The Sub Rosa Dining Series

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

On Friday, 11 people gathered in a Whittier neighborhood home for a chef-driven dinner in an ad hoc, unassuming, and intimate setting. To some, the idea of “underground” dining in Minneapolis could seem a bit premature. So maybe it’s fitting that, like the gophers that represent our state, Nick Schneider has made his habitat known above ground (Cafe Brenda) but shows off his depth in an ever-expanding set of gustatory burrows. On the heels of his work with Mixed Precipitation’s Picnic Operetta and last summer’s Tavola Fresca series comes the Sub Rosa series – four dinners pairing food, wine, and music, designed to lift the spirits and warm the February frost. Ironically named after a kind of medieval meeting that should be kept confidential, opportunists be aware: There are still seats available (at $75 a head) for the final dinner this Sunday, Feb. 20.

The evening was designed to stimulate all of the senses. “I’ve begun to conceive the idea of pairing music and food at dinners,” said Schneider. “Not only am I a fan of classical music but since I started on the Picnic Operetta, it seems like a natural way to provide two mediums of entertainment that really complement each other.” Cellist Jeff Erbland, a U of M Masters student and member of the Mill City Quartet, provided the inaugural dinner’s auditory courses. He deftly navigated selections from Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello, beginning with the Sarabande, Bourrée, and Gigue from Suite No. 3. The other dinners in the series also plan to feature piano and operatic selections.

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

Reliance on local ingredients is obviously tough in February, but the chestnut soup starter made it seem effortless. Schneider sourced the nuts from Badgersett Farm and complemented them with La Quercia prosciutto and porcini mushrooms. “Chestnuts are one of my favorite things to make in the wintertime,” said Schneider. “I love chestnuts and I love the agricultural importance of this kind of crop. American chestnut production is making a resurgence. They’re sweeter than Italian chestnuts but they take quite a while to work with.” A prominent celery taste was a wonderful herbal high note in the mellow, earthy soup. The Picpoul de Pinet that accompanied the soup was a revelation for this author – a longtime hater of the Picpoul grape. The 2009 Felines Jourdan version was light, lemony, and a perfect lively contrast to the rustic chestnut flavor.

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

The gloomier Prelude and Minuet of the minor-key Suite No. 2 were paired with Schneider’s “queen’s course” of Dungeness Crab and Avocado. Plated with a tomato and citrus salad with local mache, it was dressed with quality balsamic vinegar that nicely pulled the dish together. The night’s wine pairings were perhaps a bit by the book for oenophiles, but were nonetheless successful. There is a reason Chardonnay and crab is slightly cliché – the Duboeuf Macon-Villages helped temper the acidity of the citrus and melded with the rich avocado. Pickled shallot was a great touch that added nuance to the crab.

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

The smell of venison wafted in from the kitchen over the famous Prelude to Suite No. 1, a piece recognizable to anyone who has seen a diamond commercial in the last 10 years. The melancholy Sarabande and more optimistic Minuets from the same suite finished the night’s music as the “king’s course” was served. “This is what I would consider a great local dish,” said Schneider. “It’s a Denver leg of venison from Wisconsin, seared medium-rare, served over a beet and spelt risotto. I’m using local spelt grains and a homemade horseradish crème fraiche as well underneath.” The spelt, toothsome like a heartier quinoa, was bathed in beet color to where they resembled pomegranate arils. The crème fraiche mixed with the spelt completed the “risotto” illusion, with just enough horseradish to offer a distinguishing bite. The widely available Jaboulet “Parallele 45” Cotes du Rhone was an exceptional match – fruity and rich while not overpowering the venison.

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

Ending the meal with what Schneider called “a very classic Spoonriver dessert” was a sliver of flourless chocolate cake drizzled with a passion fruit reduction and topped with a citrus sorbet. It was a little rich for this diner, but the tart sauce and sorbet did a nice job cutting the dish’s weight. The evening overall was a successful local showcase, from the ingredients and talents to the intriguing dinner conversation. Dispersing into a positively mild February evening, the diners left unlikely to keep the night’s enjoyments a secret.

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table


  1. Nellie

    If this is the caliber of food being cooked in the “underground” scene, it’s no wonder it has not taken off in Minneapolis. This kind of average food can be found in dozens of average restaurants in the city. I think this misses the point of why “underground” restaurants/dinners came about in the first place: to do things that simply cannot be done in a regular restaurant.

    Or maybe this article would have been better off simply avoiding the term “underground” to begin with.

  2. Jordan


    Two questions, one comment.

    Were you there?


    Could you let me know a few of the “dozens” of restaurants where you can sit with ten others listening to music that was chosen to be paired with the dish you are eating at the time?

    I think this sounds fun. I also think the use of the word underground attracts the too-cool crowd. Anybody who puts the word underground in quotes needs to take themselves less seriously.

  3. artsy

    This is quite possibly what many chefs would love to be doing, cooking for small gatherings that create a total environment for the participants……….where many details are carefully planned, the many local foods used, the wines, and live music chosen to complement the food. I think it’s a great idea, I don’t agree that you can find this very easily, and I want to applaud the endeavor.

  4. curious

    is this legal? to charge people to come into your home for a meal that you sell to them without having proper licensing as a restaurant?

  5. Big German

    One of the reasons they’re called underground is they do not get publicised. They are word of mouth. This little write up creates a different category all together. The Scofflaw Dinner. Catering without a license is not advisable, but it certainly isn’t uncommon. These four dinners if they’re fully attended will generate $3300 in revenue. It doesn’t take too long to imagine doing one a week or about 40K per year. Deduct costs and you’ve got yourself a fun (albeit hard) part-time job, and if you don’t have to pay taxes, rent, or licensing fees it actually begins to sound interesting.

    Illegal restaurants are maybe yet another type of concept. They are a full court press of setting up personnel, wine, cooking equipment, dining room accoutrements for a full staged effort with multiple seatings and the whole shebang. They don’t get written up with pictures of the proprietors.

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