When I was a young kid, my mom would always make sure to tell me to eat my greens. Somehow, I don’t think that eating a 5-course meal, centering on Chinese herbs and Cannabis, was what she was referring to. When I learned about the “special” dinner that was being arranged by Starry Kitchen owner Nguyen Tran and Chef Laurent Quenioux, I didn’t immediately jump out of my seat from excitement. Not really being a fan of “exotic” food, I was perhaps at the least, a little curious, and in the end, my curiosity won out.
I felt a certain foodie duty to partake in this underground dining experiment. I did it for my readers, yes, I took one for the team. After all, it was all set to go down on 4/20 day.
It is my understanding that this budding idea of doing a weed-themed dinner started back when Prop 19 was put on the ballot about 2 years ago to legalize Marijuana. The law obviously didn’t pass, still the the chefs wanted to plan some sort of special herb dinner regardless. They held a successful mini dinner, on April 1st that fed only a select few, approx. 30 guests. The diners included the LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold and High Times editor (and author of the Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook), Elise McDonough. Shortly after the success of this dinner, tickets became available on Event Bright for a much larger event: a 5-course herb-filled feast for 100 lucky guests on April 20th. It sold out immediately. What? You’re surprised? Los Angelenos are serious about their underground supper clubs, and probably even more serious about their herb.
So this was the experience:
For a cool hundred bucks (plus tips), we were taken on a Lionel Ritchie Listening Tour with an “optional” dinner to follow (wink, wink). The prix fixe meal would consist of Chinese Herbs and some Lady Jane action. Day of the dinner, we were emailed the top secret location of our meeting place. And under the guise of Mr. Commodore Booty McHooters, our host lead us to the dining spot in a single file line. McHooters, or Nguyen Tran, as known to his Starry Kitchen fans and customers, is often known for his crazy antics (eg. dressing up like a giant banana). I found him and the whole production thoroughly amusing.
7:45 ish The guests have now been seated.
Behind the scenes… A well-oiled machine.
All hands on deck! 105 plates are being prepped simultaneously. Cameras were everywhere documenting this extravaganza.
If you look closely, you can see NBC reporter Kim Baldonado in the background.
On to the menu. Here’s what they served us:
Dish 1: Silky Bantam Chicken, Chicken Skin, Avocado, Pink Grapefruit, Cannabis Leaves, Citrus Oil, Pickled Beets, Solomon’s Seal
Really interesting chewy, thick texture and taste… And by interesting, I mean, I didn’t love it. It was the first dish of the night, so we ate.
Internal monologue: Oh, no. So this is what “herb” tastes like? What did I get myself into…?
Dish 2: Spare Ribs, Angelica Root, Wolfberries, Bergamote Glazed Pork Belly, Green Apple, Green Garlic Slaw
Beautifully plated. Delicate texture. Pork belly fat was a bit tough to get into but the ribs were perfect.
Internal monologue: Ooh, Ribs? Pork Belly? This is more like it! Yum! Where are the herbs here? In the slaw?
Dish 3: Monkfish, Congee, Cannabis Ezpaote Pesto, Nettles, Shiso, Young Carrots
Silky melt-in-your-mouth quality. Delicate fish, delicious pesto.
Internal monologue: Probably my favorite dish so far. Is this green stuff the herb? Can I eat the leaf? Whatever, it’s tasty, I’m killin’ this plate.
Dish 4: Beef Culotte, Onion Bacon Cannabis Tart, Sunchoke, Nameko
Tender Beef. Delicious crunchy tart.
Internal monologue: Damn, this is yummy, but I’m SO full! Arrrghhh Ughhhhhh. Must. Keep. Tasting.
Dish 5: Osmanthus Panna Cotta, Rhubarb, Namelaka, Blood Orange Sorbet, Cannabis Soil, Kumquat, Asparagus
Amazing flavors. A delicious little plate.
Internal monologue: Damn, this dessert is so good! Why didn’t they start with this dish!? Wait a sec, am I eating SOIL!? And what’s this asparagus doing in my dessert!? It’s kinda good though… it works! Are you gonna eat yours? Crap. Am I high? Bring me another! No more food? Aww.
When I asked McHooters if he was going to get to eat anything he simply said “Oh, I haven’t eaten all day! This is what I live for – just planning these crazy events gives me a high. I love it. It’s all about having fun!” Said by a true adventurer.
It was about a three and a half hour dinner or so from start to finish and despite the lag time between dishes, I thought they ran a pretty tight ship considering the amount of guest in such a small space. Hemp beer and custom cocktails, were mixed by Josh Goldman and I thought they were paired very well with the food just as the servers were quick and efficient in bringing it all out to the tables simultaneously.
For me, the best part of the event was actually the camaraderie that happened among guests. There was such an eclectic group of people: younger, older, foodies, non-foodies, bloggers, techies, birthday people and I’m sure, a few stoners for good measure.
I even ran into a few foodie friends! Shout out to fellow blogger @kevinEats. Behold our post-dinner faces.
Perhaps it was our common bond, the thrill of the experience, or simply the curiosity of the unknown – regardless, we all had a great time enjoying some eclectic food and indeed became buds by the end of the night. Get it? “Buds.” Heh Heh.
Note: We were warned a head of time that we would not feel some crazy psychedelic high after the meal and that the “herbs” were mostly suggestive. We were only given the minutest of amounts anyway, around 3 ounces for 100 people. However, by the time the desert was eaten, our talkative friends were suddenly very quiet, and our quiet friends had become rambunctious and giddy. I was certain I felt some sort of “fuzzy feeling” but perhaps it was simply the high of doing something deliciously taboo… Or maybe, I was just drunk.
Whatever, just call me a cab, I’m too full to drive.