Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending my first ever Frank Underground dinner. If you don’t know of Frank Underground, it’s an “underground restaurant” that was created by MasterChef season two finalists Jennie Kelley and Ben Star. Together they take you on a themed culinary journey. Although they never try to recreate a theme they will never recreate a dish. My dinner, “Brunch After Dark” was a theme they had done once before and brought it back because of the response to that particular dinner.
To sign up for Frank you need to visit the website and get on their mailing list. Once you’re on there they will send out an email (usually once a month or once every two months) listing the theme for the dinner and the dates. From there you respond if you’re interested and can make any of the times listed. After that you pray that luck is on your side because seats are given lottery style. I also encourage you to follow them on Facebook. On occasion they post last minute cancellations and on social media, but it’s a first come first serve basis.
The dinner is held in a secret location that is not disclosed to you until the night before/day of your dinner. You sit, along with about 20 strangers, around a communal table crafted of reclaimed wood that Ben made himself. Throughout all the courses Jennie and Ben give you background on the ingredients and the inspiration about the dishes. At the end of the day… sorry night… you will be there for about 3 hours. Three hours of pure food heaven. At Frank they believe in frank food. Just basic ingredients turned into something fabulous.
Upon arrival you have to buzz up to the apartment, and if your name is not on that list you are not getting up. They check your name at the front door and at the apartment door. Just in case in the 2 minutes it takes you to get up to the elevator you’re no longer yourself. The staff (yep staff) will take your purse (or coats but this is July in Texas, the fact I wore flannel baffled my mom but I looked hella good) and give you a cocktail, our’s being champagne, and allow you to mingle. They will not start dinner until everyone has arrived. They encourage you to not be fashionably late.
Before dinner even started I had taken down 4 glasses of champagne. To be fair, it was the tiny, serving appropriate sized glasses. If I were pouring it would be a wine glass and it would be full. Once everyone arrived we were invited to sit. You are encouraged to make friends with your seat neighbors, which you will whether you want to or not. I was for it. Don’t get me wrong. New friends = Yay!
Once everyone was seated dinner started with an amuse-bouche.
Buttermilk cheddar biscuit | Foie Gras | Housemade heirloom tomato jam.
Let me explain what an amuse-bouche is, in case you’ve never heard of that term. An amuse-bouche is a single, bite sized hors d’oeuvre. It’s usually served on a spoon but this one had potential to be messy so it was served on a plate.
I’ve never had foie gras and I still couldn’t tell you want that tasted like. I didn’t try it on it’s own because liver. But this was a humanely obtained duck (?) liver. The biscuit was homemade with Vermont sharp cheddar cheese. What I was most cautious of trying, besides the liver, was the tomato jam. I’m very finicky with tomatoes. I used to eat them like apples when I was younger and then I got over them. Now I have to be in the mood for them. And honestly, I might start off in the mood and half way through my food be over them and pick them out. This jam was mixed with thyme which helped with the balance of flavors. It wasn’t too sweet which one would assume tomato jam to become. At the end of my three bites I was very ready to get into this meal.
Black bean huilacoche puree | Uncle Ron’s heirloom squash | Chorizo | 63.5° egg (specifically) | Salsa Verde | Pickled vegetables
I know your first questions is, “What the hell is huilacoche and how do I say that?”
Huitlacoche (wee-tlah-KOH-cheh), AKA “corn smut”, is a fungus that grows naturally on corn. It is a delicacy in Mexico while here in America we will just destroy the whole crop. The fungus itself sells for a higher rate than actual corn. It is perfectly safe to eat.
So in the bottom you have the black bean huilacoche puree. Mixed in are bite sized chucks of Jennie’s uncle’s squash. On top you will find chorizo, the 63.5° egg, salsa verde, pickled radishes and onion and cilantro as a garnish. This dish was fanominal.The black bean puree tasted like refried beans but was perfectly smooth. The chorizo added just the perfect amount of spice while the pickled vegetables added a slight sour note. Cliantro and the salsa verde rounded out the Mexican inspired flavor profile. It is mind blowing in its simplicity. Honestly though it could be a bowl of cilantro and I would be happy. I love that herb. It’s disgusting how much I love cilantro.
Let’s talk about eggs for a minute. I’m sure you’re wondering, as I did, why specifically 63.5°? Eggs want to cook at 145° F. Fact. Well assuming fact, this is what I was told at dinner. We cook our eggs too high. Here they cook the eggs for an hour sous-vide style. That means they put the egg in an air tight plastic bag and put that bag in a water bath and let it cook. Sous-vide is also great from quick marinades. It forces the marinade into the meat because it has no where else to go. The more you know right? When you cook the egg in this style the white and the yellow are the same consistency. If I had the patience to cook eggs for an hour, sous-vide style, I still probably wouldn’t because I would never be that patient.
Frittata | Ibercio ham | Smoked mozzarella | Asparagus salad
This is an Italian-based dish. Although, the ham comes from southern Spain and only southern Spain. The pigs, which this specific ham is from, are foragers. They eat acorns and wild flowers. No one feeds them. Once the pigs are fat or whatever they need to be they are salted and hung in a cellar for 1+ years. Obviously the curing of the meat happens once Babe is no longer with us. The technique these farmers use essentially make prosciutto. This specific ham was aged 2 years and goes for $180-200/lbs.
I put my fork into the ramekin and had a hard time getting it to come apart so at that point I wasn’t too impressed with this dish. Then I put it in my mouth and took back every negative thought I had. That ham though. I have very rarely said the words “Oh my God” while eating but this time I did. I almost put the fork down. I didn’t want to be distracted from eating. I didn’t feel the need to rush into my second bite. But no because $200 ham. I have never had anything like that before and I most likely will never experience that again. That’ll do pig. That’ll do.
Watermelon sorbet | House-distilled peach moonshine | Mint
Once you are on the guest list for a dinner at Frank they send you an email with all your instructions and also your menu. You are free to look at it or not. Some people don’t because they want to be surprised. I love surprises but I also love getting excited about what I was going to eat so I looked. Of all the dishes listed this was the one I was most excited to try. I love watermelon. That’s one of the reasons I love summer. So much watermelon so little time.
Moonshine. The booze of the Prohibition era. Moonshine must be consumed within one week of distillation or it is no longer moonshine. Moonshine is also highly illegal and extremely strong. I obviously did not have moonshine (wink wink).
The watermelon sorbet is made with just frozen watermelon juice. It was a subtle flavor. The moonshine was strong but I didn’t get peach. I got booze. I ended up mixing the sorbet with the moonshine resting on the bottom of the glass and taking it like a shot. I also removed the mint. I thought there was too much mint and I know that was the consensuses among my new friends on my side of the table. I also just don’t like mint outside of mint chocolate chip ice cream or a mojito. But like I said, the people sitting around me agreed. We decided that basil would be a better herb. Or salt. Either in the form of some granules atop the sorbet or salting the rim.
Crouque- madame | Laraland farms smoked red wattle ham | House-made sourdough | Gruyere | Sunny duck egg | Caviar | Green Salad.
This was considered the main course. Again, a dish I’ve never experienced before. Crouque- madame. A crouque-madame is like an open-faced sandwich. It’s bread, ham, cheese, and optional sauce. Our sauce was replaced with the egg. What’s the difference between a crouque-madame and a crouque-monsieur? No idea. I tried to Google it and it gave me the same definition. So my guess is the monsieur is an actual sandwich. Someone, please feel free to enlighten me on the difference.
I was not a fan of this dish and I’ll tell you why. The sourdough was a little too crusty which made it difficult to cut. I was literally throwing my food all over the table, at one point my lap, because I couldn’t get through the crust. It was incredibly frustrating. Maybe it was the wild yeast. Wild yeast takes longer to rise. The first rise takes 24-48 hours and the second rise takes 3-6 hours. I doubt it was the yeast, that’s a cop-out. I even just got in that dish after a little while and picked it up with my hands. Naturally after covering it with the caviar that was falling off because if I’m going to eat caviar I might as well get that shit all over it. I’ve had caviar on it’s own before and was not a fan. Mixed with more food it’s not as bad. After the hand attempt also failed me I ended up giving away what was left of my food. Like I said, the people around you become your best friends. Already willing to eat after you. No cooties at this table.
“Dessert Benedict” | Candied bacon waffle | Cantaloupe ice cream | Zabaglione
You know how fruit salads are always cantaloupe and honey dew and you’re disappointed? Not here. The only way I want to eat cantaloupe is in ice cream form from now on. One scoop is all you need. The color of the zabaglione (which is an Italian whipped custard) was very yellow. Questionably yellow. It received its color from tumaric but it was really throwing me off. Yellow is not an appetizing color for food. At least to myself. But it was delicious nonetheless. At the bottom was the bacon waffle. Cause bacon waffle. You can’t go wrong with bacon waffle. It was little bits of bacon so it wasn’t overpowering at all. I only really got crunch from the bacon more than bacon flavor.
Home-made blood orange grapefruit mimosa
The mimosa was mouthwatering. I feel that carafes needed to be on the table. They didn’t really, the servers walked around and re-filled your glasses often. But still, carafe wouldn’t have upset me or anyone I was sitting with.
The rose came with the main course. I know I drank it but at this point I was kinda boozed up and a little overwhelmed by taste to really remember it. I know that in looking for a wine pairing for the dish they tired 8 different wines. PS- I would love to be apart of these tastings beforehand. I like wine.
Turkish coffee. I don’t drink coffee. When I was younger my mom had coffee in a water bottle in the fridge. I mistook it for soda and chugged it and regretted it instantaneously. Since then I just never wanted to drink it. It brings back bad memories. There are few exceptions to this statement. 1. I’m dying and need caffeine to get me through the day. 2. It’s this Spanish espresso on of my Directors at work makes. 3. Turkish coffee.
It’s slightly sweetened so you don’t need to add sugar but they do offer it at the table. Apparently, in Greece they use Turkish coffee grounds to read your future. We were not in Greece, nor was anyone of Greek decent so no readings for us.
At the end of our three hour dinner I was done. This brunch dinner was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. No brunch nor meal will ever compare. I might as well stop eating altogether. From now on I am eating for nourishment and not enjoyment. That’s partially a joke. I love food. But really this meal is in direct competition for best meal of my life thus far, and I think it wins. When Jennie and Ben came around at the end asking everyone what they thought I told them “Anorexia starts tomorrow. Might as well end on a high note.”
They also ask everyone what their favorite dish was. I told them mine were the two dishes where the main component was something in my every day life I hate.
I don’t like beans (although I’m warming up to them) but that black bean puree was the best dish of the evening. It was so humble in it’s origin and ingredients. So perfectly balanced.
Also I hate cantaloupe. But like I said, ice cream form and I’m sold.
After dinner was said and done my mother and I cornered Ben and asked for MasterChef secrets. Which I got. I know all the behind the scenes goodies. I’m on to you Fox and MasterChef. On to you.
I encourage you to sign up for Frank. It’s hard to get in but when you do it’s worth it. One thing I was told by Frank frequenters is to let them know you are open for any night as opposed to a singular night. I suggest creeping the Facebook if you don’t get picked and snag last minute seats. It’s an experience and it’s one to remember.
Thank you Jennie and Ben for a wonderful dinner and a most kismet evening. Brunch After Dark was obviously meant to be in my life. I appreciate all the hard work that you put into putting that dinner on and want to emphasis just one last time how absolutely, without a doubt, fabulous the food was.