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Only for the Light of Heart
by Tracie Broom on Jan 04, 2008
I’ve been curious about supperclub since the San Francisco branch of this Dutch enterprise opened in 2005. Prix-fixe dining in bed, with performance art, in an all-white SOMA loft? Gimmicky, yes, but it still sounded like fun. However, the 4-star price tag, the hyper-clubby SOMA-meets-Miami techno scene, and an artistic mish-mash of Cirque du Soleil and Burning Man kept me and most of my friends at bay.
Yet I found myself at supperclub’s 2-year anniversary party in October 2007 and, with a little suspension of my hipster pretense, I had a fabulous time doing things like fishing hors d’oeuvres out of a server’s hoop skirt laden with oven mitts, each mitt holding a piping hot spring roll wrapped in wax paper. Despite a slew of horrible blog reviews, I decided to go for it and reserve a table for four for my friend’s birthday in December.
It’s true that we had a grand old time hanging out in our little slice of bed-dom, but I can only recommend this place with a long list of serious caveats. The main piece of advice is that in order to enjoy supperclub, you absolutely must possess a laid-back attitude toward dining, and a fairly aggressive attitude toward partying. The first order of business is to arrive very early for the evening’s sole seating time (7pm/$60, Sun, Tues, and Wed; 7:30pm/$70, Thurs - Sat).
Bed seating is first-come/first-served, so if you’re a late arrival you might end up at one of the few tables dotting the center of the all-white space, instead of reclining on the white-sheeted foam mattress platforms that ring supperclub’s austere dual levels. I had made my reservation on OpenTable, and nowhere in my confirmation email did it note that bed seating is first-come/first-served (such information is the responsibility of the restaurant).
I had even called 4-5 days ahead to make a dietary request (Chef Jean-Gabriel Ferrandon offers only one five-course prix-fixe menu each night, so you can request substitutions for allergies and dietary restrictions), and the bed seating policy was never mentioned. However, we arrived right on time to find that the alternately friendly/stern glamour-tranny hostess (who does do a magnificent job of fluffing the crowd throughout the night with spankings and the like) was able to *just* barely squeeze us in to the last available bed slot.
And here’s the thing about the beds. If you’re a party of four, you are allotted the same amount of space as a party of two. Our four-top had to squeeze around an 18” x 18” square table, and one of us was expected to crouch uncomfortably on the edge of the bed while the other three of us reclined luxuriously (well, like luxurious sardines, anyway) against the wall on fat, downy pillows. Many of the other diners that Saturday evening were in large parties that sprawled amorphously (and happily, it seemed) across their reserved areas, which seemed to work fine, but the 3-top next to us and a 4-top a few slots down got up and left only 10 minutes after being seated, obviously disconcerted by the crowded seating. Luckily, we had shared a couple of pre-game bottles of champers before dinner, so we were less inclined to fuss.
Another caveat: ensure that your table has beverages at all times. A little wary of what I’d read online about the slow drink service, and noting the club’s fairly short wine list, we went ahead and brought a few nice bottles of wine with us, knowing we’d need to pay corkage ($20/$30 for bubbly). Even still, after giving our wine to the hostess and being seated in the 3-walled upstairs balcony by an artfully face-painted, bustier-clad young woman, we sat for over thirty minutes (seriously) before we were greeted or brought water, not to mention our wine. Happily, it had been immediately put in ice buckets before we were seated, so at least by the time we got it, it was ice cold.
If we had known to arrive significantly early for our reservation, we would have had time to get a cocktail at the incredibly slammed bar before being seated, thus lessening the sting of that awkward, unbelievable 30+ minute wait before being greeted by our biblically rag-clad, white face-painted server. Granted, he was very nice and kept us stocked with water all night.
On to the food. The first course was beautiful: a long, rectangular white plate for each of us, holding a gorgeous, sizable swish of fresh microgreens with beets, goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Not innovative, but luscious all the same.
The second course was a disappointment. Kitschily served (a long wait later) in paper coffee cups on a 4-cup to-go tray, the thick, lukewarm puree of roasted chestnuts and foie gras was tasty at first sip (a little palm oil? Or is that red curry?), but it was downright unfinishable, especially out of brutish paper cups. If you’re going to serve a soup of pureed foie gras, it’s got to be served in something delicate. It didn’t help that we weren’t told what was in the soup when it was served -- we had to ask the next time our server came around. One of my friends eschews foie gras for its cruel production methods -- not the most pleasant surprise.
But hey, no big deal, we were still having a great time together, and a super-hot, gothed-out aerialist started climbing up into a giant bathtub that was suspended from the ceiling, and the huge party of people dressed as flappers were partying up a storm downstairs. A petite, attractive massage therapist started to make the rounds, and we ponied up $20 for a 15-minute massage for the birthday girl. The tranny hostess made her spanking rounds, and more wine was uncorked.
Then, after another 45 minutes, a course of seared sea scallops on…mascarpone soufflé (?) with some sort of gelatinous celeriac puree was passed around in shiny metal dog bowls, one per diner. Our server didn’t know what was in it beyond the scallops and celery root, so I can’t really say. I thought the dog bowls were fun, and it was tasty, but too homogenous in texture, so the dish was a gloopy mess.
One hour and more aerial artfulness later, our table was brought 4 vegetarian entrees. All we had specified for our meal was no pork, and no peanuts. That doesn’t mean we’re vegetarian. And for $70 prix-fixe, in a town where the prix fixe price for 4-6 courses is similar at Postrio, The Four Seasons, and One Market, I expect more than a plate of vegetables, regardless of how pleasantly Brazilian they taste. (To be fair, the vegetarian dish was actually very good, like a vegetarian moqueca de peixe with quinoa.) However, our server was gracious, and when we clarified that only one of our party didn’t eat pork, the others who requested it received the straightforward, but delicious, plate of sliced pork tenderloin with broccoli rabe leaves and mashed potatoes. Not exactly the “superb”, “clever” cuisine I was led to expect from the supperclub website, but good nonetheless.
Dessert was an inscrutable tea pot de crčme, served in a plain rocks glass, which was oddly similar to the unfortunate foie gras puree soup we’d had a couple of hours earlier. It was not popular, and so we made dessert out of a lovely bottle of 2006 Domaine Joelle Vrignaud Chablis that we ordered off of the list, as well as an incredible 2005 Whetstone Bella Vigna Pinot Noir that we’d been given to bring along.
By 11pm or so, the clubbing crowd was let in from the bar area, and the already cheesy techno scene amped up a few notches. There was infinite people-watching enjoyment, after all, we were lying on a giant bed. All evening, all we’d had to do is lay around while our server occasionally brought us some noteworthy (if not totally palatable) dish to talk about and perhaps even enjoy. Performers swooped, sang, spanked, and disrobed. Cocktail servers in impossible stiletto heels somehow managed the steel grate floor of the second floor balcony.
We collected ourselves and our jackets from the coat check, and exited smiling (well, maybe smirking a little too -- the place had turned into a total meat market in the space of an hour), and all in all, we had a terrific time. Just know that you’ve got to approach this place with low expectations and a little bit of disaster preparedness -- it’s bemused delight from there on out.
Reservations necessary? Yes.
by Tracie Broom on Jan 04, 2008
image courtesy of supperclub
Photo by Colm Vincent
Photo by Lenea Maibaum