You can find a secret restaurant pretty much anywhere these days, from a back-alley tire shop to a storage container. So it was only a matter of time before a supper club turned up in an undergrad's dorm room. And while we suspect Columbia University isn't the first to inspire a pop-up restaurant in its student housing quarters, it's certainly the most notorious.
But in the world of not-entirely-legal dining, discovery eventually means death (death to the restaurant, anyway, or at least to its mystique). Pith, Columbia senior Jonah Reider's dorm-room restaurant—which attracted huge buzz in its short life while barely managing to cover its costs—has just been ordered to shut down by Columbia's administration.
Since Reider debuted Pith in Columbia's Hogan Hall Suite 4B in fall 2015, he's been preparing seasonal-ingredient-driven dinners four nights a week, at $10-20 a head for about six courses; and he's been using the dorm's common kitchen to cook the dishes, which have ranged from hamachi crudo to seared scallops with chanterelle polenta to lamb with smoked paprika and charred eggplant. Once the Columbia Spectator broke the story, Reider got flooded with media and guest requests and ended up with a thousand-person waiting list including lots of "lawyers and magazine editors," as he told The New Yorker.
Pith was arguably the biggest tasting-menu bargain in town, if sitting down to a dorm room dinner prepared by an undergrad with minimal cooking experience didn't bother you. But Pith has been refreshingly humble about his project, telling Grub Street that "I really should [go to cooking school], because I recognize how presumptuous it is to casually cook and get so much attention, when I have many friends who work insane hours in kitchens honing their skills, and aren’t getting the same recognition.''
Columbia says it's closing Pith because of “conditions hazardous to all tenants in a faculty building." Although Reider says he's not necessarily planning to pursue a cooking career after this, don't be surprised if his name resurfaces in the food world, once he's done with final exams anyway. No less a food celebrity than Ruth Reichl even complimented some of Reider's cooking, raving about his deep-fried ramps, when he did a private dinner for her and a group of friends. Reider's notoriety has even landed him on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
As for your chances of getting into Pith now that it's about to close? Slim to none. Reider said he'll try to serve a few more people off the waiting list before he's forced to shut down by the end of May, but that's it. (Although who knows? The exceptionally persistent or well-connected may luck out.) Still, word to the wise: As Reider told Grub Street, "anyone who wants to come because it's in a dorm is not coming for the right reason."
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