The Poynt may have one of the most interesting dining experiences you have never heard of, a monthly underground dinner club called 14 seats. The club works something like this: you pay a small annual fee to become either a prime (guaranteed a spot at each monthly dinner) or social (guaranteed a spot once a year) member. Each dinner serves, you guessed it, 14 people. Both prime and social membership have sold out, but you could add your name to the waitlist. Debra Liner, the private events coordinator and creator of 14 Seats, has lived in Newburyport for 16 years. She credits the inspiration for the dinner club to Chef Hansen, “a six-time iron chef not only available, but excited to cook food beyond his daily passion and creativity,” according to Liner. “There was no question,” she says, “we could offer something different and special.”
If you are curious about what happens at 14 Seats, I can give you some idea, since my husband and I attended a dinner recently. But because each meal is truly unique, even prime members don’t know what to expect until the food is on their plate. Chef Hansen prepares anywhere from 6-9 courses, and guests can opt for wine pairings to complete their culinary experience. The meal takes place in the Wolfe’s den, a beautifully decorated private room with giant windows facing Newburyport’s busy Water Street. We experienced six courses over four hours, chatted with neighbors we had never met, and sampled wine from around the world.
The dinner started with spring corn and crab bisque, something I would never select for myself but truly enjoyed. The ricotta and duxelle stuffed squash blossom was next, which was a favorite for my husband. I enjoyed the pea dumplings, served with a garam masala sauce, and ate my first quail egg in the “biggest little ramen in town.” The miso glazed chiliean sea bass won big points with my fellow diners. And for dessert, the caramel strawberry cheesecake, which was paired with an espresso martini, was a classic (and incredibly delicious) way to end the meal. The pace of the meal was perfect, and each course seemed to build on the next, with flavors woven throughout that seemed familiar, yet unique. It felt as though all my cravings had been satisfied—sweet, savory, rich, fresh—and yet I never felt uncomfortably full (I did wear pants with an elastic top for the occasion). It was one of the best meals I have ever had, and only a brief ten minute walk from my home.
So, should you put your name on the 14 Seats waitlist? Absolutely. The experience of the food alone is reason enough to attend one of these unique dinners, but I believe there is more to 14 seats than just the incredible menu. Being placed at a table with 12 or 13 strangers from your community is a wonderful way to spend an evening. As Liner says, “It’s all about the people first and then the food. I grew up with a mother who was an amazing cook – but she always said to me – ‘it’s not about what’s ON the table, but more importantly WHO’S at the table.’ She is a wise woman, but I have grown to appreciate what is on the table nearly as much.”
Interested in getting on the waitlist for 14 Seats? Email Debra Liner, firstname.lastname@example.org, and be prepared to anxiously check your inbox until your invitation to a dinner arrives!