Wink, wink, nudge, nudge
created over 4 years ago | Tagged:
The rules are simple: Your friend, or a friend of a friend, or a friend of a friend of a friend heard about this thing, and all you have to do is bring $50 and a bottle of wine to this apartment, the exact location of which will be revealed to you sometime after your RSVP.
Wink is a roving supper with no physical address. There is no website, only its creator, whom we’ll call “chef X,’’ an anonymous e-mail, and an ever-shifting array of cobbled-together place settings in an ever-shifting array of homes around Boston. X has clandestinely descended upon these kitchens some 60 times over the past three years.
I first meet chef X in a local library and he slips me a brown business card with nothing but his name typewritten on the front (that is, written with a typewriter), and the words “wink supper’’ scrawled on the back in longhand. I flip it over a couple of times. “And how do I get in touch with you?’’ I say. “You don’t,’’ he says, sliding a white pad of paper and a pen across the table. “I’ll e-mail you.’’
X’s alias is more than a nod to the cloak and dagger. Wink and outfits like it are illegal. They take paying customers but they’re off-limits to and off the radar of city health inspectors. Called supper clubs or underground restaurants, their modern roots in the United States are firmly planted in Portland, Ore., in the early 2000s, where the underground scene helped put that city on the culinary map. Since then it has spread all around the country, a genre of vice that most people, if not tempted to try, would find relatively harmless, amounting to chefs serving patrons at makeshift tables in their own homes. Still, for X, it is a genre not without risk. The last time the Globe covered an underground restaurant, a charming little place called Love+Butter, the owners got spooked by an e-mail from a health inspector, took down their website, and for all intents and purposes, disappeared.
We eat each course with the same flatware; chef X plates food onto the same plates. Napkins are paper. Guests open bottles at random and pour wine into one another’s glasses. The general vibe is one that would fit perfectly in a hipster South End bistro.
“There are moments when I’m scurrying around trying to put together 15 forks in someone’s house and they’ve only got 13 and I’m thinking, Damn it, this would never happen in a restaurant,’’ X says. “But a restaurant is a completely different project. At the end of the day, my job is to set the table, to light the candles, to cook some really good food, and bring people here. This is what I was hoping it would be.’’ Wink is currently accepting reservations. If you know where to send them.