y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: The Wolves Den - Went Curious, Left Sated

The Wolves Den - Went Curious, Left Sated

Once in awhile you enjoy a meal that blows you away. For me, a few examples were my first time at Ludo Bites v2.0, the Chef's Table at Providence and my first meal at Animal. The wolvesmouth underground dinner not only exceeded my high expectations, but it was a feast for all senses. This meal was as artistic as it was explosively flavored and beautifully textured.

The wolvesmouth website refers to the unique dinner experience being stripped down, gritty, refined. And that's exactly right. The loft does not have excessive decorative distractions.  The focus is on the food. Guests bring their own drinks and decide what to pay for the meal as donations. There are no servers, with a couple of friends, including the charming DimSumPup, helping with operations. The recent kevinEats review contains fantastic shots of the loft. In fact Kevin did a great job all evening of keeping everyone's glasses full.

antler centerpiece at dining table

Since there has been a fair amount of buzz on various blogs and a Last Call With Carson Daly TV show segment, I figured reservations were going to be tough. To grab a coveted seat at the communal table, prospective diners join the waiting list. Those with confirmed reservations are given the address to the L.A. loft the night before the dinner. Luckily, I was invited to the Nov. 6 dinner by my friend Abby of Pleasure Palate.

It's remarkable that these 10-17 course dinners are prepared solo (!) by the chef Craig Thornton, who has been serving these meals for about 5 years. The menu is revealed after arrival at the wolvesden, which creates an element of surprise so exciting for a tasting meal.

Chef Craig Thornton preparing first course

Shortly after arriving, I noticed the refrigerator in the kitchen had a magnet holding up a hand-written menu and updates on a Post-It note.

hand-written menu

The chef was in the zone so I decided not to speak until he looked ready. People were having drinks and chatting, some taking photos.

the food papparazi

Chef Craig stopped for a moment to introduced himself. Later on he shared that he pays close attention to the diners the whole time and adjusts the meal according to their reactions. We knew a couple of the diners, many of whom were repeat attendees. And I can understand why.

dual immersion circulators

The courses were so creative and mouth watering that part of me wanted to talk about every bite and part of me wanted to take it all in with silence and focus. I did a little of both.

plating setup in the kitchen

Here are the courses.

Course 1 - Tahitian squash, sweetbread, BLiS maple syrup.

Most first courses help us ease into the meal. This course packed a punch of color and bright flavor. The squash was seasoned with butter, salt and BLiS maple syrup that was aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels.  It provided a comforting bed for the strong, meaty taste of the sweetbread.

Course 2 - crab, Jerusalem artichoke puree, watermelon radish, pickled persimmon.

The pureed Jerusalem artichoke had a subtle flavor that complimented the ocean taste of the crab. The pickled persimmon added a splash of color and tartness. The radish was thinly sliced and airy. This dish was striking in color and flavor.

Course 3 - scallop, potato, chive, chanterelle.

The scallop was perfectly seared and tender. The potatoes were riced and seasoned with brown butter.  It was such a unique and tasty way to serve potatoes as a side dish. A shallot sauce covered the earthy chanterelles. This dish was one of my favorites of the meal.

Course 4 - tomato. olive oil. saba.

This course was absolutely stunning, showing less is more. The four types of tomatoes were served completely unspoiled with great quality olive oil and Saba, a Trebbiano grape vinegar that tastes slightly carmelized. Each tomato tasted distinct. It took at least 3 minutes for me to stop staring at the colors of the halved tomatoes and actually eat the dish.

Course 5 - ocean trout, pumpernickel, lingonberry, creme fraiche.

This trout looked like a lighter color of salmon, probably closer to arctic char. It was perfectly browned while remaining juicy on the inside. The sauce and creme fraiche rounded out the dish well, along with the crunch of the toasted pumpernickel bits.

Course 6 - rabbit, bacon and onion muffin, Swiss fondue, green apple, mustard greens.

Another beautiful and balanced plate, all ingredients meshed well. The cheese sauce rested on the sous vide cooked rabbit. Green apples were formed into tiny balls that were glazed with butter and sugar, providing an infusion of freshness. The varying textures and flavors provide perfect contrasts. A lot of the dishes, like this one, provided harmony and variety of flavors at the same time.

Course 7 - pork cheek bao.

A dim sum course was totally unexpected. Perfectly steamed baos were served on parchment paper directly on the table. Chef Craig told us after the meal that the inspiration for the meet was his Grandmother's pulled pork, which he enhanced with Asian flavors of star anise and Chinese wine. Both the bun and the filling were slightly chewing, providing a good level of bite.

Course 8 - Buddah's hand sorbet.

For this palate cleansing course, Chef Craig walked around the table showing us this unusual produce.  Buddah's hand is a type of exotic citrus that is segmented into finger-like sections. It yields a small amount of pulp and mostly its zest is used. This sorbet was refreshing with a faint herbal vibe.

Course 9 -squab, roveja, prune leather, squab skin, sauce, Tokyo turnip.

A hearty sous vide squab was cooked with red wine and served with a piece of crispy skin over a cake of roveja. Roveja is an ancient Italian wildly growing legume, resembling a pea. It is dried and ground into flour. In this preparation it was made into a browned cake on which the squab rested.The prune fruit roll up was a fresh, chewy contrast to the meat. The Tokyo turnips were braised and tender, tasting similar to braised endive or fennel.

Course 10 - ube mochi, coconut milk powder, palm sugar coconut shortbread, avocado ice cream, lime styrofoam.

Normally, dessert is the throw away part of the meal for me. Very few chefs make the switch from savory to producing delicious desserts. This dessert was perfect. I am a sucker for the sweet and salty, for multiple textures and colors and this dessert did not disappoint. Just the sight of it made me smile. The lime styrofoam looked so much like styrofoam, down to the round grooves on the surface. It turned out being a meringue that practically dissolved in the mouth. Coconut milk powder and sweet/salty shortbread provided more crunch. The beautiful green ice cream and the chewy steamed ubi cake were the creamy elements. It was so exciting, I dug in before remembering to take a photo of it!

Course 11 - s'mores. toasted marshmallow ice cream, graham cracker pudding, salted chocolate, smoked pop rocks.

The classic S'mores in any form just kills it in the dessert department, but this deconstructed version elevates them. The day of our dinner I read some Tweets from the chef talking about wood ice cream, but ditching it because the wood element overpowered everything else. He opted to toast the marshmallows before working them into the ice cream. The graham cracker pudding was more like a thick sauce, also very successful. Chef Thornton's decision to tone down the chocolate element was brilliant. It looked like chocolate bars but were lighter in taste. They tasted of dark chocolate with a bit of salt, blended with agar, a type of Asian jello. Any dessert containing pop rocks is a winner with me, but these smoke flavored pop rocks were at a whole new level. Overall it was another layered taste and texture party.

dining table after the meal

Right on cue, the adorable dog Prince, roamed out right after the meal ended to survey the crowd.


After finishing our elegant meal, Chef Thornton spent quite some time answering questions about the food. He talked about specific recipes, techniques (as if any of us can re-create such food!) and discussed some of his favorite foods.  He even confirmed the foie gras story, in which he handed out foie gras torchons after Tweeting about a giveaway of free food. There were so many new, exotic ingredients in the meal that his comments were educational.

We learned that he usually prepares the menu the day before or even the day of each meal. He is known to go through stacks of produce to pick the perfect and planning the menu according to the best protein on the market that day. He does not eat the day before or of the meals, explaining that he cooks better when he's hungry. This dedication to his craft and passion for sharing his gift expresses itself in so many ways through his food and vision.

You can read about my return visit to the Wolvesden, a year later, by clicking here.

6 Responses to “The Wolves Den - Went Curious, Left Sated”:

  1. ideafield says:

    A perfect synopsis of an incredible meal.
    I'm thinking your banner needs a disclaimer.

    *Do not read if hungry.

  2. Thank you, petite_syrah. It was a pleasure experiencing that meal with you.

  3. Steve says:

    I'm full after reading that. The upside is it's less fattening just looking at your amazing photo's and tasting it all in my mind.

  4. Steve, I keep "re-tasting" it in my mind too!

  5. I'm trying to imagine the flavors and textures, and even with the detailed descriptions and the yummy photographs my mind is a bit boggled. A little voice in the back of my head is whining, "Hey! I wanna go too!" I particularly love the idea of being able to learn from a stellar chef HOW they accomplish their magic. Thanks for the blog Wasima!

  6. Lindley, it's highly recommended to try out this unique experience and be as 'wowed' as I was and still am.

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