The door is open to the underground restaurant.
On Sunday February 15th I had the pleasure of attending one of my favorite underground restaurant/performance venues in West Oakland. In a nondescript neighborhood of light industry, warehouses and loft spaces Philip Gelb has been running “In the Mood for Food” (a take of the title of one of his favorite films, “In the Mood for Love”) his occasional dinner/concert series since 2005.
Philip is an amazing vegan chef as well as a shakuhachi player/teacher whose cuisine is known to a fortunate group of people which includes this writer. Combining incredibly creative dishes sometimes at the behest of a given artist (Amy X Neuberg requested a “purple” theme and got it when she appeared ) with his wide network of artist friends, many of whom he has performed with. Phil has been doing these occasional events with a maximum audience of about 20 people (including the featured performer) at a rate of at least once every month or two.
Potato Sorrel Soup
First let me say that I am not a vegan but if vegan fare always tasted this good I could easily make the transition (OK, I would have a hard time giving up pizza) to vegan fare. Phil’s fresh locally shopped ingredients are transformed by his gustatory alchemy into a variety of delectable dishes in a wide range of cuisines. His network in gourmet vegan food practitioners is rivaled only by his musical network. Japanese is one of his specialties but I have personally partaken of various middle eastern and Caribbean cuisines with equal satisfaction.
Mushroom Pate, Carrot Walnut Pate and Rosemary Bread, didn’t get a picture of the fresh salad greens.
This night’s selection featured a creamy Potato Sorrel Soup followed by a salad plate consisting of rich Mushroom Pate, Carrot Walnut Pate, a freshly baked Homemade Rosemary Bread with Salad Greens and a tart Citrus Dressing. The main course consisted of Cassoulet, Oat Pilaf and Herbed Collards, all very tasty and very filling.
The main course of Cassoulet, Oat Pilaf and Herbed Collards. It tastes even better than it looks in Phil’s characteristically beautiful presentations, trust me.
A feast such as this could not easily be upstaged but, in the little break before the dessert course, we were treated to a wonderful performance by Joëlle Léandre, the French Double Bass virtuoso, singer and composer whose work traverses a wide range of musical genre from John Cage to free jazz and categories that defy easy classification. She has amassed a discography of over 100 albums to date and has performed with artists including Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi, Derek Bailey, Barre Phillips (who appeared at this series a couple of years ago), Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, India Cooke (also one of Phil’s previous guest artists), Evan Parker, Irene Schweizer, Steve Lacy, Maggie Nicols, Fred Frith, Carlos Zingaro, John Zorn, Susie Ibarra, J.D. Parran, Kevin Norton, Sylvie Courvoisier and Pauline Oliveros (another recently appearing artist at this series). Oh, and she has also performed and recorded with Mr. Gelb.
Leandre is a friendly and engaging person both in her playing and in conversation and we all had opportunities to speak with her and experience her charming personality as she related various observations and anecdotes. These dinner/concerts are a uniquely intimate experience which you cannot get in the average concert setting.
Leandre embraced and nearly danced with her instrument.
Ms. Léandre treated us with three separate improvisations in which she demonstrated her facility with a wide range of double bass techniques including various bowing techniques, pizzicati, percussive techniques and wordless vocals that mixed seamlessly with her very intense and passionate performances. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to really describe with any accuracy the music we experienced this night. But suffice it to say that it was played in a manner that communicated very effectively with the very appreciative audience. I asked her if she always plays with such passion and she rather matter of factly simply said, “yes”.
Her command of a wide variety of playing techniques blended together with her voice in an almost orchestral sound tapestry driven by Joelle’s passionate playing.
I was so taken with the performances that I failed to get a photo of the delicious dessert course which consisted of a Waffle Sundae comprised of a very fresh chocolate-buckwheat waffle covered with chocolate pistachio ice cream, maple walnuts and chocolate port sauce. An amazing vegan sweet treat enjoyed by all.
The clearly happy audience lingered to talk with each other, with Phil and sous chef Cori as well as with Ms. Leandre who had a great selection of recent CDs and a couple of books available for purchase which she graciously signed. Overall this was an extremely satisfying evening, certainly for this blogger and clearly for the other guests but also for our wonderful performer who left to get some sleep before her scheduled performances tomorrow at the Berkeley Arts Festival.
The performer pauses looking wistfully as the muse descends upon her.