In a long-running cabaret (on now through 11/19) and a game set for home play, Cafe Nordo delivers a happy and delicious feast of Alice in Wonderland-themed nonsense. Plus, more news in dinner theatre this year.
Note: ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ has ended, but Nordo has a sale on its three remaining game sets. Hop down to read about the Wonderland set here.
Cafe Nordo, Seattle’s destination for themed culinary-theatre combinations, has really leaned into the world of Alice in Wonderland over the past couple years. Just as we needed a diversion, Nordo’s lands of feast, fantasy, and fancy have beckoned.
Early in the pandemic, the opportunity for small-group dining on the set of its postponed Feast of the Queens was one of the few times I ventured out with my bubble to an indoor event. It was lush and delicious, right when we needed that escape most, and arranged in a way that still felt isolated and safe.
For at-home entertainment, now and throughout the pandemic, Nordo has offered various creations — including the Wonderland-themed Curiouser and Curiouser: The Interrogation of Alice — in its Room Service line of elaborate game sets paired with some special treats.
And earlier this month, Nordo kicked off the latest run of its year-spanning underground cabaret and interactive feast, paired with after-hours karaoke, called Down the Rabbit Hole. This latest iteration is scheduled for a two-month run.
Both Down the Rabbit Hole and the play-at-home Curiouser and Curiouser are highly social, pleasantly nonsensical feasts — so enjoy them with people who you know you’ll have fun with and who aren’t too beholden to a sensible narrative journey.
Down the Rabbit Hole @ Cafe Nordo’s Knife Room
Runs through 11/19. In Seattle (Pioneer Square).
Wonderland … dinner … karaoke?
I love theatre that has a great story, well-told, with or without adornments. Cafe Nordo’s Alice in Wonderland-themed cabaret, Down the Rabbit Hole, is basically the opposite: a minimal story with endless adornments. But this interactive feast for the senses is still a journey, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
Down the Rabbit Hole sends visitors underground, into the naturally dark, cavernous club beneath Nordo’s main-level Cullinarium, where an affable White Rabbit welcomes guests in, and a vengeful Queen of Hearts is on the prowl for her next victim. In stumbles Alice, feeling snackish. She runs off with a tray of the Queen’s special pepper tarts, and the Queen has found her prey. But before they can nab her to begin her pointless trial, with the outcome predictably predetermined, she disappears.
The White Rabbit (Bo Mellinger) is an entertainer. The Queen of Hearts (Kate Kraay) is a villain. The March Hare (Jesica Avellone in the version I saw, now played by Ronnie Allen) is a doofus. The Mad Hatter (Jacquelyn Miedema) is, well, mad. And Alice (Megan Huynh) is peckish and entitled, perhaps, but mostly she’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time — for she stumbles into the Queen’s thirst to hold a capital trial for someone, anyone, and for her crime of running off with the tarts she faces certain death.
* * *
Since Wonderland is a place of pure anti-logic, it’s best to dispense with any inquiry and buy-in fully to whatever’s happening. In practice, that means dining on five courses, wandering through a series of magical art rooms, “helping” to catch the thief while looking the other way when you cross paths, and cheering raucously at the performers, who periodically break into song with pop hits that are varying levels of on-theme, from “White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane) to “Toxic” (Britney Spears). Very much in character, the Queen strikes up a dramatic, sultry “Is That All There Is?” (Peggy Lee), and the Rabbit performs a dramatic, bitchy “Maneater” (Hall & Oates).
As with most any Nordo show, the food is the centerpiece, and this centerpiece is very Nordo: dining that’s refined and playful in the same bite. Small dishes include a pepper tart with puffy pimento cheese (little too much heat in the spread, little too much rock-hard in the crust); a “tea” of mushroom soup dished up by the fugitive herself (while the popular answer to the Queen’s goat cheese sugar lump inquiry is two, the best answer is six); a rich savory bread pudding (oysters or veggie); a delightful terrarium of salad, plucked out of the sky; and a rich Earl Gray chocolate pot de creme. Individually, the dishes overall are good. Taken together, the main and dessert go on past the point of too much richness, so be sure to let the entree settle before digging into dessert.
The storyline is (purposely) nonsense, the characters’ antics, faux outrage, and singing are fun, and the five courses overall are inventive and tasty — what you’d expect from a Nordo show. But it was the added aspect of an interactive journey that I enjoyed the most.
While the first course, entree, and dessert are all served to the table as normal, guests get to do some foraging to retrieve the soup and salad courses. A few tables are released at a time to wander behind the main stage and collect a tea cup of soup, poured by someone who looks suspiciously like the fugitive Alice.
For the delicious salad course, the quest is more involved, this leg of the journey my favorite part of the show. Tables are again released a few at a time into an Infinity Garden, created by Kate Jessup, where beautiful talking flowers grow, and glowing lights dance off mirrors, giving the tiny room the illusion of a dazzling larger space. Then through the other side, into the larger deep blue-glowing space called the Mad Hatter’s Tea Room (designed by Lusio Light), where visitors pluck a glass orb from above and return to the table with their greens, full of tasty surprises.
Taking the mundane and turning it into a memory — whether presenting dishes that are not what they seem, or delivering playful combinations you’d never dreamed of — is a Nordo specialty. Rabbit Hole continues that proud tradition. After digging surprising tastes and textures out of a hanging glass orb with a given name, how will I ever eat a salad any other way?
Down the Rabbit Hole is adapted from Lewis Carroll’s original works by Terry Podgorski and Stephen Robinson, with story and concept by Erin Brindley and Terry Podgorski, directed by Jasmine Joshua and Erin Brindley, with music composition and direction by Annastasia Workman. Design artists: Kate Jessup (The Infinity Garden of Living Flowers), Lusio Light (Mad Hatter’s Tea Room), Mandy Greer (The Wonderland Menagerie), sonic art (Paul Kikuchi), and light art (Maryalice Weed). Executive Chef and food design by Erin Brindley, Sous Chef Christian Rosso.
‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ runs through 11/19 at Cafe Nordo’s lower-level Knife Room in Seattle (Pioneer Square). Restrooms are multi-stall and gender-neutral. Venue is reached only down a steep flight of stairs that is not accessible by wheelchair. Price includes five-course meal, but does not include service tip or drinks. View menu here. Tickets are $101+ (varies by day; lowest on Thursdays), here.
Playing NWTheatre Bingo? Consider this show for squares 4, 6, or 16, plus 5 (can double-up this activity-based square).
Curiouser & Curiouser – Nordo’s Room Service
Order on demand (for shipping or pickup)
As with Down the Rabbit Hole, the play-at-home game Curiouser & Curiouser settles around an interrogation room of total nonsense, untethered by chronological time, involving a crime that hasn’t been committed yet. (Seeing Down the Rabbit Hole first isn’t necessary, but it may have helped us better approach the game.)
I’m not much of a game-player or riddle solver. My friend, who’s slightly better at it and also has more patience than me, helped me bumble through it with only a few roadblocks. (Among the stumbles we encountered: one of the words appeared to drop a plural necessary to solving a step; we apparently missed the cue to indulge in a treat and ended up having the chocolate course first; and we still have no idea what we were supposed to do on the chessboard.)
And yet the journey was still a lot of fun for both of us.
Along with the physical game set and accompanying treats is a link to watch recorded bits to guide you through the game. The pieces aren’t just video clues but amusing long-form skits, segments of what might have been a live-action play in a non-pandemic universe. And they feature a bunch of recognizable faces, including Susanna Burney, Rebecca Cort, Alyza DelPan-Monley, Adrian Kljucec, and members of the Down the Rabbit Hole cast.
The game box itself is like a piece of art. Clues, game pieces, and folders of evidence are all carefully crafted and cleverly presented, looking official in some places and artsy in others.
And then there’s the food. The Curiouser treats are essentially a tea set — far from the many-course spreads Nordo is known for — but what a divine tea time it is. This special set is served with cute little ornate paper cups and plates, and includes biscuits (shortbread cookies), berry lemon curd, and delicious boozy tea, spiked with cognac, amaro, and lemon. When the (very yummy) giant chocolate egg is the least exciting element of the treats, you know it’s a tasty tea set indeed.
The real mystery of this set isn’t what Alice did or didn’t do, but how they stuffed this much flavor in a boxed tea set. And, more importantly, when can I have it again?
If Nordo started offering these biscuits, curd, and tea as an a la carte option at all of its Knife Room events and short-run shows, we’d all be much better off for it.
Nordo’s Room Service – The Interrogation of Alice boxes for local pickup are $75 (two-player) or $109 (four-player); shippable and non-alcoholic variations, add-ons, and other game options are available. Info and ordering here.
More in Food & Theatre
Cafe Nordo just opened its brand-new Cullinarium show, Spirit Parlour, by Julia Nardin. Dinner is served only at Sunday performances for this show, with seating very limited; see Sunday menu here. It runs through 11/20.
The Can Can Culinary Cabaret opened a very fun (and saucy) show, Hitchcock Hotel, earlier this month. Full dinner and drink service is available at the cabaret; see menu here. It runs through 11/27, followed by the holiday-themed Wonderland beginning 12/1. See NWT’s review of Hitchcock Hotel here.
The Can Can will also hold its popular Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired show, This Is Halloween, on The Triple Door stage again this year. The Triple Door’s dinner and drink service — most of which, with the exception of desserts and pot stickers, has been thoroughly disappointing (and sometimes repulsive) in recent years — is available before and during the show; see menu here. Runs 10/14-31.
Also at The Triple Door: long-time burlesque producing duo Verlaine & McCann just closed their own Alice in Wonderland-themed production, Through the Looking Glass, but they’ll return later this year with the winter wonderland Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker. Runs 12/7-30. Thereafter, Mark Siano & Opal Peachey’s wildly popular Bohemia returns to The Triple Door in early 2023 (1/19-29).
And perhaps the biggest news in theatre/dining experiences this year: Teatro ZinZanni returns from a long hiatus, with the show Coming Home, beginning 11/16 and running into February 2023. This one will feature some longtime favorite performers, but performs at SODO Park with a menu by Herban Feast, rather than under the big top with ZinZanni’s own creations. More to come on how that goes, but the company’s return to Seattle is welcome news.
For a listing of most shows by date, see the Performance Calendar.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.