Thursday night words: Nikki Bogopolskaya. Saturday night words: Daniella Caruso. Thursday Photos: Julian Vu
NIKKI’s misty water colored memories:
The first rule of an Orange Arrow dinner—no-one knows the location of an Orange Arrow dinner. The morning of the event, lucky diners get an email with an address and instructions to follow the orange arrows to their destination. The second rule of an Orange Arrow dinner—once given the address, don’t be late. Whether alone or with friends, arrive on time as directed. Make your way up the stairs and through the hall to your destination. You will be greeted by a dark-suited dapper dude, who will allow you to select one of two options in each course of a multi-course menu. The third rule of an Orange Arrow dinner—after you help yourself to copious amounts of wine and beer from the friendly bartenders—sit down to dinner—but not with anyone you came with. The final rule of an Orange Arrow dinner—eat, extensively, drink, heavily, and let loose as the strangers next to you discuss everything from their affinity towards Animal Planet’s Meercat Manor to DC’s underground swinger scene to the vegetarian cooking skills they picked up living alone in the Middle East studying Russian (disclaimer: these were indeed all actual topics of conversation at my Orange Arrow table).
This weekend’s Orange Arrow dinner, a pop-up restaurant experience from James Beard Award nominee Carole Wagner Greenwood, was like the dinner party I have always wished my friends were cool enough to have.
Greenwood, who prides herself on cooking sustainable food with organic materials, has created DC’s ultimate anti-restaurant with the Orange Arrow concept. Gathering the city’s most adventurous residents, its’ artists and musicians, and of course, its’ ultimate foodies, Greenwood and her staff aim to unite guests with their meals and thus intertwine their lives. “Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are,” boasts the group’s Facebook page—that is the question Greenwood simultaneously asks and answers with her meals.
I arrived at the “secret location,” a discreet brownstone on Florida Avenue, a little after 7PM on Thursday. After selecting my menu (mushroom soup to start, shrimp and grits as my main, and chocolate ganache for dessert), I settled in among fellow diners with Mason jars full of wine and beer. Our meal was set up on the back porch—bright tablecloths adorned with massive loaves of Italian bread kept diners full as jars were generously re-filled with alcohol of choice.
Dinner, which was, as we kept forgetting, what we were here for, was, of course, fantastic. My mushroom soup came in a handpainted bowl and was of perfect soup consistency—-thick but not chunky. The seasoned shrimp were served on a bed of cheesy grits and grilled cucumber and scallions. The chocolate ganache was so rich and filling I had to take home half of it wrapped in tinfoil.
Almost an hour passed between our appetizer and entree, and even longer between entree and dessert, but our table didn’t mind. Between stories from the Orange Arrow staff and Chef Carole herself, and extended analysis of all our six degrees of separation, it was almost midnight when I rolled myself out of the Orange Arrow kitchen, satiated, tipsy, and digesting both the conversation and the food of the evening long after it was over.
DANIELLA RECOUNTS SATURDAY:
Receiving an invitation to an Orange Arrow dinner, you’re receiving an invitation to a super top secret, ultra underground, anti-restaurant experience. What does that entail? I don’t know, but I DO know I’m pumped about it. Will there be secret passage ways? Will I be taken and blindfolded in an unmarked van? Not a word is said until the day of the dinner. I open the email, which reads:
“We’re on a hidden street you’ve never been, but a familiar place.
We’ve been to the market and the wine is on ice,
We’re ready for an evening of springtime delicacy and excitement.”
Is this a riddle? Am I going on a scavenger hunt? I’m like Nicholas Cage in National Treasure or Tom Hanks in…that one movie… but since I don’t willingly subject myself to bad hair, I can’t say for sure. The address comes up at the bottom of the email and my sense of adventure dwindles. Dinner will take place at an art gallery in Northeast. Didn’t know there were art galleries in Northeast. Kiddingggg. (but not really). A few hours later, I’m in a cab, inching along Florida Ave and not really sure where to go.Then I see a makeshift grill set up on the sidewalk and a cluster of confused looking white people and I know I’m in the right place. Sigh, I’m feeling less like Indiana Jones by the minute.
Standing outside, we’re greeted by a man who is apparently not only good at looking sharp, but also gives great hugs, and (as he, without asking, hands me a lighter and a shot of whiskey) already knows me better than I know myself. Impressive. I haven’t even eaten anything, and this is already off to a good start.
We filter in to a stark white room lined with garbage bags duct taped to the walls. So wait, is this art? Or can I throw my gum in here? Either way it certainly fits the anti-restaurant bill, so let’s just go with it. The original location fell through, and It was clear that this place (and the menu) was a bit of a plan B. Two long tables were tucked into a small dark room, littered with mismatched dinnerware, red wine, and loaves of bread. Like a last minute last supper. They should’ve called it that instead.
I make a move and go over the standard rules of an Orange Arrow dinner in my head: “Sit next to someone you don’t know.” Well ok, how about this guy; he looks harmless. “So how’d you end up here?” he asks. “Me? I’m just a big ol’ fatty at heart. I’ll jump at any opportunity if food is involved. Oh, and I also write for Brightest Young Things.” Turns out we’ve got that in common, so clearly we get along (since everyone that works for BYT is cool by default). Kiddingggg. (No I’m not).
Our host and chef Carole Wagner Greenwood steps in and welcomes us. Says they prepared our dinner the best they could without the use of a kitchen. Touche, Orange Arrow, impressive again. Now bring out the food.
Round 1: Mozzarella and olives. Cheese, yes. Olives, no. Not in my mouth. Where’s a hungry dog when I need one? Oh yeah, I brought my friend Meghan. She’ll do. I remember some rule about “eating everything on your plate” as I scrape them onto hers while she’s not looking. Sorry Carole, rules were meant to be broken.
Round 2: Pork and beef. But not just any pork and beef. The most delicious pork and beef, and enough to feed an army. An endless supply of perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, perfectly juicy.. I have to stop cause I’m literally drooling on my keyboard just thinking about it. Then comes the grilled vegetables. Asparagus AND corn?! Hot damn, this bitch cooked all my favorite foods. It certainly wasn’t as adventurous and avant guarde as I was expecting, but I’ll take well done barbecue over that shit any day.
Dessert: A mini chocolate cake and pineapple slices. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it- the cake not the pineapple. It was essentially a glorified brownie bite, but how could you hate that? Only Satan hates brownie bites, and this is the last goddamn supper.
Wine flows, and you soon find out that while surrounding yourself with drunk strangers, conversation can get pretty weird and very entertaining. After a few hours of this, people began to trickle out, hopefully as satisfied with their experience as I was. Would I pay $60 to have this dinner again? Maybe not. But would I pay $60 for a completely random night with good food and good company? Shits priceless, son. Do I even need to answer that? .