When chef John Perkins started entre, he pictured a group of strangers sitting around a communal table and enjoying the bounty brought before them by experiencing it together through an underground dinner. Indeed, there is nothing individual about dining with entre. The entire meal, from start to finish, is a group effort that sets out to strengthen not only your palate, but your community spirit as well.
entre's 4th anniversary dinner was no exception. When diners received the requisite email the morning of the dinner on Sat., Sept. 1, they learned they would be dining at entre's event space in the Central West End, next to The Gaslight Theater. Perkins' kitchen sat in full bloom, new hood gleaming after entre's devoted fan base funded upgrades needed to secure the underground restaurant's future. In true entre fashion, Perkins broke in his new kitchen with a five-course feast that was a more mature version of the menu at his very first underground dinner four years ago.
Two creative cocktails welcomed the entre crowd as they found their seat and perused the menu. The Rose of India mixed cardamom, arak (any of various spirits distilled in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Far East from fermented coconut palm sap or a rice and molasses mash), grapefruit juice and rose water, leaving a refreshing sip with a kick of black licorice aftertaste. The Caipirinha included green tea cachaca (a dry Brazilian rum distilled from sugarcane), mint and lemon. Both drinks were strong and yet a perfect match with the cheesy, light, puff pastries, or gougères, that Perkins sent to the table to start the meal.
The first course was delivered shortly after the first wine and beer pairing glasses were poured. A salad of heirloom tomatoes, canary melon, peach saffron jam, goat's milk and edible flowers teased the taste buds with what was yet to come.
Thankfully, that light first course left plenty of room for a rich second course of duck egg ravioli, matsutake mushrooms, eggplant and bok choy. The raviolo combined duck egg with MOFU tofu and, when pierced, soaked the vegetables below it, creating a dense, savory dish. One raviolo was plenty, in a good way.
The palate cleanser that found its way to the table next - charred tomato water sorbet topped with a basil gelée - allowed everyone to reset before the main dish. Perkins prepared the fourth course days before the big meal. He rolled wagyu beef in porcini mushroom powder, cooked it sous-vide for 36 hours and seared it on a flat iron immediately before serving. The steak was served with a stone ground grit cake and carrots and topped with pea tendrils. The marbling of the wagyu stood out against the mild taste of the grits and carrots and created a balanced main course.
Dessert certainly tilted the scales in this five-course dinner. Smoked corn ice cream topped spongy chocolate cake, with whiskey plums on the side surrounded by leftover dehydrated cake crumbles. The cake was light enough to soak up the ice cream and turn into a light ending to a well-balanced meal.
Perkins ended the meal by addressing the group and expressing his thanks for the previous four years. It seemed that everyone was excited about the future of entre with the new kitchen and new space, but no one more so than Perkins himself.