It’s All About Who You Know

It would seem that Toronto’s underground dining scene really did fizzle after its 15 minutes of fame. A few months back, Charlie’s Burgers was the name on everyone’s lips as Chowhounders and other “foodies” (note – derisive use of terminology) fought to have their applications accepted for the right to pay $150 and upwards per person to eat a meal with strangers.

Sticker shock may have made the love affair short-lived, but all the while another truly underground restaurant has been chugging along, albiet with a short break when chef/caterer Karen Viva-Haynes broke her leg.

6° is Viva-Haynes’ answer to the underground restaurant scene. The twice-monthly dinners take place in her basement catering kitchen, and you have to know Karen, someone involved with Viva Tastings, or know someone who knows them, to get an invite.

The price is usually $75 – $95  for a 5 course meal, and guests bring their own beverages. An email goes out the day before the event that provides the menu – or at least key elements – so guests can bring wine or beer to pair with the food, which is focused on seasonal, sustainable, and local as much as possible.

At the event, guests arrive and enjoy some hors d’oeuvres while Viva-Haynes and usually one staff member prepare the meal. 10 guests take seats around a counter and large prep table while the cooking goes on around them. Everyone joins in the conversation, and even helps out with tasks like setting the table or clearing (particularly because the chef is still in a walking cast); wines are shared; gourmet food tips and business cards exchanged.

More than any other communal dining event I’ve been to, the 6° dinners are the most convivial. Because we are, technically, in a kitchen in someone’s home (although not a “home kitchen”) with the cooking going on right beside us, there’s a cozy, laid back atmosphere to the event that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Where else can you go for dinner and snuggle the chef’s new puppy afterwards?

Here are some photos of the dishes at a recent dinner I attended.

Above: marinated cucumbers with goat’s cheese, smoked devilled quail’s eggs.

Heirloom tomato granita with olive tapenade, avocado and sustainably-caught shrimp.

Corn chowder and baked potato chips with cayenne.

Stuffed red onion wrapped with bacon.

Smoked tomato, risotto croquette and halibut with a red wine and bacon reduction.

Summer pudding filled with mixed berries.

For more information on underground dining at 6°, please visit the website.