Restaurant dreams


Hazelnut and Chard Ravioli Salad, conceived, prepared and photographed by Heidi Swanson of

I owe it to you to explain why most of the past couple weeks’ posts spoke only of food. (By the way, my menus are compiled at the end of this post.) I have been thinking of starting an underground restaurant.

I had read an article years back about people who love to cook inviting others to their homes for dinner. And charging them. It’s more personal than a restaurant, but it also provides some semblance of an income for the cook, who’d be putting a lot of time into the preparation.

I revisited this idea when I recently sought work in a restaurant and found the old catch-22. That is to say, I haven’t been able to get a back-of-house job because I haven’t already done it for several years. So I figured I’d take matters into my own hands.

Thinking about the context, I immediately decided to offer fixed 3-course menus, that people would know ahead of time and choose whether or not to reserve a spot at a 12 to 14-person table. I figure this could best be done online, via credit card or Paypal. That way people can see exactly what seats at the table are taken for a particular night, and choose their own accordingly.

To remind people they’re actually eating in a house (albeit a house of good food) and that I’m not pretentious in the least, I thought I’d offer the occasional dish “family-style.” This is where a few large serving plates or bowls are placed in the middle of the table, and everyone serves themselves out of them. I’d serve no more than one course a night like this—except for the “Thanksgiving” menu, which I thought would be fun to serve this way entirely.

The menus you’ve been reading are the ones I came up with specifically for this. Almost all the dishes have a personal connection. If I cook, I usually cook something on these menus. So I know how these dishes work.

As you probably noticed, most of them are vegetarian, for reasons of sustainability. (On average it takes 31,000 gallons of water to raise a 16 ounce grain-fed steak. You could conserve more water giving up just one of these than by skipping showers for two years, according to the authors of my environmental science textbook.)

As well, we’d compost our food waste, recycle everything possible and our doggie bags would be compostable/biodegradable. Come next spring I might grow some of our herbs and vegetables on my balcony.

So what do you think? Would you reserve a seat in someone’s house (someone you probably don’t know) to eat any of the menus I posted below? Would you pay 20-27 dollars for the 3 courses, based on the cost of the ingredients? Here are some additional details I should add:

  • It’s BYOB, which is a booming segment these days. Fancy BYOB restaurants charge $55 for three courses, so for those Gold Coast socialites who can afford $55, they can certainly afford me. I’d provide glasses, bottle openers, ice buckets. I’d sell coffee, tea and maybe some unique natural juice for $2.
  • I suspect I’d have the dinners start at 7 p.m. and end by 8:30. Is that reasonable? If you were going to be late, you could call us and we could either serve a couple courses concurrently, or have one course boxed up and waiting for you at the end of the meal.
  • We would try to buy the freshest ingredients possible, which means shopping at farmers’ markets and frequently buying ingredients the same day you eat them. So you’d have to reserve your seat early enough to give us time to buy the stuff. Is 10 a.m. reasonable, or should I make it noon or even 1 p.m.?

I have a name in mind for this establishment, although I won’t say it just yet, because it’s still up in the air and I don’t want someone to steal my domain name in the process.

It’s up in the air because I may not get a student loan. Or I may decide to put the $3,000 overhead that I project into something else: namely a culinary certificate program at the nearby Le Cordon Bleu school, Culinary and Hospitality Institute Chicago. That would get me legitimacy and a job in someone else’s kitchen. Both are cool, but maybe not as cool as having your own venue talked-up about town.

(Places like More Cupcakes have seen success and publicity in part because their founders have no formal training—just a good palate, lots of practice and a dream.)

Weigh in, please. Let me know what you think.

Cheese and cream

Course one // Insalata Caprese [local heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, organic fresh basil, organic california olive oil]

Course two // Goat cheese ravioli with tomato cream sauce [organic tomatoes, cream] / parmesiano reggiano / crusty bread

Course three // Chilled Red Berry soup [Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cream, Triple Sec]

Seeing green

Course one // Olive oil and kale smashed potatoes [skin-on red potatoes, organic california olive oil, parmesiano reggiano]

Course two // Spinach quiche [Jarlesberg cheese, organic spinach, organic eggs, organic half and half]

Course three // Pistachio pudding—or—green tea and mint ice cream / Wheatgrass shots

Grains of Winter

Course one // Butternut squash and apple soup

Course two // Wild rices with chili powder, cayenne, green onions / minted organic quinoa /  organic plain yogurt

Course three // From-scratch pumpkin pie [organic pumpkin, organic cream, organic brown sugar]

zing »» subtle

Course one // Zing: Onion Tarts with goat cheese

Course two // Strong: From scratch roasted tomato soup [organic tomatoes, cream]

Course three // Mild: Local, organic chicken blackened on a grill

Course four // Subtle: Bread pudding and whiskey sauce

World Traveler

Course one // Dubai: Sesame seed-coated falafel with tahini yogurt dip

Course two // Thailand: Thai-spiced grilled salmon [Salmon wild, sustainably-fished, from Alaska] / complimentary literature about sustainable fishing

Course three // Grand Cayman: Griddled pineapple and mango on toasted panettone [sweet bread] with homemade Chantilly cream [organic cream]

A 101 Cookbooks Thanksgiving

—Three vegetarian courses, all served family style, recipes from

Course one // Thai-spiced pumpkin soup / firecracker cornbread [corn kernels and red pepper flakes]

Course two // Hazelnut and chard ravioli salad [“Plump raviolis tossed with toasted hazelnuts, sauteed ribbons of chard, and caramelized onions … finished off with a dusting of cheese, snipped chives and lemon zest.”]

Course three // Vanilla mashed sweet potatoes [vanilla beans and organic cream]

Best of 101 Cookbooks (plus Grandma Young’s Springerlies)

Course one // Grilled kabobs slathered in middle-eastern muhammara sauce [tofu, lemon, mushroom, red onion]

Course two // Heather’s quinoa [corn, kale, pan-seared chicken with pesto and roasted cherry tomatoes] / Big Sur Bakery rolls [flax, sesame, oat, sunflower, amaranth]

Course three // Mini buttermilk berry milkshakes / Grandma Young’s Springerlies [aged German anise cookies]

Untitled hints of Clandestino

Course one // Root vegetable and white cheddar gratin [blue potato, celeriac, carrot] / baby spinach chiffonade / powdered almond and nutmeg / pumpkin glaze

Course two // Toasted quinoa with leeks and mint rosemary / Charred sourdough / capers and olive oil

Course three // Chocolate chip cookie / Chantilly cream / shaved mint chocolate / mint tea

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s