The beverage pairing was just a few characters printed in Japanese, leading guests at 14 Seats, The Poynt’s secret supper club, to speculate that it would be sake. But server Hana Philcrantz was coy, saying, “You will never guess what is going to happen next.”
Truer words were never spoken, as Sean O’Connor, director of bars and beverage for Wolfe Management (parent company of The Poynt) sailed into the private dining room of the Newburyport hot spot with 14 baby bottles filled with beer setting one before each diner.
The idea, O’Connor explained, was to mirror the experience pampered Japanese Wagyu cattle enjoyed before becoming the centerpiece of the second course, Waygu Hot Stone, featuring slivers of raw beef for guests to cook over a hot coal, alongside a luscious soy cured egg yolk. To stimulate the cows’ appetites, he explained, they are fed beer out of baby bottles.
A weird and wonderful occurrence like this is something guests at 14 Seats have come to expect, as they gamely suck on silicone nipples to down Kirin Ichiban. The menu for the monthly tasting dinner is kept secret—diners don’t know what they are getting until it is set before them.
The club is the brainchild of Debra Liner, who approached Peter Hansen, executive chef at Wolfe Management and a veteran of the TV show Iron Chef America, with the idea of using the Wolfe’s Den—an elegant private room anchored by a long wooden table—for a members-only monthly dinner. Hansen and his team (Andrew Swanson, executive chef at The Poynt and with director of operations Michael Spencer) embraced the idea with gusto, quickly building buzz with no advertising or publicity.
“We wanted to offer something different to the ‘foodie’ community in Newburyport and [Hansen] was thrilled to have the ability to share his passion for bold flavors in a new and exciting way,” says Liner, a friend of owners Laura and John Wolfe and private event coordinator for 14 Seats. Since then, diners have experienced everything from a bone marrow luge—a shot of port poured through a beef bone—to foie gras mousse with fresh brûlée figs.
Every dish is surprising, gorgeously plated and Instagram-ready, but none of the diners are looking at their phones. Strangers have quickly become friends—after all, once you’ve toasted with beer from a baby bottle, you have an automatic bond. Even server Philcrantz, who has worked at every 14 Seats dinner since the inception, chats up the regulars, sharing news of the past month. Conversation ranges widely from plane travel to the travails of cooking Thomas Keller’s 72-hour short ribs to the intensely flavored flowers dotting one dish.
To Liner, that conversation is just as important as the cuisine. “[My mother] instilled in me that it’s not always about what’s on the table, but who is at the table that makes for the most valued experience,” says Liner, who often includes a family heirloom in the table decor. “Sharing food was always a big part of my childhood, setting a table for friends, family, and anyone else who wanted to join was just the way it was.”
The club started in February 2016—a handful of Poynt regulars heard about it through various channels, and soon Liner was fully subscribed. “Prime members” pay an annual fee and are guaranteed a seat each month, while at least four places are offered to people on the waiting list, who pay a $20 event fee on top of the $95 prix fixe.
Eager to get in on the fun? The best way might be to befriend a member—Lorraine Lewis, who is a member, says she has her own waiting list of friends who want to join her. Otherwise, sign onto the secret list and hope for an email saying your number has come up. Liner won’t reveal how many names are on the list, but says as of right now, everyone who has registered on the list has received at least one invitation.
That said, demand is so strong that Liner recently introduced “2 Seats”—a pair of chairs at the chef’s bar with the same multi-course menu but a different vibe. Rather than the social scene in the Wolfe’s Den, 2 Seats is an intimate experience where diners can watch the chefs prepare and plate the meal as it unfolds. “It’s an exciting and new way to experience a 14 Seats dinner, at the edge of the kitchen while all the action happens,” Liner says.
Whether seeking an intimate date night or to make new friends, Liner acts as a gracious host, ensuring everyone feels at home. The whole Poynt is to get people to grab seats at our table. Pun intended.
31 Water St., Newburyport