Until recently, I thought that the phrase, “pop up” referred to a fly ball in baseball, or an ad on my computer or a kind of camper or even the electropop album by Yelle. But in the food world, it means none of those things. A pop-up dinner is a new trend in food meccas like San Francisco. Lots of restaurants are closed on Monday (Don’t you already know that if you try to eat out on Monday?) So they are not making any money on Mondays With pop-up dinners, other chefs take over the kitchen for the night to prepare what usually turns out to be a great meal with a different twist than that of the regular kitchen. It gives the itinerant chefs a chance to publicize their skills, and it gives the restaurant a chance to make some extra cash There are lots of different arrangements, but one of the most common is for the chefs to cover the costs of food and extra help. They then receive the profit from the meal. At the same time, the restaurant gets the revenues for beer, wine, and spirits. This is usually a win-win-win, because the guests enjoy what is likely to be a great meal, the chefs make a profit, and the restaurant enjoys revenues from a space that would ordinarily only be costing rent on a closed Monday night.
Recently, my daughter and son-in-law, both experienced chefs from Michelin-rated restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and their pastry-chef friend, Max Pouvreau, sponsored a pop-up dinner at the popular SoMa restaurant, Radius. The place was packed, and the guests got to enjoy a creative and eclectic menu with Italian, French, and Asian influences.
The first course was an onion croquet served on a puree of spinach and cilantro. The inspiration was a Japanese curry house in the Richmond area, Volcano. Who would suspect that onions could taste so good?
Next came a salad of tomatoes, strawberries, burrata, and red mustard flowers. For those of you who may not have tried burrata cheese, the name comes from the Italian word for “butter”, and the cheese originally came from the Italian region of Puglia. It is made by creating a pouch of freshly made string cheese, filling it with scraps of mozzarella and topping it off with cream before being closed with a tie and wrapped in fresh green leaves. This version was a little different in that the cheese and cream were combined and then whipped together to make delicate, airy pillows with an incredible buttery richness that burst onto the tongue with the first bite.
The third dish was summer squash tagliatele with shiso (an Asian herb that combines the flavors of cumin, cinnamon, and basil) and Parmesan. The pasta was rich with egg yolk and wonderfully tender.
Another little amuse bouche was diced cucumber in cucumber gel laced with fresh horseradish, nori powder, and topped with fresh wild radish flowers which had been foraged earlier in the day.
- Buttermilk-poached chicken
Two desserts finished an evening of feasting: The first was blackberry-soaked peaches served with a creamy nasturtium namelaka and almond streusel. The second was a pair of delicate beignets served with a jam of tomatoes and strawberries.
- Blackberry-soaked peaches with nasturtium namelaka
All of this suggests that you might enjoy trying out a pop-up dinner. In San Francisco, you can find out about them on one of the food gossip websites: http://www.sf.eater.com or http://www.sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com
If you want to find out where Sarah, Evan, and Max will be next, check out http://www.facebook.com/ChefsNightOff or they can make a reservation at email@example.com