Underground dinner parties add mystery to bored diners' schedules

Chefs partner with artists to create meals inspired by the artists' work

For the third dinner, Olson responded to Ward's creepy plush sculptures by serving dishes that expressed the theme of taking something familiar and making it a little unnerving. Take a cute bunny rabbit...then kill it and eat it for dinner as a cornbread-stuffed loin served with mustard hollandaise and mashed potatoes. Olson cooked the rabbit Boy Scout-style, over a pan of hot coals in a foil-lined cardboard box, and it turned out as well as anything sent out of a restaurant kitchen. (The logistics were less successful with the salad, as the greens, which had been chilled out in the snow, gave new meaning to the term "iceberg lettuce.") For dessert, Olson served a delicate orange soup, a cool, almost medicinal broth with bits of dried fruit and fresh orange segments. While the soup would make an ideal summer refreshment, it seemed an awkward ending for such a cold, blustery night, and it left me longing for its piping-hot cousin, Scandinavian fruktsoppa.

Still, it is impressive that Olson pulled the meal off without a stove, oven, or refrigerator. When cooking at Paired events, he's pretty much limited to small appliances like Crock-Pots and electric skillets, or those with a stand-alone heat source. One time he brought a charcoal grill to the studio, opened a door, and cooked in the hallway. You have to admire a guy who, armed with what amounts to a Wiffle ball and plastic bat, still insists on swinging for the fences.

While uniformity is usually a good thing for a restaurant (at many of them, you can eat the exact same dish, prepared the exact same way, months, if not years, apart), it can also lead to monotony. Paired's idiosyncrasies are precisely its appeal. Olson's menus may have the rough edges of a first draft, but they're blessedly unburdened by the homogenizing force of too much scrutiny—no recipe testing, focus groups, or consultants. Olson's biggest hurdle may be to make sure he's not challenging his guests intellectually at the expense of leaving them happily fed.

If you're only seeking consistently delicious food, admittedly your $50 might be better spent elsewhere. But the overall experience at Paired—the mysterious location, the inspiring art, the social interaction—in my mind makes for a more satisfying evening. The feeling is one of embarking on a shared adventure, sometimes with a spoonful of rabbit liver in one hand and a wine glass in the other. The night's unique, fleeting nature creates the impression that it's something to be savored—and something to talk about long after the fact.

One night, as my tablemates and I discussed German history and looked at some ice-fishing photos passed around on an iPhone, it struck me that Paired was not just a meal but a celebration of the Twin Cities' rich social capital, of our wealth of creative people with interesting ideas. One of the guests, a popular local blogger, summarized the sentiment best when he leaned across the table, as if sharing a secret, and said, "Minneapolis is fucking cool, you guys." 

The next event takes place April 18. For more information, email pairedmn@gmail.com.

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