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  • Writer's pictureAmogh Dimiri

Anywhere But Here

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Find the Kiss.

By Amogh Dimri


When it comes to my admittedly limited experience in the underground dining world, no laundromat speakeasy or lavishly decorated gas station basement has rivaled the allure of Find the Kiss, affectionately nicknamed Baci (Italian for “kisses”). The not-for-profit exploit, founded by Nichi Pandey, CC ’23, seizes the elusive middle ground on the dining spectrum between a friend’s dinner party and a hot new downtown restaurant: a supper club.


All photos courtesy of Amogh Dimri

An emergent “genre of dining,” the supper club departs from the informality of casual dinners. Baci’s candlelit ambiance, painted glass tableware, and exquisitely plated courses indicate as much (by contrast, my most recent dinner party with friends featured paper plates with Lightning McQueen grinning beneath my meal–their dishwasher was broken).

The supper club, however, also replaces the oft-stuffy restaurant atmosphere with the intimate atmosphere of a bedroom. The novelty is this: Nichi encourages guests to “come as guests, leave as friends” and books separate parties on the same night in the hopes of forging lasting connections between them.


So, what makes Baci so “underground”? To reserve a spot at the weekly Friday and Saturday dinners, you must fill out a Google Form that they release every Monday in their Instagram bio (@findthekiss) to enter the lottery. The form asks about more than potential food allergies; questions range from your hometown and major to a childhood dish you are nostalgic for, to your favorite restaurant in the city. Using your responses, Nichi concocts a menu that is unveiled course by course during the meal.


If selected to “find the kiss,” you will receive an email disclosing the location of the clandestine dinner and its associated costs. Thus, five days after I eagerly submitted the form, I found myself trekking through freezing wind to the supper club on Riverside Drive with my plus one, Fergus, who had no idea what to expect.


Note: Besides Baci’s staff, all names have been changed.


7:34 p.m.: Fergus and I arrive at the Find the Kiss venue with a Cabernet Sauvignon in hand, an offering for the chef and fellow diners. We meet Ingrid—a first-year and Nichi’s apron-adorned sous chef for the night—who joined the Baci team after heeding its call for applicants on Instagram. She assures us we picked a good night to attend.

7:46 p.m.: Our co-diners arrive. Two Barnard seniors: Meera, a confident and gregarious

woman from Bangalore, India, and her roommate Jessica Scarlet (she insisted on the seductive pseudonym), a funny and kind-eyed Californian. A few minutes later, Jack, a soft-spoken yet discerning sophomore arrives. We know each other from the newly revamped Culinary Society and smirk at the coincidence of experiencing Baci the same night.


7:51 p.m.: As Nichi leads the way to his bedroom, Fergus remarks to me that he understands the hype now. Upon entry, you are greeted by Baci’s intimate setup: five seats around a candlelit table, with an adjacent KitchenAid for Nichi to perform live demos of his meal prep. A print of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss hangs on the wall.


7:57 p.m.: Wine bottles signed in Sharpie line the room’s perimeter on the floor; Nichi explains that after each dinner, guests sign the bottles as permanent encapsulations of the night’s revelry. He begins playing music from a playlist titled Baci, but the queue isn’t working and Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass comes on. Jessica Scarlet and Meera bob their heads in enjoyment but I help Nichi with his aux troubles. We steer the queue towards Nichi’s designated Baci playlist consisting of Frank Sinatra, Italian 80s hits, and jazz piano.


8:00 p.m.: To overcome the initial awkwardness of dining with strangers, Nichi introduces the night’s activity for us between courses: Let’s Fucking Date, a card game with questions intended for first dates. The questions are categorized according to sexified baseball terminology—first, second, and third bases plus a home-run pile—with increasingly suggestive elements interwoven. If we managed to finish all the questions, Nichi also offered us the X-rated edition: Let’s Fucking Fuck, for maximum clothed intimacy. The game’s aim, Nichi tells us before disappearing into the kitchen, is not for us to “fucking fuck” but to break the ice and get to know each other on a personal level—although romantic entanglements beginning at Baci are not uncommon, he adds. Meera proposes we follow the game’s rules by rating each others’ answers in a binary: It either sucks or it fucks.


8:18 p.m.: Nichi and Ingrid bring out the first course, a cucumber and dill salad topped with creme fraiche and salmon roe. A bed of leafy arugula surrounds the scallop shell that the salad sits on. The delicious flavors and diverse texture of the cucumber creme and soft salmon eggs elicits oohs and aahs from the diners. Ingrid makes her way around to serve champagne on the house–a welcome treat.


8:23 p.m.: Nichi begins the first tableside demo of the night with his homemade butter. Served on a hardwood board, he dips his honeycomb in honey and drizzles it over the butter for us. Topped with fleur de sel (Nichi’s salt of choice) and edible flowers, we lather it liberally onto Maryland cornbread rolls.


Illustration by Madi Herman

8:30 p.m.: We finally make it to second base. The first question: “Who is one cartoon character you’d fuck?” Jack answers first: Prince Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender. His brooding aggression is sexy, we agree. The choice fucks.


8:35 p.m.: Nichi returns for another tableside demo, this time with his caesar salad, made “the real way.” He presents egg yolk, garlic, anchovies, dijon mustard, and capers, on a wooden board before mixing them in a bowl with romaine lettuce, vegetable oil, and extra virgin olive oil. Meera, the resident vegetarian, gives up her restrictions to give it a try. A good dish to break tradition for; the saltiness of the anchovy and capers pairs nicely with the icy fresh lettuce for a satisfying bite.


8:45 p.m.: A question in the second base deck prompts us to ask Meera if she plans to stay in the US after her looming May graduation. She thinks for a moment, then tells us that she’s on the fence. She loves the energy of New York, but Bangalore offers her a calmer pace of life.


8:52 p.m.: Nichi carefully feeds pasta dough through the KitchenAid’s reams, revealing the thin noodles we’ll later consume.


9:09 p.m.: Nichi emerges from the kitchen presenting pasta al limone with fresh cracked black pepper and parmigiano reggiano. The lemon’s citrus contrasts with bold peppery bites, creating a dynamic tension. Nichi, who lingers to see our reactions, is not disappointed. In a senior-to-senior question, Jessica Scarlet asks him what his plans are after college. Nichi tells us he’s been offered a job in his native town Baltimore at a restaurant recently opened by a dining collective in a repurposed bank.


9:28 p.m.: Fergus gets a string of questions from the third base pile that he’s not keen on indulging, including “Name something better than an orgasm.” He answers the latter that times like this at Baci, meeting new people and eating great food, are better than sex. The group agrees. The choice fucks.

9:31 p.m.: The peak of the night arrives: Nichi brings out a roasted lamb rack, seasoned with rosemary and garlic, with a balsamic reduction drizzled on top. The succulent meat is cooked a tender pink throughout, with crisp and juicy fat along the bone and a balsamic tang that balances each bite. Meera gets a savory mushroom dish as a substitute with similar rosemary and garlic notes. The mushrooms’ supple exteriors and garlicky crevices make me question my carnivorous habits.


9:42 p.m.: Fergus draws another card: “Compliment Me.” We loop around the table swapping compliments: Apparently, the group admires Fergus’ smile and Meera’s confidence. Fergus calls Jessica Scarlet “a true Renaissance woman.” Jack confesses that when he first met me he was intimidated by me; I laugh and say I felt the same about him. Jessica Scarlet looks at me and says, “You have senior level rizz.” Did I blush after that? Probably.


9:56 p.m.: Nichi brings out dessert, a Lisbon Chocolate Cake with fresh cream. The light, bouncy cream harmonizes with the deliciously rich chocolate. I savor it slowly, partly because of the good conversation and partly because I’m so full. The card game gets interesting as we bring out the X-rated edition, Let’s Fucking Fuck, with the question: “When did you first say I love you?” If Nichi wanted intimacy, the build-up from each consecutive “base” certainly worked. Jack reveals that he first said it to his parents when he left for college. Others add that even in their serious relationships, the three words haven’t come out yet. This is seemingly a regret, as we come to the consensus that “loving is not that deep” and that you should let yourself fall in love as much as possible. The revelation should have felt awkward with people I met two hours ago, but didn’t.


10:05 p.m.: Nichi grabs a chair at the table and chats with us at the end, also dropping off some shortbread for us to go. The shortbread, I later learned, is a concoction of lemon wafers, orange and chocolate biscuits with honey-glazed cashews, and dried cranberries. We goad Nichi into answering some of the X-rated questions he encouraged us to try out as we delve into the life of our chef.


10:16 p.m.: Meera and Jessica Scarlet have a birthday party downtown and say their goodbyes, promising to invite the three of us over for dinner at their apartment. I laugh to myself at the thought of them munching on Baci’s shortbread at the club.


10:36 p.m.: Fergus and I sign our wine bottles, say our goodbyes, and head out. The moment the elevator door closes he says, “Wow dude. Just wow.” Fergus, to whom I may have undersold the Baci dining experience, confesses that he thought the dinner would be more of a “spaghetti and meatballs situation at your friend’s house.”


3:05 a.m.: I find myself waking up in the middle of the night with energy and I devour the shortbread. Its citrus wafer and candied nut contrast keep each bite light, with a refreshing orange zest aftertaste. Unsurprisingly, it fucks.


Menu:


Maryland Cornbread, Honey Butter, Fleur de Sel, Edible Flowers


Tableside Caesar Salad (Romaine Lettuce, Garlic, Anchovies, Capers, Dijon Mustard, Egg Yolk, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Vegetable Oil)


Pasta al Limone, Parmigiano Reggiano, Fresh Cracked Black Pepper


Roasted Lamb Rack with Rosemary and Garlic, Balsamic Reduction


Lisbon Chocolate Cake, Fresh Cream


Lemon Wafers, Orange and Chocolate Biscuits, Honey Glazed Cashews, Dried Cranberries


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