imaginative and delicious dishes. And the menu’s just keep getting more and more imaginative. I’m already thinking about the next one. And while I wish Dan all the luck and success he deserves, a part of me is feeling just a little bit selfish and wishing the supper club could just be our little secret.

destination: Clifton, VA

With a new car in the driveway, a beautiful Saturday, and nothing to do, a drive out in the country makes perfect sense. I was already familiar with this quaint Virginia town, as I’d been to Trummer’s on Main a couple of times before. This beautiful restaurant out in Clifton, VA is definitely a destination restaurant for any of us in the city who want to get out into some peace and quiet. The dining room itself is a spectacle – bright with high ceilings and full of windows. The kitchen is sending out some really nice food that’s mostly seasonal and slightly risky. And you can’t beat the deal on Sunday where you help them drain their open wine bottles from the weekend for $5 glass and eat off the reasonably priced 3-course prix fixe menu.

But it was the promise of chili dogs and ice cream (two of my most favorite things) at Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot that sealed the deal.

Peterson's Ice Cream Depot

Peterson's Ice Cream Depot

I’ll be honest right up front – neither the chili dogs nor ice cream were that amazing (though they do lay claim to the Best Ice Cream award in Northern VA,) but much like what they say about pizza – there are no bad chili dogs or ice cream. They were totally satisfying, and pretty much dirt cheap. But this place isn’t really about the food. What makes this place so special is everything else.

The Big Dog

The Big Dog

First, it’s set back from Main St Clifton and shielded by trees and shrubs just enough that it feels like you’re in someone’s backyard. And pretty much you are. The set up is basically an old house. When you walk into the patio, you’re met with large chalkboards touting the menus – hot dogs of all sizes and toppings, ice cream, sundaes, shakes, pretty much any delivery mechanism possible for ice cream. And while their ice cream menu isn’t that deep – softserve chocolate, vanilla, and one flavor of the day, the options are still seemingly endless. Order at one window, pick up at another, and then take a seat either at the outdoor bar around back or at any of the various benches, adirondack, or lawn chairs scattered throughout the property.

The hot dog menu

The hot dog menu

On a Saturday, the action is non-stop. City slickers from out east, families and their soccer playing kids loading up on calories after the game, local teenagers. And even though it’s pretty busy, the lines move fast and the atmosphere is that of a neighborhood block party.

So, if you’re looking for a reason to get out of the city for a couple of hours, set the GPS for Clifton, VA. The drive’ll take you through some nice rolling backroads, and at the end of the drive you’ll find the promise of chili dogs and ice cream. What could be better?

Throw in a stop at the Paradise Springs Winery a vineyard with an expansive lodge at the end of a deadend street not far from DT Clifton and you’ve made a day of it.