Meet Chef Plum, an amazing Connecticut chef who hosts these pop-up dinners around our area called Dinner Underground. Recently, he invited me to check out his latest Dinner Underground event.
Let’s rewind a second though. You have to hear how Plum and I actually met for the first time …
See, I’ve known who he is for awhile since he’s been doing some really cool things — including appearing on ABC’s The Taste earlier this year. And we have a few mutual friends, who’ve asked me if I know him (we do both work in food-related careers). But I’d never met him.
A few weeks ago, I was in our local grocery store hunting for something for dinner when I walked past him. He was wearing his chef jacket, and I read his name off the front as I passed him — aloud. As in “Chef Plum!” And of course, he heard me. That tends to happen when you lose your mind and start talking to yourself in public, reading people’s names aloud.
Next thing I know, I am introducing myself to him. Oddly enough, he knew who I was too (okay, again … not that hard to believe since I write the newsletter for the CSA his family belongs to). In any case, we had a nice conversation and went our separate ways. Then I got a message from him asking if I’d like to attend one of his Dinner Underground events — this one held at Williams-Sonoma in the Danbury Fair Mall. It was the first pop-up dinner to ever be held inside a Williams-Sonoma store.
Dinner Underground is Plum’s pop-up restaurant series, where you pay ahead for dinner, and then show up at wherever it is to be held. Seating is assigned, which means you get seated with people you probably don’t know (it helps to bring along an outgoing friend who keeps the conversation lively). Then, you are served course after course of amazing food.
I called up a food-loving friend and we went together, and were seated with three other people — a couple and a woman from a nearby town. Thank goodness my friend is outgoing, because she got us all talking and it turns out that the couple is good friends with a woman I’ve been getting to know from Paige’s school. Small world.
The theme of the dinner we attended was tomatoes, so the menu was heavy with tomato dishes that had my mouth watering just thinking about them. I adore fresh summer tomatoes. Apparently so does Plum. “Tomatoes to me mean love. They mean family,” Plum told the diners at the Dinner Underground event.
Each table had bottles of red and white wine, along with a plate of beautiful tomatoes, to start. Our table had a great time trying all the varieties and trying to determine which we each liked best. The little orange ones were lovely, but so were the darker red ones. Okay, okay … I loved them all.
The first course was a clear, pure Tomato Consomme. We asked Plum about it as he was making his rounds to all the tables — that’s another cool thing about Dinner Underground: you get to interact with the chef, ask questions and really get an inside look at the food you’re eating. Anyway, turns out that Plum hangs a special tomato puree in cheesecloth in his fridge overnight, letting it drip into a bowl to make the consomme. While this isn’t something I would make at home, the result is a clear, crisp, sweet tomato soup served cold. Our table was enamored with it — to the point of taking extreme measures to get to every last drop. Yes, it was that good.
Plum described it best when he said, “Consumme is a really concentrated clear soup. It’s going to look lame but than bam! You try it, and it hits you.” And that’s exactly how it was.
Next up was the Pizza Fritta — a crisp pizza dough topped with a tomato puree reduction, duck confit and honey goat cheese.
If Plum had a restaurant nearby with this Pizza Fritta on the menu, I would be there constantly (and, ahem, very horizontally challenged as a result). As much as I loved the consomme, this was the dish of the night for me. The interplay of the textures, flavors and layers was heavenly.
Excuse me while I wipe away the drool … that crisp crust! That layer of tomato … That duck confit!
While I would have been thrilled to repeat the Pizza Fritta course, we did have to move on to another dish.
The next course was roast chicken with a tomato, young garlic and crispy sage. Delicious, of course. Again, this dish was a play on flavors and textures — particularly between the meaty chicken and the soft, warm tomato. Although the menu didn’t specify it, I believe Plum said that he chose the underutilized chicken thighs for this dish, because they are so juicy and flavorful.
A fish course name next, featuring monkfish, which I’d never had before. This was my favorite presentation of the night. Chef Plum made these wood planks that he served Lavender Monkfish with Smoked Corn Sauce and Arugula Tomato Salad on. How ingenious, right?
Again, we cleared our plates.
When I first saw the menu, I was totally psyched to try the next course: Pork Belly Stuffed Tomato. Ever since I first tried pork belly while judging a mango cook-off in Hartford, I have been obsessed with pork belly. This dish, with Romano cheese and jalapeno cream, didn’t disappoint.
Swoon. Doesn’t it just invite you to dig in and wipe your bite of meaty pork belly and soft tomato through that cream?
The final dish of the night was Creme Brulee Ice Cream with Espresso and Toasted Waffle Chips. It was a sweet ending to an incredible meal.
This was my first experience with a pop-up restaurant — a concept that Cate introduced me to a few years ago. She was reading a book on pop-ups while we were flying to Seattle, and told me about it. I loved the progression of the meal, and how it brought my friend and I together with a diverse group for a fun and memorable evening. The interaction between the diners and the chef was really special as well — and it was wonderful to watch Plum and his sous chef work.
Thanks to Chef Plum for inviting me to Dinner Underground. All opinions are, of course, my own.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.