Dinner Lab, the underground supper club experiment that's been a hit in New Orleans, Nashville, and Austin...will roll out its first Los Angeles event in November. Unlike the waning pop-up restaurant model, Dinner Lab is a unique membership-only dining experience that uses member's online profiles to sculpt global menus and match culinary preferences.
It's been about two years since 9th Ward high school history teacher Brian Bordainick, in an effort to foster community and expand local ethnic dining options, introduced the Dinner Lab concept in New Orleans - hosting speakeasy-style dinner parties in provocative spaces, and creating friendships among adventure-loving strangers within bare-boned settings chosen specifically for their intrigue.
The twice-weekly dinner locations are disclosed less than 24 hours before each party when a clandestine menu and address land in members' inboxes. Event venues are always unusual, always formal-restaurant antithetic...a helicopter pad atop a skyscraper, an abandoned prison, or a centuries-old candlelit cathedral with pew-banquette seating. Illumination is often improvised, bathrooms are frequently portable.
Local chefs, typically up-and-coming, render the evening's fare via generator-driven travel kitchens. Meals are usually ten to twelve courses, wine-paired, ethnic-themed... eclectic.
"There are so many talented chefs in the city who don't have the platform to serve the type of food they were trained to create...We want to introduce them to people in the city who care about experimenting with their meals and trying new foods," Bordainick told Forbes.
The endeavor is not without its challenges - Bordainick says the experience is akin to holding two new restaurant openings every week.
Annual memberbership runs between $100 and $175, depending on the city, and individual dinners are deliciously reasonable, averaging only $70, which includes tip and free-flowing wine. A membership permits you to attend events in any participating city, but home city members get the first crack at reservations. Buying a single membership allows you to purchase dinner tickets for both yourself and one non-member guest.
Visitors to their website, in addition to buying membership, can offer/suggest locations for future events. Chefs with skill/passion can offer their services.
There's nothing new about underground dining, but the Dinner Lab model may be an enduring trend. At the very least, Dinner Lab membership allows one the increasingly uncommon opportunity to share bottles of Malbec or Grappa or Soju with unfamiliar souls as diverse as the evening's menu, at an affordable price.