On Sunday I attended the third installment of Association, a monthly dinner/discussion event launched by UNION/PINE, Merit Badge, and Ned Ludd. At each event, a different food/booze/dessert purveyor caters and a local person of interest gives a brief, casual talk. Discussion is encouraged, networking and introductions are easy in the intimate atmosphere, and dinner is served at communal tables that are conducive to such things.

This month featured paella from Crown Paella—we were greeted, on approaching the venue, to the dish being cooked under a tent on the sidewalk in one of those massive pans for the purpose. Inside we were given the first of a series of included drinks, this time from the soon-to-be-opened Union House Bottle Shop moving into the SE Grand space next to Dig A Pony, while Marushka Chocolates was on dessert duty.

The food was awesome, and was a nice opportunity to be introduced to Crown, which is a catering business rather than a brick 'n' mortar. Run by husband and wife team Scott and Emily Ketterman, Scott also took to the mic to give an introduction to the dish and to describe the Socarrat, the crust of rice that forms of the bottom of the pan, AKA the best part. Likewise, Marushka describes itself as "an online pop-up shop," which seems like a counter-intuitive way to market foodstuffs, but they're worth seeking out. I'm not a dessert person at all, but the chocolate mousse in dainty chocolate cups was undeniably delicious, as was a marzipan-infused slice of baked goodness.

More like this, please.
  • Crown Paella
  • More like this, please.

The night's speaker was Jelly Helm, the former Executive Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy who currently runs his own studio, with campaigns for Portland Timbers, Starbucks, and Nike under his belt, among others. Operating under the theme "purpose," his talk (I hesitate to use the word "speech" given the casual air) was a little rambling and unfocused. (I sympathize with the vagueness of the task, but it turned me off when he began by musing that sometimes a person's name is indicative of their purpose, which is a conveniently flattering idea if your last name is "Helm" and you're a hotshit sailor of the good ship advertising, but somewhat less applicable if you're most people. He followed that up with mentioning that there have been 100 generations of humans, which... seems like a low-ball estimate. The fatal blow was referring to Washington Park as Washington Square Park: Aaaaand... you lost me.)

But the event is built around the hope of generating discussion, and you are encouraged, once dessert is served, to leave your place setting and rove the room to talk about your thoughts and reactions—or anything really, through which I realized that while I thought the talk had lacked substance, it had charmed the pants off a delighted Kelly Roy of ADX, who I respect greatly, for example.

Tickets for these events are in the $65-70 range inclusive of drinks, food, a lovely atmosphere, and the opportunity to hobnob with some pretty interesting and creative people around town (also in attendance were fashion designer/musician Liza Rietz and OMFGCO's Jeremy Pelley. There's no point in pretending that's a pricing that's going to work for anyone who doesn't have a little dough to throw around, but if you're accustomed to splurging on—truly excellent—food and drinks, this is a quirky, intellectual twist on a special night out.

June's event (they are on the third Sunday of every month) features writer and director of Wieden+Kennedy 12 Andrew Dickson, and food by Olympic Provisions (lest you think only W+K affiliates are involved, past events have featured Sam Adams and New York Times contributor William Deresiewicz).