When I heard that the Jackalope Grill, the well-respected fine-dining restaurant, was holding monthly "supper clubs," I immediately thought of the evening-long affairs my grandmother attended - which, I hear, were much more about the gossip than the food itself.
The term "supper club" refers to a trend, popularized largely in the Midwest beginning in the 1930s and '40s and continuing through the 1970s. More than just restaurants, supper clubs served as destinations for patrons who would spend an entire evening socializing and dining on classic American fare, including steaks and chops. Recently, the term has taken on a more food-centric meaning, with chefs holding modern fixed-price, fixed-menu "supper clubs" in establishments across the U.S. and Europe.
The latter is exactly what Chef Timothy Garling is executing every month at the Jackalope Grill. The well-traveled Garling, who happens to be trained in traditional French cooking, chooses one cuisine from the many places he's visited and creates a five-course, wine-paired menu highlighting his favorite dishes from each region.
Supper club revival notwithstanding, Chef Garling said he began the monthly dinners based on a suggestion of some friends at Awbrey Glen. Garling saw the idea as a wonderful way to introduce Central Oregonians to some culinary regions and styles they may not have encountered before. His most recent focus was Alsace.
"I don't think people understand Alsacian food very well," he says. The foods from this region of France more closely resemble those of neighboring Germany than the dishes typically associated with French cuisine. But it's a region that Garling remembers fondly from the three years he lived, studied and traveled in France.
"It's got the earthiness of the Germans with the attitude of the French," he says.
I attended the Alsacian dinner at the Jackalope Grill last Monday. Diners, who are required to make reservations for the prix-fixe dinner, filter in between 5:30 and 7 p.m. Many have attended Garling's supper clubs before - one couple mentioned they hadn't missed one in four months.
The dinner started with a flammekueche - a puff pastry topped with cheese, onions and bacon. The dish, I was told, is traditionally cooked to test the oven's heat and is served to children. Luckily for diners, we were allowed to sample the flaky, pizza-like dish. It was served with the first of five paired wines ($20 for the pairing), a sparkling chardonnay. Garling chose all white wines to complement the courses, most from Alsace. This particular glass of bubbly was full of body and fruit, which paired nicely with the richness of the pastry.
Next, Garling brought out what might be considered the main course, the demi couquelet au Riesling "wantzenau," a roasted half of Cornish game hen served with "spaetzels" (a pan-fried pasta). Delicate, juicy, incredibly flavorful and topped with a bit of coarse-ground mustard, the dish - perhaps more than any other of the night - highlighted Garling's training. The bird was tender and juicy, with the flavor of wine somehow penetrating through every layer of meat. The skin was delicate yet slightly crispy without any superfluous fat. The Riesling that Garling paired with the bird pushed the dish over the edge. If you're used to over-oaked, overly sweet Rieslings, I suggest you try one from Alsace. It was lightly effervescent and started out fruity and slightly sweet, but finished deliciously tart.
The third course was a deviation from the previous rich dishes - a simple green salad with heirloom tomatoes in a Gewürztraminer dressing. The fourth dish the choucroute garnie a l'Alsacienne (translation: dressed sauerkraut), which was topped with a variety of meats, including a two-inch square slice of bacon from Carlton Farms, two different types of artisan sausage and pork butt. Although this was more meat than I'd typically eat in a week, it was a decadent delicacy that I couldn't pass up.
Garling rounded out the dinner with a gorgeous apple strudel served with homemade caramel sauce and whipped cream, paired with an Alsacian pinot gris.
In a nutshell, the dinner was excellent. But not only that, I learned a great deal about the food of Alsace. Garling printed the night's menu in both French and English and diners had fun trying to pronounce dishes such as the flammekueche (pronounced fla-muh-kush). He greeted each table after every dish was served, explaining the origins and ingredients.
For me, each course and each expertly paired glass of wine took me farther and farther away from Bend. I haven't spent much time in France and have never been to Alsace. But if I used my imagination, I was at a café in the French countryside. Garling has a deep passion for the places he's visited and it permeates each plate he presents. This was one of the most unique dining experiences I've had - and one of the most satisfying. I'm pretty sure I didn't experience what my grandmother loved about her supper club, but that's all right because, at least for an evening, I experienced Chef Garling's Alsace.