I had the best dinner party experience in a public space on Tuesday night, thanks to the gentlemen behind Stag Dining Group. They hosted their most recent clandestine dining event right off Union Square, and for such a fancy, well-thought out meal, the vibe was friendly, communal, and really fun.
Guests were given the address the afternoon of the event. I received an email telling me to look for a "tall man in a top hat" at a specific address. That lanky gent, pictured above, was Emory Al-Imam, one of the five tight friends behind Stag. (Nicole Grant recently published a great backstory on the group's mission and a different dinner they hosted in town). I'd met all the Stags the week before, to brainstorm what a SDG dinner with The Bold Italic would look like. And after Tuesday's meal, I have to say I'm genuinely stoked to work with locals whose mission of creating entertaining, community-oriented events is so in line with what we're doing here.
Emory led us to an elevator operator, who took us down a freight elevator located on the street outside the Prescott Hotel. We were then taken down a hallway and into a grand basement ballroom — with a grand kitchen — where tables were lined with menus printed on recycled materials that listed out the deliciousness to come. The theme? Soul food, done in the most creative manner.
The guys on the left in the photo above are Matthew Homyak and Jordan Grosser, two more of the Stags in charge of this awesome meal. They took the floor before every course and gave us the background about the dish we were about to eat, the Fair Trade ingredients they use, and the idea behind their Stag nights. Their announcements felt really informal, almost like toasts at a wedding.
Speaking of toasts, these cocktails topped with fennel fronds (made with Tanqueray and nicknamed The Spoken Word), were outta control. I had two of them, just to confirm that they did, indeed, go down easily. In the background there on the left is another Stag man, Ted Fleury, who made sure every dish looked gorgeous.
The man on the right in the photo above, Mike, is one of my favorite bartenders at my neighborhood watering hole, Alembic. He concocted The Spoken Word, and he was also one of my table buddies over the course of the evening. (The seating is all communal, which encourages making lots of new friends by the time the four-hour dinner is over). I heard some funny Alembic anecdotes from Mike — like how the spot has become something of a hub for Internet dates. He told me he can tell the blind daters a mile away; they seem like they're not exactly sure who they're supposed to be meeting.
On the left is another Stag, Anil Margsahayam , whose background, like much of the Stag pack's life stories, goes well beyond his love of food into a passion for the arts in general.
The Stags incorporate their love for visual art into their dinners, with a different artist's works hanging at their events. On Tuesday, they showed stunning, darkly surreal paintings by a guy they met in Bend, OR named Alex Reisfar . I loved his stuff, specially this crazy owl scene.
There were so many highlights to the night — the food, the cocktails, the Stag guys themselves, my tablemates, the guys at the next table over doing a couple rounds of "the wave" — but one that stood out as extra special to this particular "Celebration of Soul" were the three performances by Aloe Blacc . The SoCal neo-soul artist packed the Great American on Monday night, and then gave us a taste of his velvety croon on Tuesday in a more intimate setting.
As a big music fan, this was the treat that pushed the whole dinner experience over the top. Aloe paid homage to Bill Withers and did original numbers about romantic and political affairs, showing genuine warmth and heart no matter which way the lyrics swayed. He looked like he was having a blast the whole time. I was immediately sold. His performance brought in more than just great music, though. I learned that Aloe is old friends with the Stag guys, whose network extends so far in this state that we can expect more interesting partnerships occurring at these clandestine meals to come. Stay tuned for news on how our collaboration is coming together for a dinner at the end of June.