When you think of upscale dinner locales, you don’t normally think of Blind Whino. Why would you? The ultra-hip, reclaimed church is not a food venue. It doesn’t even have a kitchen. None of that mattered on the evening of May 15, however.
DC’s newest food experience took over Delaware Ave SW for an unforgettable foodie slam. Dinner Lab is self-described as “a social dining experiment that unites undiscovered chefs with adventurous diners who are looking for something different from the conventional restaurant experience.”
The membership-based social dining experiment dares its members to try out new cuisines in unconventional spaces. The day before the dinner, Dinner Lab members get an email with an address, the chef’s name, and the style of cuisine. Every week is a different location, a different chef, and a different menu. On this particular evening, our chef was Chef Tan Uçkan from Istanbul, by way of New Orleans.
As we headed upstairs to our table, the beauty of Blind Whino enveloped the eight tables as Chef Tan and his team prepared dinner on the old church altar. Opting for the earlier 7:30pm seating, our meal got underway while the 8:30 diners mingled downstairs at the open bar.
Dinner Lab says, “Our events bring together a group of interesting strangers around a common table to share cuisine crafted by up-and-coming chefs from all over the country.” Our table was no different. There were lawyers, artists, government contractors, social media analysts, bankers, soldiers, realtors, students, and secretaries all enjoying a meal together. Food unites us in the weirdest way.
The concept of Dinner Lab is simple: experience great food like never before. Typically, for a $65 per person meal you would expect fancy tablecloths, fine china, and nice stemware…not that night. Each dish, while presented beautifully, was hyper-focused on the food. The food arrived on recycled paper plates and the wine was served in plastic cups.
Andrea Pinkard, Dinner Lab’s tenth employee and host, said, “We focus on the food. It’s all that matters. Dinner Lab allows you to experience the essence of dishes. The venues make it all the much cooler.” She was exactly right. Our neighbors described Blind Whino as “awesome” and “unique,” commenting, “who knew this was even here?!” They were all glad they had come to this unknown address in Southwest.
The first dish was a red lentil soup served in a paper bowl. With bulgur, rice, roasted kale, and citrus, it was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. In between the six courses, you are able to discuss with your fellow foodies what you liked and did not like, and then rate the dishes based on taste, originality, drink pairing, and if the dish is recommended for a restaurant. Some were unsure of the rice and pine nut-stuffed grapes leaves, while others raved about the blistered eggplant with ground lamb. The desert, however, received top ratings all around for the homemade semolina and vanilla ice cream with caramelized fig and walnuts with pistachio dust.
On only its 33rd day in DC, Dinner Lab was off to a hot start with over 500 members already subscribed. The concept is great for the chefs, too, as the ten chefs travel to nine cities across the United States. At the end of their travels, the votes are tallied and the best chef receives his own restaurant funded by Dinner Lab.
The only way to describe the pairing of the exotic dining experience of Dinner Lab with the unique ambiance of Blind Whino’s reclaimed church is, well, heavenly.
By: Shannon Vaughn
Editor-in-Chief, The Southwester