The whole idea of going out for dinner to a restaurant with live music is out of the question these days. Or is it?
At Paragon—a restaurant on top of Queen Anne Hill that has a new chef, relatively new owners, and a stage for musicians to perform on—they are thinking boldly about meeting this moment, and they are onto something.
Last Saturday night at Paragon's invitation, I tried out the Paragon Supper Club, which happens every other Saturday. The step-by-step story of my experience is below. The short version is: I was blown away by the quality of the food, the overall vision, the execution, and the very reasonable price tag.
The twist is: You still get dinner, but you have to take it home to eat it. You still get the live show, but you have to log in to a livestream on your computer to see it. Whether you're dining solo, dining with friends, or on a date, this arrangement recreates the feeling of a night out on the town, even while you're safely quaratined.
You sign up in advance by reserving your spot here. It costs $65 per person, which is kind of a screaming deal given everything you get. Within a designated window of time (between 5 and 6 pm) on the night of the supper club, you show up at Paragon to pick up a sheet-cake-sized box with your name on it.
The box has been prepared by Paragon's chef, Steph(an) Bourgond. There are some things in there ready-to-eat at room temperature, and a couple things that, even though they're already cooked, just need 10 minutes in the oven to warm up.
Because I am not exactly a cook, I was worried about messing up even the easy-to-reheat portions of the instructions, but I should not have worried: Easier than expected.
Additionally, the box comes with instructions about how to enjoy that night's live music. Last Saturday night, the musician was Kate Dinsmore, and she was actually performing inside Paragon, on their stage, but obviously she was performing for a camera. The audience was all at home, logging on to a special url, entering a secret password, and watching the Paragon's live music show while eating their Paragon dinner.
In addition to the things the instructions told me to throw into the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees—the ribs and the baked potato—there were also some items that could be chilled.
"Beet salad can be room temp or chilled, dealer's choice," the menu said. Since it was so hot in my apartment that I was barely wearing clothes, I opted to chill the beat salad—a decision I did not regret later that night, at 11 pm, sweltering in my apartment, standing in front of the fridge savoring every morsel of the red and golden beets, the jeweled halved-raspberries, the tiny mint leaves, and the almond tuile cookies that looked and tasted like little waves of happiness.
Even though the layout of the menu implied the meal was three courses, I counted five or six courses.
There was a starter of crushed carrot and greek yogurt dip, served with pita. As the menu explained:
Nothing like taking inspiration from a summer sunset behind the Olympic mountains. Chef Steph made it home in time last week to see a gorgeous orange sky, fluffy white clouds, and the silhouettes of trees across Lake Union... and decided he wanted to eat it.
Ha! The menu alone is entertaining, aside from the actual show. I started eating that sky and those clouds as soon as I opened the box. It tasted refreshing and summery and blissfully cool.
After I had unwrapped the pita, I used that tin foil to cover up the baked potato that was going into the oven, along with the ribs.
But first, as the menu instructed, I removed all the flower petals from the potato dish. This is what the baked potato and the flowers and chives looked like before I removed the flowers and wrapped it all up on foil.
The instructions said to put the baked potato (minus edible flowers) into the oven for 10 minutes, along with the ribs. The ribs—which were delicious, and which I don't have a good picture of because I didn't think to take one until after I'd started eating them, and the moment you've started eating ribs you really can't take out your phone and snap a picture without causing a big mess—were ready to go after those 10 minutes in the oven.
My potato was not ready after 10 minutes. It took 30 minutes to warm up the potato to the right temperature. But possibly I had not wrapped it tightly enough in the foil.
Still, I had all this other food to eat, so I did not mind waiting.
The grilled cabbage with kimchi salt and orange sriracha was a relevation—cool grilled leaves, covered in heat, with a satisfying crunch. The heat in the cabbage balanced nicely the lack of spice in the carrot-and-yogurt dip. Plus, you know how eating something spicy kinda cools you down? That happened while I was gobbling up this cabbage.
At this point, Kate Dinsmore's 7 pm set was starting, so I made my way to my dinner table, logged on, entered the password, and watched as I ate. Dinsmore has a mellifluous voice and a self-deprecating sense of humor, which I appreciated, although frankly I am not the ideal audience for country music.
Outside my Capitol Hill apartment, protesters were chanting: "Out of the bar, into the streets! Out of the bar, into the streets!" And: "They don't beat us on the sidewalk, they beat us in the street, so we'll march in the streets!" Given that context—and given the dire state of the world—Dinsmore's sad-white-person country music it felt a little out of step with the moment. She said things like, "This is a song about why I like to date musicians." Or: "I've been doing a lot of writing in quarantine. There's nothing else to do. This one's about having a pity party."
But lots of people country music, and anyway it is the longstanding vibe at the Paragon. Brandi Carlile, the Grammy Award-winning country musician, got her start at the Paragon, according to this Seattle Times story from 2005. Carlile "put in her dues at Queen Anne's Paragon every Sunday night, cranking out three-hour concerts from a tiny stage. The Paragon has a bit of a reputation as a pick-up spot, and indeed this powerhouse pop singer picked up an unusually devoted following there."
I was so impressed with the food I wasn't really focusing on the music; in my dream world, the show would be a drag queen, or a pop musician on keyboard like Shaina Shepherd, or hilarious theater stars like Sara Porkalob and Rachel Guyer-Mafune, but those genres are probably not what Paragon regulars have come to expect. In any case, the musician changes each supper club. For August 8, the Paragon supper club musician will be Spence Hood.
The ribs were smoked with a St. Louis-style BBQ sauce with a North Carolina-style vinegar "spritz" over them. To compliment those flavors, there was an accompaniment of cherry mostarda made with tart Washington cherries to pour on top. Holy cow, it was good.
The livestream of Dinsmore's set had a chat functioned enabled, so everyone in the audience could all talk about the show as it was happening, or about the food as we were eating it—an approximation of the experience of going out and talking to people you run into. There was also a function to tip the musician, which I did (and you should too!).
Dinsmore said during her set that she loved performing at the Paragon. "It's one of the top gigs for a musician in Seattle," she said. "They're good to us, they're kind, they feed us..."
As of a year ago, Bourgond was pastry chef at JAN, a restaurant with a Michelin star, in Nice, France. A year before that, he was principal male dancer at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Monaco.
He's Canadian, he grew up in Toronto, and he has "performed all over the globe, which opened his eyes to the world of cuisine," according to this biography of him.
How he ended up in Seattle working at Paragon is anyone's guess, but we are so lucky to have him creating new cultural experiences for the city as we adapt to a scary new world. As I said, this experience he's creating gets points for vision and execution—and last Saturday was only the second time they've done it.
My favorite part of the whole night might be the thing that didn't happen until the next morning. When I had first opened the box, I saw, underneath the blue menu, a little box with this note on it.
Not only did Bourgond figure out a way to bring the dinner-and-live-music experience into quarantine, he added this twist to make the experience last into the next morning.
What was inside the box? A blackberry tray bake with lemon drizzle. I devoured it. Guess what? The pastry chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant in Nice is good at making breakfast treats.
And as for the curation of the live music, Bourgond tells The Stranger, "My dream is to get Brandi Carlile back in Paragon... I'm a huge fan so there is a slightly selfish motive behind it." But he's also considering shaking things and bringing new styles of performance to the stage as well, including possibly a drag queen to be an opening act! (Doooo it. It's called Queen Anne, after all!! Bring on the queens.)
Tickets for the August 8 supper club went on sale yesterday. They will be giving $5 from every order to Seattle BIPOC Organic Food Bank. Dinner will be sole papiollte and ratatouille and the dessert will include sweet geranium from the chef's own garden.
You can sign up—and try out the experience for yourself—right here.