By Lina Abascal/LAist
Originally published May 25
As a lifelong Angeleno, I feel confident in two claims. The city has some of the best food in the world. It’s also a difficult place to meet new people.
The last time I walked up to a table of strangers, sat down, and talked was probably the dorm room cafeteria. Outside of shared table reservations, (the only ones left unless you want to dine at 5 or 10 p.m.), breaking bread next to strangers isn’t a part of our dining culture. The elusive supper club was a solution to this, a way to combine our city’s strengths while confronting its issues.
I had never been to a supper club. Neither had any of my friends. It sounded fancy, like something from the gilded age. The occasional dinner party was one thing— something I was grateful to have transitioned into in my 30s—but sitting with strangers and buying a ticket separated a dinner party from a supper club.
Through a combination of lockdown-born ideas, creative friends, and the same desire I shared to meet new people over amazing food, a series of supper clubs (not pop-ups!) have sprung up across Los Angeles since the pandemic.
Over the last month, I explored four, each with their own distinctive style. Here’s what I found:
USAL Project Round Table Dinner Series, Silver Lake
USAL Project, named after a stretch of California coastline, is an organization curating events and classes for outdoors lovers and the outdoors curious. In between fly fishing excursions or lessons in bouldering, once a month, they host what they call a round table dinner. It may seem a little out of place, but these gorp-lovers throw quite a dinner party.
It’s hosted at USAL’s new brick-and-mortar space in Silver Lake, which is transformed from a gear shop to a dinner party for 30 across two tables. On the night I attended, one of USAL’s founding partners, self-taught chef Zoe Gitter, cooked a menu of Israeli eats inspired by her heritage. Gitter has previously worked as a private chef in New York City and started her first supper club with her friends nearly 10 years ago in college.
Before dinner, guests congregated around a wood fire pit outside the space and were offered complimentary natural wine or organic beer. The pours continued as people began to settle in and select their seats. I came alone and immediately met four other women who did the same. The clientele was diverse across the board, ranging from 20s to 40s.
The dinner began with hearty loaves of olive bread by Venice Beach baking protege Jyan Issac ready to be dipped into tzatziki, matbucha, and hummus dips. Then came platters of marinated feta, pickled vegetables, smashed cucumbers, and a citrus beet salad, all served family style. This smorgasbord of options was exactly what I craved from a leisurely dinner, but unless I dine with six friends, it’s nearly impossible.
As I ate, I poured myself glasses of natural wine placed on the tables next to the candlesticks and eucalyptus arrangements. The environment was casual but intentional, with time spent setting the mood. For the main course, Gitter and her sous chefs presented skewers of juicy, marinated chicken and oyster mushrooms provided by L.A.-based Smallhold Mushrooms. The dishes were presented without comment, but printed menus at each table setting provided details for those that were curious.
This dinner was ticketed at $100. Other dinners in the series have ranged from $100-150, depending on the chef and ingredients used. Gitter admits it may be a similar cost to buzzy restaurants in town, and says the purpose of the dinners is not to guarantee a bang for your buck, but rather a unique experience and connection. While I agree, I found the ticket far exceeded the $100 experience you could get at a nearby restaurant in Silver Lake, with less of the pretension or assumptions.
For a moment between mains and dessert, Gitter briefly interrupted the buzzing chatter. Raised in the Pacific Palisades, she acknowledged the difficulty in meeting new people and embracing spontaneity in the city. On theme with her family-inspired menu, she proposed a question to the group: “What does chosen family mean to you?”
At my section of the table, a roaming art gallery founder, a furniture salesperson, and a stylist exchanged answers as the orange and polenta cake arrived for dessert, individually plated for each person with fresh whipped cream. By the end of the meal, I’d exchanged information with a handful of guests, all of whom seemed genuinely interested in branching outside of their social circles.
“Maybe attending a supper club is a tiny revolutionary act that forces people to be with one another again, spark up a conversation over the weather that ends in an exchange of phone numbers and a hope of feeling less isolated in this city,” Gitter says of USAL Project’s dinner series.
Find information on the next event at usalproject.com
Seconds Supper Club, Highland Park
Seconds Supper Club won me over within… seconds. After RSVPing through an online form, I was emailed a residential address in Highland Park. I walked up a few stairs, through some trees, and onto the front lawn of a small craftsman house, where I was presented with a drink ticket. It was a tough choice between the welcome cocktails, “I Went To EDC When It Was in L.A.” (“essentially a green juice margarita”) or the Dew Drop (a gin martini topped with olive oil.) As a raver, I had to pick the former.
Seconds Supperclub is the product of four food-loving friends. Starting in August 2022, the group has hosted three ticketed dinner parties in their front yard for groups of 20-24. They have plans to expand into larger, cheaper and more casual events, such as a cookout format, which they’re planning for July. Their philosophy is rooted in “mood food,” a phrase they’re currently trademarking that represents the intention and feeling they aim to evoke through their menus.
The California Superbloom inspired the night’s dinner, evident from the wildflowers (foraged by ethical florist Specimen) across the dinner table and three-foot-tall displays on the bar. When I mentioned the tablescape looked better than most weddings, the Seconds team quickly replied, “we do weddings!” It showed. The team credits the lockdown for opening people’s minds to “unconventional food experiences” and hopes the desire for intimate shared meals and connection from their diners continues.
As guests started to mosey in, I chatted a few up, quickly realizing the community was mostly made up of people from Los Angeles, friends and friends of friends of the founders. Most arrived in pairs and were in their late 20s. They had come from all over the city.
At the dinner table, each guest was assigned a place setting. Large plates were smeared with butter and topped with charred wild garlic (proof of the highly seasonal approach Seconds takes) and radishes. Guests began tearing off pieces of herbed flatbread that were previously baking on the grill to use for dipping.
As guests finished their welcome cocktail, the first wine pairing arrived, a natural rosé. I was seated in the middle of the table among a chunk of interesting young women, next to the florist and across from a social worker and a film industry executive.
Next came fried chickpea panelle (a type of Sicilian fritter I had never tried before), with ricotta. The Superbloom theme came through again in the sugar snap pea salad, made with nasturtium flowers, rose petals, and tahini.
Before the main course, we were surprised with espresso cups full of lamb broth to sip. A cabernet sauvignon from Napa, the last bottle by a winemaking couple that had broken up, was brought out to accompany the upcoming lamb. Sliced leg of lamb seasoned with cinnamon and saffron lined the table, along with charred fennel with miso and Szechuan peppercorns, seasonal potatoes with peas, and flowering broccolini (“it’s a little bitter, but we like it that way”). The bounty was impressive.
There was a decent amount left on the table once everyone had their fill. Servers came by with to-go boxes inviting guests to take the leftovers home. Before dessert, we were surprised again with our fourth drink, a glass of amaro, eliminating any debate of whether the $100 ticket price was fair. The final bite was a slice of rhubarb olive oil cake soaked in orange blossom. The conversation and four cocktails had me buzzing so much I hadn’t realized it was nearly 11 p.m.
Asi Asi Project Supper Club, Boyle Heights
Supper club business Asi Asi Project has taken our craving for intimate, personal, dinner experiences and turned it into an opportunity for local chefs and brands to create their own supper club experiences.
Since launching in January, Asi Asi has hosted 21 dinner parties. The five people behind Asi Asi also run a hospitality agency, where they consult for brands. Both operations take place out of the same converted Masonic temple on Cesar Chavez Avenue. Some dinners are ticketed, ranging from $15 – $125.
“I think post-pandemic, some of us want more connectivity than what many traditional restaurants aim to offer,” says founder Sana Keefer, a hospitality industry veteran. “Our goal is to be a platform for emerging talent, an incubator for new ideas and new collaborations.
Perfection is not on our list of goals and those who share our philosophy will fit right in!”
The first dinner I attended at Asi Asi was in partnership with the outdoors brand Keen. Upon arriving, I was given a drink ticket and told to head to the bar in the back to grab a gin and tonic, wine, or non-alcoholic option. Immediately I met a representative from Smallhold mushrooms and we bonded over a shared love of USAL.
At the dinner table, each place setting featured a menu for the “Land & Sea” themed meal. Seated close to me were a jewelry designer, sound bath leader, winemaker, and marketer. The meal began with garlic confit, gochujang, and black sesame bread from Out of Thin Air bakery in Chinatown. Next was a miso soup with a super salty fried seaweed crispy snack on the side. Plates of ice topped with small oysters by Perlitas were distributed across the table of 25 or so. A small plate of roasted Smallhold mushrooms with herbs arrived. I had to take another look at my long menu to realize this was the main dish. For dessert, inspired by Keen’s love of the outdoors, each guest was given a small cup filled with a s’mores-inspired bourbon cocktail garnished with a toasted marshmallow.
Of all the supper clubs I explored, ILĖ was the only one that was hosted inside the chef’s home, hence the name. ILĖ means “home” in the West African language of the Yoruba people. Every Friday in his live/work loft in Hollywood, Chef Tolu Eros hosts around 20 diners across two long tables in his kitchen and living room. Aside from intimacy, the home location makes a case for a BYOB policy.
ILÉ is a study in a supper club success. Since launching the supper club in April 2022, the event has exploded. Eros’ fast-casual eatery, Ile Bistro, opened in Culver City in April 2023. Still, Eros himself leads every Friday’s dinner with curated music and theatrical stories about his childhood in Lagos.
The meal began with individual plates of crostini with yaji (a spice made from the Suya pepper) butter. Next, the Onitsha Greens, a salad inspired by the riverside city in Nigeria with greens, beets, mushrooms, and cassava atop a smear of carrot purée. Next came the pepper soup, cheekily renamed Rose Garden Soup, inspired by Eros’ recent sold-out dinner at Coachella’s Outstanding in the Field dinner series held in the rose garden. Diners are given the opportunity to select vegetarian, pescatarian, or omnivore menus (which I chose).
The soup was the first sign that pescatarians got preferential treatment across the menu. Pepper soup broth was poured over each of our plates, drenching a tortilla chip on top of mushrooms for the vegetarians, smoked turkey for the omnivores, and crab meat for the pescatarians. While the smoked turkey added depth to the spicy consumé, I had a pang of jealousy for the crab eaters.
We moved into the main courses with Apapa, ILÉ’s take on a three-bite-sized shawarma. I was served grilled chicken in lavash bread with spiced yogurt and pickled onions. The pescatarians got fried oysters. Next was a sweetbread stuffed with suya spiced shrimp topped with hibiscus vinaigrette (cauliflower for vegetarians). The final main was an Italian take on jollof rice, a classic Nigerian dish. Cooked down to a risotto, ILÉ’s Jollof Italiano had notes of plantain and was served with apple mousse. My rice was made with suya spice grilled pork; pescatarians had halibut and, for vegetarians, oyster mushrooms. Inspired by the chef’s time in the UK, the Cambridge Puff Puff combined an African donut with orange rosemary chantilly cream and ice cream.
Between each course, Eros signaled to diners it was time to listen up by sounding a gong. Then, he’d break into personal stories, each set to a song he queued up on his iPhone. The storytelling differentiated the night from other supper clubs, which seemed focused on cultivating a casual environment for making new friends. At ILÉ, the supper club took on a form of dinner theater with monologues coming every 10 minutes.
Despite the intimacy of the home environment, there was minimal cross-talk. Across an hour and a half, diners kept to themselves and their parties of two. The individually plated courses didn’t encourage much camaraderie. The service was on par with fine dining restaurants, and the music and theatrical speeches definitely made for a unique experience with more personality than white tablecloth establishments. On Tock, a seat at ILÉ runs $220 before a 25% automatic service fee in lieu of gratuity. This is comparable to other fine dining or omakase dinners in Los Angeles, cheaper when considering the BYOB savings, but an experience reserved for very special occasions or lovers of Nigerian flavor.
Stay cool, keep in touch
Have I hung out with anyone I met at these four supper clubs yet? No, but I’m open to it. Do we occasionally chat on Instagram? Yes. After hearing me gush about spending a month at long tables with strangers, my friends and family are already asking to join me on my next supper club adventure.
For the same price—or less, if you like a drink or two—as a dinner at a Resy hotspot in the same neighborhoods, USAL and Seconds meet a foodie’s standards but satisfy the need for a night out that isn’t simply a 90-minute dinner.
If you’re new to the city, want to meet new people, or want a social activity that isn’t a hike but isn’t a nightclub, supper clubs find a happy medium for a buzzy night that can feel like your coolest friend’s dinner party. Except you don’t have to offer to clean up after.
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2023 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.