This week, we're doing a departure from our regular restaurant reviews to highlight an underground dinner.
My wife and I recently had a real treat -- an underground dinner put on by a young chef by the name of Josh Vitt.
These days, new concepts, or at least new twists on old concepts, seem abound in the food world. While not necessarily new in content, the underground dinner or supper concept is nothing new in name, but it does have a few modern twists.
In one form or another, most of us have seen them for quite a while, whether we identify them as such. Progressive dinners, theme dinners, wine dinners, set menu meals for small groups and so on.
They are an opportunity for chefs to showcase their talents, unencumbered by the restrictions of a restaurant menu, and an opportunity for a small group of people, usually 20 to 30, to get to know him or her on a much more intimate level.
Obviously, in a 150-seat restaurant on a Saturday night, the odds of getting to visit with, or to even see the chef, are pretty slim. For some that's OK, but for others, the meal is better for the experience of getting to know the person preparing it and their back story on a personal level. It becomes an event, rather than just food on a plate.
Several underground and wine dinner clubs are operating in Tulsa. Did you know that? Perhaps not. As a usual rule they are not advertised, and even the word-of-mouth advertising is limited. People who find a good one, don't want the world to know their secret, so they don't go around telling everybody!
Enter Vitt, a young chef with a diverse background, and a real culinary passion. Officially his business is called Vitter's Catering. His nickname in high school was Vitters, so when he was looking for a name for his business, it seemed to be the most logical choice.
Vitter's Catering has been in business for about two years now and started out by catering weddings, parties, dinners, pool parties, supper clubs, pretty much whatever someone wants done or can think of. Many of his wedding receptions are done at the local mansions, Dresser, Harwelden and others, and on the night we had the privilege of attending his sushi dinner, he was gearing up for a large wedding in a nearby town. This was to be a three-day reception for a large group to be exact. Although weddings are the bread and butter of his company right now, Chef Vitt is pushing for the dinner/supper club part of the business to take on a bigger share in the future.
After some years in the industry, Vitt graduated from the Culinary Institute of the Palm Beaches in Florida in 2004 and worked in the Florida area -- most notably under a sushi master where he learned the subtleties of the world of sushi.
As I have said before, sushi is an art form and an art, and transcends the mere act of combining rice and fish together on a plate. It is the whole experience that makes sushi ... sushi.
After nearly eight months of tutelage, the master finally decided that Vitt was ready to actually work for the public, and it was not till then that he was allowed to prepare for the clientele.
With stints at Ursula's Bavarian Inn, the Hilton and The Embassy Suites under his belt, Chef Vitt decided to strike out on his own. And here he is today.
On a Saturday night, we attended one of Vitt's underground sushi dinners with a total of 30 people, which is unusually large for this type of function, and he still had to turn people away. It was held in the front dining room of the Sun Building on S. Detroit.
Vitt shares space with the Crusty Croissant, a bakery and café originally housed at Peoria and 36th St.
One of the things that makes these dinners so enjoyable is that not only do you have the opportunity to meet and get to know the chef and his staff, but you are generally put together with a group of people you have never met before or have only visited with on one or two previous occasions. It's just a nice experience.
All of the sushi was prepared as we sat, drank our wine (it's BYOB) and enjoyed the company of new people. The mix of people, jobs and ages was far and wide, so there was plenty to discuss.
Vitt had a sushi bar set up in the front of the room, and we all sat at two large tables, community style. The food was served family-style with the exception of the appetizers and the dessert and at some point pretty much everyone got up and visited with chef as he worked. This particular night was a seven-course Japanese (mostly sushi) dinner. And it was awesome! He does at least one of these a month now.
We started the evening with a nice variety of hors d'oeuvres: a teriyaki beef turned into a sort of Asian jerky, sweet and tasty; nicely done spring rolls, crispy and hot with several nice dipping sauces; and an item I jokingly call Japanese chips: a puffy, shrimp flavored, deep-fried rice cake that crunches and then sort of melts away in your mouth.
As we were enjoying all of this, chef was hard at work at the sushi bar, assembling out first sushi course. A crisp green salad with a mango dressing got us to sit down while we waited.
The next course found us eating cooked sushi rolls. Honestly, with the exception of the occasional tempura battered roll, I had never experienced that, but it was excellent.
The rest of the meal was family style. The next course consisted of huge platters of rolls. If you are not familiar with a sushi roll, it is a mixture of rice, fish, vegetables, and a few other specialty items rolled neatly in a sheet of nori, or roasted pressed seaweed, and then sliced for ease of eating.
When properly assembled, the inside picture is beautiful to behold, shingled neatly on the plate and often drizzled with a sauce for extra color and flavor.
Next came an assortment of Nigiri, a small ball of rice topped with a delectable morsel of fresh fish. It can be made with essentially any really fresh salt water fish, but most commonly uses tuna, hamachi (yellowtail), sweet shrimp, salmon, eel, halibut, squid, albacore, scallops and mackerel.
Obviously, this is a small list, and other fish are used, but these are probably the most common in this country. As I recall, pretty much all these were used. (Freshwater fish has parasites and should not be eaten raw, which is why freshwater eel among others will always come to your table cooked.)
And as if that wasn't enough of a protein overload, the next course was sashimi, utilizing all of the fish Vitt didn't use during the other courses. Sashimi is the purest of forms since it is simply fish by itself, sans rice and vegetables.
One of the features that makes these evenings so enjoyable is that the chef moves out to the dining area and gives a small description of the items as they are placed on the table family style, and it is fun to hear the descriptions of the food you are about to eat, sometimes with a little history and geography thrown in
It was absolutely a great evening, with a huge amount of sociality and good company, not to mention absolutely tons of sushi. Vitt and his staff are very personable, very service oriented, and very efficient.
Coincidentally during the writing of this article I received an e-mail informing me of the next dinner. (Well of course! I'm now on the mailing list!) It's very nearly sold out already and they are planning an alternate night to accommodate overflow. This guy has a good thing going. And so can you! Don't miss out!
Share this article: