We’ve got something we’re hiding about Atlantic City that we’d rather not tell. Amidst all of the casino hullabaloo over the high-end celebrity chefs and famous chains, as well as the endless array of mediocre offerings, there is a chef that’s been safely tucked away in a high-end private club. He plays around with molecular gastronomy, yes (bacon Pop Rocks, anyone?), but also does a straightforward, simple dish that’s so good it brings tears to your eyes. So why are we so hesitant to give it up? Because the place has ten tables (at the most), you will be compelled to mob the place… and it will soon be so crowded and so booked that John and I will never be able to get in again.
This past Friday night, we were invited to a VIP soft opening of Showboat’s Foundation Room “Friday Night Supper Club”. Chef Thomas Ramsey has been serving up his amazing creations at this members-only club for almost 3 years now. Until recently, the only ones enjoying it were the well-to-do and rock stars, being pampered in this clandestine, funky little hideaway decorated richly with fabrics, natural wood, and Asian divinities that scream “Bourbon Street-meets-Buddha”. Now, anyone can get a taste of this on Friday nights. Since the folks at Showboat not only offered the dinner and a pleasant room to stay in that night (gratis) in order to get the word out…we’re obligated to let the cat out of the bag.
I could start by gushing about our wonderful table-mates (fellow bloggers and local food media) who were a lot of fun to hang out with, but we know you want us to cut to the chase. The first course offering was an antipasto, which sounds kind of boring, until you look at the picture here. Far from being just slabs of deli meats lying on iceberg, the plate was artfully arranged with house-made sausages, grilled veggies such as yellow pepper and asparagus, a fresh vinegared anchovy, and flat-bread. A slightly hot pickled pepper stuffed with a creamy, yet tart, cheese let me know this meal was going to be good; all of it was drizzled with herbed oils and vinegar. The next course offered a choice of The Foundation Room Salad (mixed greens, truffled cheeses, pears, walnuts, with a cider vinaigrette), and Lobster Pumpkin Chowder. Guess which one I went for? I couldn’t resist seeing what pumpkin paired with lobster was all about. Oddly enough, it not only worked, but the sweetness of the pumpkin and lobster, along with the spices (I detected coriander) and oregano oil drizzled on top sent me into orbit. Crunching the accompanying poppy flat-bread triangle between the rich mouthfuls of soup offered a savory break. And as I bit into the chunks of lobster, I realized those suckers were poached in butter before being dropped in. Fabulous. Normally, I wouldn’t mention the accompanying table bread here- but I have to. Soft and herbed, with a chewy bite and slightly crisp exterior, served up with cherry-pecan compound butter. ‘Nuff said.
It was hard to decide on the main course. Offerings like Tournedos of Filet (Mignon, that is, with wild mushroom creamy black truffle polenta), Coffee Rubbed Rib Eye (roasted chippolini onion, braised chicory, and roasted fingerling potato), Pappardelle (with roasted butternut squash,root veggies, crispy prosciutto in a cream reduction), or Yogurt and Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken (with broccoli rabe and candied sweet potato), sang siren songs to me, but I wanted to test the chef’s chops. What can he do with a simple seafood bouillabaisse? Well, he can bring you to your knees with only clams, shrimp, scallops,and fish in a saffron broth, that’s what. However, before you wonder if we”re only shouting sunshine and butterflies because this grand meal was on the house, let us reassure you that, no matter what, we calls ’em as we sees ’em on our site. The only smear on this heaven was a cracked clam (which I didn’t eat), and a bit of grit in one of the scallops, which seemed an odd bit of slacking in an otherwise flawless meal.
We were offered some interesting wines, represented by Terra D’Oro, with our meal: Moscato-Light (yes, sweet may be coming back, and it had a nice complexity, but I’d rather have saved it for dessert), Montevina Barbera (a red our server called “a close match to a Merlot”), and, my favorite of the evening, Red Zinfandel (just the full bodied sexiness I like in a red, yet oddly not as “peppery”as most Zins I’ve had).
But on to the crowning glory: dessert. There several choices, of which included an artisan cheese plate (with some interesting accompaniments like red bean and spicy strawberry jams) and a straight-forward petite cheese cake. I ordered the Death By Chocolate Cake, because as a chocolate fiend with a serious problem, that’s what I had to order. As good as it was, however (a moist, Guiness-spiked cake with a chocolate buttercream icing), it was just, well…good. It was the caramel bread pudding that John ordered that nearly sent me into convulsions of joy. Crisp on the top and bottom of the slice, custardy (but not mushy) on the inside, with gorgeous notes of vanilla and cinnamon throughout, all swimming in a pool of real caramel sauce. To. Die. For. The damage for all four “Supper Club”courses? $50 a person.
But didn’t we mention bacon Pop Rocks before? We weren’t kidding about that-and neither was Chef Ramsey. Though it’s not on the regular Supper Club menu, I think he wanted to showcase all he can do. Suddenly, on the table appeared a plate of white, crumbly, innocent-looking stuff. At first, they sat quietly in your mouth with a slight sweetness-but soon enough the smoky taste of fresh bacon kicks in, followed by those crazy, miniature explosions bouncing off your tongue and the roof of your mouth. It didn’t matter who you were at that table-when those went into your mouth, you giggled happily and a little maniacally, like a toddler. Afterwards, all John and I kept saying to each other all night was “”F*#kin’ bacon Pop Rocks!” I’m told Chef Ramsey also does white truffle Pop Rocks, along with powdered herb oils and tableside ice cream (ice cream made instantly at your side with liquid nitrogen).
I was going to wait on this post until the last possible moment to preserve our little secret, but I found out that the Foundation Room is also doing Restaurant Week dinners Wednesday through Saturday. So, we’re also forced to share that little tidbit so you can get there this week, if you want (sigh). If, after reading this, you feel compelled to show no mercy and go, we’ll do our best to understand. Don’t worry about us-we’re only the people that told you about it in the first place: you go ahead and have your fun. Just mail us a few doggie bags filled with bacon Pop Rocks once in a while, okay?