While I was in California the last two weeks, I got to see my daughter and son-in-law’s pop-up dinners first-hand. Not only did I get to give them a little help prepping (We just need to humor poor old Dad.) but also my wife and I got to enjoy the meal that they had prepared. Once again, the dinner was held on Monday night at the restaurant, Radius – a night when the restaurant was usually closed. The space is modern and sparely furnished and located in SoMa, so it attracts a younger crowd, and there were plenty in attendance at the pop-up. The waitstaff were all very capable and friendly. Most of them had known my kids from other venues around town and had volunteered to help on their nights off.
Of course, as parents of the chef, we were welcomed warmly, but to my eye, everyone was receiving the same attentive service as we were.
The warm-up was a flute of California sparkling wine, Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley, to go with a plate of nearly transparent rice crackers sprinkled with crunchy poppy seeds. Then along came a beautiful amuse bouche of bite-sized corn fritters, nested on a creamy smooth red pepper coulis. The fritters were filled with fresh corn kernels and a creamy filling. They were crispy on the outside because of their coats of artisanal heirloom cornmeal.
Next came a bright salad of tender beets topped with little clouds of goat cheese that had been whipped to an incredible lightness. Flame grapes were displayed along the edges, and snippets of fresh dill fronds made the classic combination of beets and dill.
The palate cleanser then made its appearance: a tiny little bowl of gazpacho which had been gelled and infused with air to practically float on the spoon. An icy granite topped the gazpacho, and garlic flowers on top provided the extra bite that made this dish memorable.
The fish course was composed of perfectly sautéed bites of squid in a black olive vinaigrette and accompanied by the sweetness of red and yellow watermelon and the savor of crispy onions.
The meat course picked up the theme of black with tender, aromatic slices of roasted pork shoulder set in a pool of black garlic puree and covered with a bouquet of edible flowers. Bites of white cauliflower and tiny little heads of Roman broccoli completed the dish. It came with a tray of fennel-pollen-scented baguette. The bread was clearly intended to sop up any extra black garlic. One of the guests at the next table asked for extra bread to make sure his plate was completely clean.
Dessert was labelled as “peach cobbler” on the menu, just to let you know it wouldn’t be your mother’s peach cobbler, and it wasn’t: a delicate panna cotta flavored with baked pie crust, laced with bits of fresh peaches, topped with a streudel that included crunchy bits of corn to return to the theme that started the whole evening.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we finished with two beautiful red curls that combined the earthiness of red pepper with the sweetness of candy. It reminded me of the fruit leather of my childhood, but with a sophisticated taste and texture that left those memories far behind. All in all, it was a wonderful restaurant experience.
I also need to give special credit to two of Sarah and Evan’s friends: Daniel Brooks made these beautiful images while I was busy eating. Danny is also a private chef in the San Francisco area. Jamie Law has been a constant friend who continues to provide amazing help in publicizing these pop-up events.
Sarah and Evan will be doing more pop-ups in the near future. If you would like to see the menus or reserve a place, you can check out their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ChefsNightOff or you can email them at email@example.com to be put on their mailing list for upcoming events and menus.