Trend: POP-UP RESTAURANTS

You’ve heard of a pop-up restaurant, right?  No?  How about a flash mob?  Hm?

If you’re feeling a little in the dark, here’s the scoop.  A pop-up restaurant, aka a “supper club,” is a temporary restaurant.  According to Wikipedia,

These restaurants often operate from a private home, former factory or similar and during festivals. Pop-up restaurants have been popular in the 2000s in Britain but they are not a new phenomenon. Pop up restaurants have existed in the US and Cuba. Diners typically make use of social media, such as the blogosphere and Twitter, to follow the movement of these restaurants and make online reservation. Pop-up restaurants have been hailed as useful for younger chefs, allowing them to utilize underused kitchen facilities and “experiment without the risk of bankruptcy.

The first time we ever heard about a pop-up was when hotsy-totsy chef Thomas Keller opened his restaurant Ad Hoc in the Napa Valley.  The Ad Hoc website describes its history:

The building at 6476 Washington Street was originally intended to be a very different type of restaurant. While we were designing it we thought we’d experiment by opening a temporary restaurant and calling it Ad Hoc, which literally means, “for this purpose.” The idea for Ad Hoc was simple – 5 days a week we’d offer a 4 course family style menu that changed each day, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list in a casual setting reminiscent of home. We wanted a place to dine for our community and ourselves. The decision to change over the restaurant, however, was taken out of our hands by our guests. The response was so positive, we simply couldn’t close. So, in September, 2007, we decided to stay open permanently and now we’re serving dinner 5 nights a week as well as Sunday brunch.

But then, pop-up dining became something of a culture.  Witness Room Forty in Los Angeles, self-described as a “restaurant without walls.”

Room Forty-hosted winemaker dinners are festive evenings and target what we affectionately label ‘adventurous aficionados’ as menus and locations are not pre-published, and only disclosed to ticket-holders the week of the event….These events are truly a celebration of food, wine, art, architecture and community and have become one of our favorite bohemian gatherings.

We’d first heard about Room Forty from a friend who went on a blind date with a guy to one of their winemaker dinners.  The location?  An abandoned church in East L.A., transformed into a glittering fine-dining establishment. 

The real patron saint of pop-up restaurants is Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  A classically-trained French chef with a couple of Michelin stars under his belt, Ludo tired of the standard restaurant game several years back and decided to take his act to the streets with a pop-up restaurant called “LudoBites.”  In LudoBites’ own words:

LudoBites is a restaurant by Chef Ludo Lefebvre that has no permanent address and no phone number. We like to say that the restaurant is limited only by Ludo’s imagination.  Many, including ourselves, have called it a “pop-up” restaurant and that may have been true for a while, but to truly characterize our business model as it exists today, we are a “touring” restaurant.  Like a club band we have been touring locally since 2007 and “playing” different parts of Los Angeles; West Hollywood, Culver City, Downtown, Sherman Oaks with more to come.

Though the novelty of “anti-restaurant” dining is not unappealing, the best part about LudoBites is the food.  Author and former editor of Gourmet Magazine Ruth Reichl hailed LudoBites as “the supremacy of food over ambience.”  LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold has called Ludo’s work “a Kitchen of Genius.”  And Sam Sifton of the New York Times says that, at LudoBites, “every plate is a fully realized piece of art.”

Contrast the seriousness of LudoBites with the antics of a couple groups in New York: A Razor, A Shiny Knife (ARASK) and Studiofeast.  An article in yesterday’s NY Times described a recent guerilla luncheon aboard the Brooklyn-bound L train as such:

Within moments, a car of the waiting train was transformed into a traveling bistro, complete with tables, linens, fine silverware and a bow-tied maître d’hôtel. “Is this your first time dining on the second car of the L train?” he asked, as guests filed in.

They had been lured by the promise of a clandestine dining experience. (“Please go to the North East Corner of 8th Ave and 14th St,” read the instructions e-mailed early that morning. “There will be a tall slender woman there with jet black hair who is holding an umbrella. Please just go up and introduce yourself. Her name is Michele and she is quite lovely, but no matter how hard you press she won’t tell you about the adventure you are going on.”)

Despite the brief duration of the ride (36 minutes), the luncheon menu was comprised of six courses including caviar, foie gras and filet mignon, and for dessert, a pyramid of chocolate panna cotta, dusted with gold leaf.  Soup was also on the menu.  We would have liked to witness people managing their soup bowls on a subway ride. 

Have you heard of any culinary antics we should know about?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Trend: POP-UP RESTAURANTS

  1. Chanae Rodriguez

    It is interesting to see these new and creative ideas change the way we eat dinner. Fun!

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