Say the word "underground" and I imagine hidden passages, secret knocks and whispered code words. Rosso Wine Shop's Underground Supper Club is not quite so clandestine but it is a private, invitation-only event. It isn't hard to get an invitation though. Simply sign up for Rosso Wine Shop's email list. Getting a reservation might be another story. There's an enthusiastic following for these special evenings.
Supper Club dates vary but generally they take place once a month. Two big tables are set among the shelves of bottles at Jeff Zimmitti's charming wine store on Verdugo Road in Sparr Heights. A couple dozen guests revel in a parade of paired food and wine curated by Zimmitti in collaboration with a visiting chef.
This past week, chef Matthew Roberts was at the helm creating a four-course menu of lofty flavors that enhanced the character of the wines. Roberts gained a name for himself at the late, great Anthony's Food and Wine which recently closed its doors in La Cañada Flintridge. Here at Rosso, he has less of a kitchen to work with (it's more of a corner, really, with a warming oven and a Weber grill) but that doesn't stop him from churning out appetizing, artful plates.
Take for instance his cedar-cured halibut, pressed raw between two cedar planks. The miso aioli, shiso leaf and seaweed accompaniments give the fish a fresh, salty taste of the sea. Next, we indulged in a mini-clam bake in a bowl. The buttery broth held peewee potatoes, lardons (cubes of pork, smoked by the chef), quail egg and fresh clams. Then came some slow-roasted pork ribs rubbed with cumin, coriander, fennel and other goodies served with a lovely pea tendril slaw, black-eyed peas and ancho hot sauce. We finished with a grilled short rib flank with hatch chili, charro bean puree and calabacitas, a tasty squash-onion-chili side dish. The men at the table loved the procession of seafood and meats. Some of the women wanted more veggies and a proper dessert. But nobody complained about the quality.
The wines were as delicious as they were entertaining. There was a story behind every pour whether the wine be from an unusual region (such as a Chardonnay from the Cienega Valley east of Salinas) or whether it be produced in an uncommon way (such as the Birichino Pinot Noir made with indigenous yeast). Zimmitti clearly knows his wines and loves to talk about them.
The food and wine are stellar at Underground Supper Club but arguably the best part of the supper club concept is not the food or wine. It's the dinner party aspect. I don't know about you but I used to host dinner parties all the time. For some reason that stopped about 10 years ago. I would think long and hard about what food to serve and what guests to invite. If all went well, there was a magic to the evening, something greater than just food and people.
Dinner guests at Underground Supper Club aren't handpicked. No, the configuration is left to the gods. But our table of strangers was boisterous and full of laughter. Servers (in this case the lovely wives of Zimmitti and Roberts) swiftly and gracefully clear old plates and present new ones, never hindering conversation. The only interruption is when the chef comes out to announce what we're about to eat and the sommelier describes the ounce of wine in our glass.
So when is the next Supper Club? Well, the only way to find out is to sign up for the email list at rossowineshop.com. The cost is typically $65 per person. If you'd like to get a feel for the place first, check out chef Roberts' Friday night food program. The menu may change seasonally or even weekly but last week's offerings included a splendid chicken liver mousse with crostini ($10), a small Nicoise pissaladiere with fresh herbs ($10), and a bowl of hearty beef cheek pozole complete with fresh cabbage and radish ($14). The roasted Brussels sprouts with apple vinaigrette and pepitas ($9) were an interesting surprise. Cheese plates, charcuterie, olives, etc. are all there too. Everything you'd need to enjoy the night's featured flight of wines ($10) or a full pour of something brand new.
What: Rosso Wine Shop's Underground Supper Club
Where: 3459-1/2 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale
When: TBD; Friday night wine and food tasting usually 5 to 8 p.m.
Prices: Approximately $65 per person
Contact: (818) 330-9130, rossowineshop.com