Cafe Nordo Wins with the Cabinet of Curiosities

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Cafe Nordo is back! The team of actors, cooks, and stagehands are ready to entertain and serve with this fifth in a series of culinary theatrical shows. Nordo shows are to one’s old idea of dinner theater what sushi is to canned tuna fish.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is running through June 17th, and tickets (which include a five course meal) are $60 ($80 with a flight of wines.) Tickets are going fast.

The show takes place in Washington Hall in the Central District. It’s hard to imagine them pulling off this shell game of a show at the Theo factory in Fremont. Washington Hall is as much a character in the Cabinet as any of the performers. It’s an old building, with mystery baked into the bricks, and lots of rooms to squirrel away guests.

The conceit of this show is that you’re entering into the Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s a place that exists outside of time and reality. It’s part Twilight Zone, part restaurant- everything holds mystery, and hints at a greater story. Some of the characters are from 1930’s Paris, some are from far, far earlier. The land of imagination perhaps. It’s all about mood, the feeling of the reveal; the Cabinet borrows as much from great haunted houses as it does from fringe theater.

When guests arrive they are split into four different groups and taken from room to room. Once the lot of you are ensconced in the room, you’re sat at tables and the actors start their scene. Fennel salads with rabbit confit await in the Invasive Species Lounge along with trumpets and competitive puns. The soup course is in the Crone Parlor, where the gastronomy is most molecular. They build your soup while the actors bicker and you sip your vermouth, surrounded by crochet mystery plants. Each as different from the last as the one before, and each offering tasty wine along with the beautiful dishes.

These rooms tell a cohesive story, along with your guide (in my case Demetrious, played by Devin Bannon). The logistical nightmare that it must be to have the four different groups going through the space is mitigated a tad through the use of telephones. The guides call ahead to assure that the next room on our journey is ready. It works. The guides also connect the rooms with stories. They explain the history of restaurants and why the pecking order in kitchens is so militaristic, they introduce you to the Cabinet, and they keep you from ever feeling like you’re in a queue at a theme park.

The highlight of the show for me was the French Salon room, where American ex-pats in 1930s Paris speak of mushrooms, regret, and love. There’s piano, singing, earthy red wine, and a Morel Camembert tart. It’s fun, and dark, and delicious. Actors Mark Siano and Opal Peachy have great chemistry, and you can’t take your eyes off them.

As they’ve proven several times already, the foodie-theater wizards at Cafe Nordo really know how to surprise and delight. Whereas the previous shows have had you and the actors together for the entirety of the performance, this time it’s more like peering into different worlds that exist in the same universe. The final course is served banquet style. Now the whole cast comes together, along with the different groups. Everyone’s had a slightly different trip through the Cabinet. The overall impression isn’t understood until you’re on your way home with a sense of wonder to accompany your happy belly and a mind still halfway in a dream.

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