Somewhere in the Downtown Los Angeles arts district, there's a couple standing outside a warehouse calling a secret phone number. A man going by Cortez will meet and escort them to a loft dressed wall-to-wall with taxidermy. Strangers dressed in black cocktail attire will greet them by name, offering glasses of expensive wine and together they'll settle at a banquet table garnished with a crocodile head centerpiece.
Is this a scene out of Inception? No, it's the Wolvesmouth supper club.
Los Angeles supper clubs have gotten a bit of press recently, with the LA Times running an article on how to get into 13 of the local underground dining experiences and with the NY Times doing a feature on 15-year-old chef Flynn McGarry and his dinner party, Eureka. But none has aroused curiosity and piqued interest quite like Wolvesmouth, for which many diners wait a year to be accepted into.
The process is anything but straightforward: you get on a mailing list, and when dinners are announced you email the team why you deserve a seat. If you're lucky you'll receive a response inviting you to join the party, accompanied by cryptic instructions on where to go and what to bring. Only if you RSVP yet again will you be given more details.
It may be a pain in the neck, but the system is built to weed out the unadventurous.
Wolvesmouth is an immersive, artistic dining experience about bringing strangers together to bond over food in a sort of elevated primal state. The first bite of the night will be a blood-rare ribeye and you'll work your way through the food chain, feasting on rabbit and gnawing on fried quail. It's fine dining in the most twisted way possible, and guests are encouraged to break all the rules they learned at cotillion.
Chef Craig Thornton applies what he calls a "minefield" approach to each of the nine courses, piecing together unusual flavor pairings such that you're never sure what each bite is going to taste like. Each dish is designed to conjure up a personal memory or paint a particular image. The plating is anti-French, almost Warhol-like with tweezers being using to make it look like all of the ingredients were haphazardly slapped onto the plate.
From top to bottom, the food is excellent in ways you wouldn't expect. The braised halibut is perhaps the best use of the fish I have ever experienced, with its very suggestible flavor working wonderfully with a zesty lemon gelee and spicy jalapeño crema. Onions and radishes sit delicately atop the protein while masa balls and a fried squash blossom are strewn haphazardly across a poblano cream. It may be the strangest taco of sorts you'll ever eat, but there's no coming closer to Puerto Vallarta.
The dishes are expertly seasonal too, and Thornton displays his absolute mastery of culinary intuition in a recent dessert course of mandarins and a pistachio genoise. To the average person this would seem like a whimsical pairing, but Thornton knows that there is a brief period of time, late in the citrus season, when the mandarin moves on from its standard almond-y nuttiness to a sweeter pistachio undertone. To heighten this muted flavor in a dessert-like application demonstrates a deep understanding of the craft; to plate it in such a way that the course resembles blood and guts is genius.
It's a shame that Thornton has no desire to cook for the general public. He has certainly earned enough acclaim and respect that he could work in any kitchen he desired. And yet perhaps it's best that he limits his art to those who are most likely to appreciate it for its ingenuity. There's a sense that the world doesn't know what it's missing out on.
But that means more rabbit for those of us who do know.