If you’ve read my blog before, you know that through food, I have tried to find a better understanding of why we eat the way we do. I cook at home four to five times a week, and the meals that I make together with my lady are shared as we sit down and eat at the same time, in the same room.

I understand that most people don’t do this anymore. We eat on the run, or when we go out to eat, we sit and critique what’s on our plate while keeping to ourselves. We can relay our night out to our friends, but often, it’s more about the idea that you can tell them what you did rather than relive the experience with fondness.

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about eating at CRUX.  I’ve followed the Twitter account of both the chef and the restaurant, I’ve looked at menus, followed what’s happening on the Facebook page, and nothing that I’ve done has come close to the replicating the total experience of being in the moment around a table with ten strangers with whom over the course of a three hour meal you have become familiar. The concept of of familiarity, broken down, is to become well-acquainted on a family footing with someone who enhances your comfort level. The easiest way for me to accomplish that with some sense of ease is around a dinner table. In their efforts to create an evening of intimacy and curiousity, the table was set for an evening exploring the unknown.

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Earlier in the week, I had made a short visit back home to Madison to visit with friends who have been overseas. The one night of my short stay, we visited another restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try for a long time, 43 North. It’s run by an old culinary friend of mine, Nick Johnson. Formerly of Restaurant Magnus in Madison, he has since moved his James Beard nominated talents a couple blocks up the street, and we were fortunate to dine with a new acquaintance in his company.

Over the course of that meal, I remembered that the joy of dining is taking pleasure in those with whom you are surrounded, but also in entrusting those who are preparing your meal with the fate of your palate. We subscribe, as a culture, to flavors and textures that are simple and pleasing, hence the trends of pesto, sun dried tomatoes, etc., but with balance and inventiveness come the meals that leave lasting impressions on the senses.

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On the short ride back to Chicago, I found out that two tickets for Friday Night’s pop-up dinner had just become available from a post on Twitter:

RT @brandonbaltzley: Cancelation of three for this weeks bodies of water dinner @glryprovocateur . Reserve through cruxrestaurant@gmail.com

Bodies of Water? Set to the music of Isis? I had read recently that they were able to accommodate diners with a variety of preferences, but since this dinner was from the looks of the menu going to be mostly seafood, I figured it would be the best opportunity to get my feet wet with the restaurant. The theme of Bodies of Water? Intriguing hook. In quick order, I went about making a reservation for two for that Friday Night.

When Friday came around, our pleasant 50 degree weather had changed to 6 inches of snow, which by then had devolved into the sludge. We made our way up to Gallery Provocateur, the site of that night’s dinner, just before 7, where we were greeted and led through the gallery to the back room. The walls were covered in artwork of sea monsters, Cat-eyed vixens painted on handbags, and various tattooed hides stretched with leather string.

The table was set for 12, with dripping candelabras and a large television in the background playing a silent documentary about undersea life with a cuttlefish scurrying along the sea floor. Scattered alongside the handwritten menus and embroidered napkins were tiny glasses with live fish flitting around.

For the opening few minutes, we remained quiet and reserved, both mesmerized by the wonders of the briny deep and slightly hesitant to introduce ourselves to our fellow diners. As bottles of wine were opened, everyone began to relax, and after introductions and a collective pondering over where a phantom cat was meowing from, we were ready to begin our meal.

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Continued Part 2

Continued Part 3

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