Tag Archives: pop-up dinners


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.

Dad prepping

Evan and Sarah Rich in the kitchen

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.

Corn fritter and red pepper sauce

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.

Beet and goat cheese salad

Gazpacho with granite and garlic flowers

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.

Squid with black olive vinaigrette and watermelon

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.

"Peach cobbler"

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 chefsnightoff@gmail.com to be put on their mailing list for upcoming events and menus.


Filed under Food, Photography, Restaurants


Goat cheese semifreddo with figs and walnut nougatine

It seems as though I have spent a fair amount of this summer cooking for myself or eating out or making do with popcorn. The reason is that my wife has been very busy on the baby-sitting circuit, a task that she enjoys. I am glad that our children and grandchildren, too, enjoy the visits. We are a conventional modern American family spread out all over the map. In times past, when parents needed a helping hand for whatever reason, Grandma lived just next door or even in the same house. That was certainly true when I grew up, and I spent many a day in my grandmother’s kitchen watching her cook or helping her with the bread making.

Chilled corn soup with padron peppers and nasturtium flowers

No more; and with two breadwinners in all of our family households, the emergencies seem to be frequent and without a local resolution. The good thing is that all of our children live just a short distance from a good-sized airport, and so do we.
So far this summer, one baby-sitting job occurred because Mom had to go on a business trip while Dad had some major work responsibilities. Another time, Mom had some responsibilities at work, and the kids were out of school with no place to go. Yet another time, one of our daughters became a first-time mom, so of course that required some grandmotherly help. That daughter is a professional chef who worked nearly up until her delivery. Now she is anxious to get back to work, but restaurant and baby schedules are in direct conflict because so much of both occur late at night.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife went to take care of our 3 month-old grandson while my daughter did the pop-up dinner I wrote about recently. It was a very successful event, so my daughter and her husband scheduled another dinner. Big problem – Grandma had already scheduled a baby-sitting date with my other daughter, who had a major project to complete at her work with no reliable childcare backup. Fortunately, she and my wife had built in a little slack in their schedules, so she [Daughter1] was able to fly up from Los Angeles to San Francisco for a day to help Daughter 2 with baby care.
It was a long day and night as Daughter 2 cooked and cleaned up until 2 AM. Baby managed to keep Auntie awake most of that time, and then the return flight to LA was so early in the morning that Daughter 1 got virtually no sleep. She also got no leftovers, so she didn’t get to enjoy what turned out to be another great meal. Still, she didn’t complain because she got to enjoy her young nephew.

Pappardelle with Douglas fir-roasted chicken and preserved lemon

     Thus is the life of modern mothers and grandmothers. It is hard to see how they manage to squeeze everything into a busy life and do it with love and patience. My hat is off to all the women in my family, including my busy daughter-in-law. They all deserve the love and support of their spouses. Fortunately, I think they all get that {Though secretly they probably all wish it could be more.)
Images this time are from the preparation and presentation of the most recent pop-up dinner.

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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?

First course onion croquet

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.

Tomato, strawberry, and burratta salad

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.

The main dish was buttermilk-poached chicken served with farro, pickled cherries, and fresh green peas.

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 chefsnightoff@gmail.com


Filed under Food, Restaurants