I'd vaguely heard of a new private event space in South Lake Union called the Velvet Underground Dining Experience. But yesterday, three separate people (including a chef and our own restaurant critic) brought it up in conversation. Hence it was time to hunt up more info.
The man behind these dinners is Jon Staenberg, whose company Hand of God Wines is headquartered in Seattle but makes wine in Argentina. With Hand of God's inaugural release currently in a boat steaming toward the U.S., Staenberg has been pondering how to introduce his wine to a city and state already awash in local grapes. He came up with the idea of notable local chefs stepping away from their usual menus for a night, and doing something particularly ambitious and more feasible with a single seating than in a busy dinner service.
VUDE dinners happen in a warehouse space with an open kitchen at 308 9th Ave N; the best way to learn what's happening is by signing up for updates on VUDE's website. Diners at these 40-person events will engage with chefs, farmers, fishermen, and obviously the winemaker.
"There's a big education part here," says Staenberg. "We don't stuff it down people's throats, but people want to know where the food is coming from, why the chef made this, and why it's paired with that wine. That doesn't happen very often."
For the next VUDE dinner, Hitchcock chef Brendan McGill is veering away from his usual French-meets-Northwest fare and putting a regional spin on modern Spanish cuisine. He's bringing giant Pacific octopus, secured specifically for the chef via an arrangement with Bering Sea cod boats. The Hitchcock deli is also busy salt-curing loins of line-caught Pacific albacore. The eight-course dinner is $125, and will be served with ciders from Finnriver and wines from Andrew Will Winery. Staenberg's Hand of God wines are still making the voyage from Argentina, but he says VUDE will continue working with likeminded wineries even after their arrival.
Staenberg considers the VUDE space "very much a laboratory," while he figures out how to engage people and use storytelling to help spread the word about his wines. How does he secure chefs of McGill's caliber? Well, he won't exactly say: "That's the secret sauce."
The "notable chef cooking a different menu" format might sound familiar to anyone who knows about the One Night Only Project dinners launched earlier this year. In fact, the oganizers are using the VUDE space for an event this Saturday, when Ma'ono chef Mark Fuller will cook a six-course Mexican dinner paired with Georgetown beers. But Staenberg says his dinners will always focus on the wine.
VUDE dinners won't be a regular thing, says Staenberg, and it's not a moneymaking venture. "If a chef approaches us or we're inspired by somebody coming to town, that's when we'll do it."