Review: “Cafe Nordo Presents Cabinet of Curiosities”. Story & Concept by Erin Brindley & Terry Podgorski. Script by Terry Podgorski. Music Composition by Annastasia Workman. Food Design & Direction by Erin Brindley. Architect in Chief: Nordo Lefesczki. Art by Mark Siano, Anne Blackburn, Mandy Greer, Colin Ernst, Jed Dunkerly, Nik Weisand and Dayton Allemann. Design by Theresa Ulrich & Jonathan Biderman. With Carter Rodriguez, Devin Bannon, Keira McDonald, Mark Siano, Opal Peachey, Evan Mosher, Sachie Mikawa, Maximillian Davis and Aimée Bruneau. Now through June 17, 2012 at Washington Hall.
We love all sorts of things.
Theater. Food. Art. Music. All the arty/farty stuff that makes life interesting and colorful and vibrant and worth living.
So, naturally we approve of the ongoing artist/foodie collective known at “Cafe Nordo” which began in the Fall of 2009 with “The Modern American Chicken” and sprung from the minds of “Chef Nordo Lefesczki” and former Circus Contraption artists, Erin Brindley & Terry Podgorski. Cafe Nordo has continued periodically with other events, some 5 course meal extravaganzas, and others focusing on cocktails and appetizers, combining interesting organic food and drink combinations with a love for odd, high concept cabaret/theater pieces complete with original music, (by Annastasia Workman); original art and design by a variety of local artists; and the performing talents of many of the city’s best actors, singers and performers. It’s in the realm of what Teatro Zinzanni does, but Cafe Nordo is less circus/burlesque and more odd/cinematic/kooky cabaret. Previous shows have been nautical, noiresque, 60’s hip themed and for their latest go round, “Cabinet of Curiositites”, the Nordo team have moved into a slightly more mysterioso realm that feels a bit like a Ray Bradbury story mixed with a hint of David Lynch (but without the Lynchian sex and violence) and a pinch of pure whimsy.
Previous incarnations of Cafe Nordo have been stationary, meaning the audience sits at tables and the loosely connected plots and amusements occur around the serving of interesting food and drink to the audience. For “Cabinet”, the Nordo team has moved to the rickety but lovable old Washington Hall and taken over the entire building. The sixty member audience is divided up into three groups and led from room to room by their designated Guide. Each group moves to a different room for the first three courses, (Tart, Salad, Soup) in rotation, before all three groups meet up in the main hall for the Main Course and Dessert. Each room has a theme, a story and a cast of characters and each room is designed to go with that theme/story with art from various local artists adding to the design and mystery of the plot.
And, what IS the plot? There is one, but it’s thin…the audience is in the “Cabinet of Curiosities” a strange museum dedicated to pleasures of the palate and your tour guide takes you to various themed rooms before the final main course. Each room has a different story, set of characters, food and drink. The French Salon is obviously French, (but, populated by American expatriate types, in this case Mark Siano and Opal Peachey) and features a savory Morel Camembert Tart that tasted quite good, (but the crust was a bit tough). The Invasive Species Lounge was green, woodsy and the most twee visit of the three rotated stops; it features a rather adorable pair of pixie/sprites played by the always adorable Evan Mosher and Sachie Mikawa, and a tasty Fennel Salad with Rabbit Confit (available w/o the rabbit for vegetarians)…and, as usual, rabbit DOES taste just like chicken…but, really GOOD chicken. My favorite stop was The Crone Parlor, at the top of the building, with the rather amusing bickering of the odd couple pairing of Maxmillian Davis and Aimée Bruneau and the deliciously creamy Celeriac Soup with Herbal Creme they served. Mr. Davis and Ms Bruneau were very funny and the soup was killer.
After these three stops, all three groups converge on the main hall for the main course and dessert. All the performers from all the rooms, and all the guides now join forces to serve the vegetable sides (including radishes, carrots and potatoes) and the two main meats, King Salmon and Painted Hills Beef Fillet. The sides were all amazing, (who knew cooked radishes were tasty!?!) I was a bit leery of the beef fillet; it was VERY rare and I’m more of a pink in the middle kind of guy, but this is high quality beef and it had the consistency of butter and it was more like a dessert than a meat. (The rather greedy, yuppy lady sitting across from me, rather drunkenly commanded a second helping…she claimed it was her birthday…) Dessert was an excellent lemon curd and rhubarb trifle and it was all washed down with an excellent red wine. Food and drink wise, I stumbled away from the Cabinet of Curiosities very content.
And, entertainment wise, it was a hit for me as well. Frankly, it was a lot of fun stumbling around Washington Hall, up and down the dimly lit stairs, and venturing into odd rooms populated by odd characters saying odd things. The actors were all great, and the Guides were also fun, though obviously you only really get to interact with the one leading your group. I had the added pleasure of knowing some of the performers, so sometimes it was difficult to keep a “straight” face as they interacted with the audience and served us food…I tried to avoid making eye contact with some of them because I was afraid I might cause them to break character so I ended up giggling a lot and staring at my plate. It’s also a great adventure and a fun way to meet new people…I didn’t make any new Facebook friends at the Cabinet, but it was nice hanging out with people I’d never encounter in real life, (Yuppie types from the East Side and a couple of tourists). The plot of “Cabinet” is pretty slight, but it has its airy charms, and the team has come up with a great ending for the evening…I won’t spoil it, but it’s haunting and ethereal and concluded the evening with the proper mood.
Things to note. One, it’s probably best to go with someone, rather than alone, to “Cabinet” especially if you’re on the shy side. I went alone, but hooked up with another writer, the amazing Jose Amador from The Seattle Star/formerly Seattlest and we were dinner/theater buds for the night. Despite being of the heterosexual persuasion, Jose is ALMOST as funny and witty as Mr. Strangeways, and we quickly wormed our way into the hearts and minds of our fellow dinner companions…we were like a tag team version of the Marx Brothers and made many a new drunken friend for the evening.
Two. There’s a LOT of liquor involved with “Cabinet”; a glass of something to go with every course, and despite all the delicious food, it’s easy to get a bit tipsy boots. I would advise taking a cab or hiring a car/driver to take you home.
Three. It’s long. I foolishly thought “Cabinet” would last two hours, the length of a the previous Nordo event I had gone to, but that event was a cocktail event…this is a full five course meal with entertainment and it lasted about 3 and a half hours. Plan accordingly…this event is very much an old school, European paced meal, not an American style dine n dash. It’s leisurely and artistically paced so you savor all the sensations…not only the food and drink, but the atmosphere as well. It’s goal is to create a mood, not stuff your belly and brain.
Four. They make it clear on the website, but do understand that this event is NOT for folks that might have mobility issues. There’s a lot of walking, all over the Washington Hall, up and down tiny, narrow staircases in dim light. And, the navigation of said staircases gets much harder as the evening progresses, due to all the excellent wines served. Keep your head!
Five. Cafe Nordo’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” isn’t cheap; it runs $70-$80 per person depending on the night you attend, but a comparable meal at a fine restaurant with wine would run the same, if not higher, and you get the show and adventure on top of that. There’s a paid lot by Washington Hall, but there’s also plenty of free street parking as well.
Six…Cafe Nordo’s Cabinet of Curiosities is worth the price, a haunted house of delightful tastes and sensations. And, unlike the haunted houses you visit at Halloween, this one has gourmet food and liquor that didn’t come from a six pack.
Plus, CELERIAC SOUP!