Popping my Pop-Up Restaurant Cherry with A Razor, A Shiny Knife & Room Forty. The Variety Building on the Miracle Mile.
Pop-up dinners are popping up in a Variety of places.
The first thing that intrigued me about this educational/theatrical pop-up dinner presented by A Razor, A Shiny Knife and Room Forty was the location. It was to be held in the main lobby of the Variety Building situated on Wilshire Blvd across from the LACMA and the famous La Brea Tar Pits—The Miracle Mile.
I didn’t really know what to expect since I’ve never attended a pop-up dinner. I was still skeptical of the concept, not clear whether it was a culinary game-changer or a temporary fad supported by fickle foodies. All I knew was that I was told to dress formally. And in LA, that’s asking a lot.
Dressed up for pop-up!
This dinner event had started hours before I had arrived and as I sauntered in, flashing my credentials like a 1970s t.v. detective, I noticed well-dressed men in jackets and women in clingy cocktail dresses hovering around one of the chefs, Daniel Castaña.
Chef Castaña was busy bonding strips of duck meat together with transglutaminase before vacuum sealing the glued meat in a bag for sous vide cooking.
Duck, duck, goose: duck egg, duck leg, goose liver.
Because the temporary kitchen is also set up in the building’s main lobby, guests were not only free but encouraged to interact with the cooks, ask questions, and even help out, which explained why beautiful women in slinky skirts were chopping and seasoning food.
Thank god, cocktail hour was finally announced. This precious time was to be enjoyed on the top of the Variety Building overlooking the grand cityscapes of Downtown LA, Century City and Hollywood.
(Pop) Up on the roof.
The specially designed cocktail called the White Elephant was served to us by the most dapper of young men I’ve seen in decades. His name: Jonny Cigar. He wore a jacket that didn’t seem currently in fashion. However, it was smartened up with a silk pocket square and a patterned ascot around his neck. In his coat pocket was a tattered copy of The Great Gatsby. Jonny would reach for this classic American novel about high society excesses and indulgences as the night progressed and as we indulged in our own excesses of food and drink.
In anticipation of the dinner service, the guests returned to the lobby and gathered around the extra long communal dining table.
Michael Cirino, one of the event’s hosts, was impeccably dressed and accessorized his vest pocket with an antique silver teaspoon. “It’s my grandmother’s,” he said, “I use it for tasting.”
Michael Cirino was the Bing Crosby to Jonny Cigar’s Bob Hope. He explained each course when service commenced. His profanity sprinkled descriptions seemed a good match for his young Al Pacino resemblance and added additional flavor to the remarkable first course of Caviar, Duck Fat, Potatoes and Crème Fraîche.
Best tater tot ever!
This appetizer was essentially a potato croquet fried in duck fat along side caviar intermingled with liquid nitrogen frozen blackberries that were then shattered into tiny cold berry pellets. The ultimate result was a sweet and salty caviar and the best tasting tater tots ever.
Freeze your blackberries off!
Jonny Cigar did double duty as the sommelier and solo thespian. He read from his well-worn copy of The Great Gatsby while neatly pouring precise levels of a 2009 Kinero Grenache Blanc. Jonny would ask, “Who is this Gatsby anyhow?” And we were enraptured. They don’t make ‘em like Jonny anymore.
“Modern meets Traditional” was the theme of the night. A good example of that theme was the meat-glued shortrib that was sous vided. But before this course could come out, there was an announcement for additional help plating the shortrib. This was also part of the experience, and if I were to gain the most out of this night, I’d have to get my hands a little dirty. My job was to sprinkle a pinch of salt onto the meat. I could do that I thought. But because of the large number of plates and the other helpers trying to do their part, it turned out to be the most hectic salt sprinkling I’ve ever done.
For dessert the daring team whipped up a sous vide chocolate cake, which according to Thomas Keller, would be impossible. The cake was dressed with a methyl cellulose dehydrated mint crisp and strawberry foam made with Ultratex, a special thickening agent.
By night’s end, the magic of the event was evident. Strangers became friends. They also exchanged email addresses, business cards or lingering looks. As Michael Cirino explained, it’s not really about the food. It’s about the entire experience. And what you get out of it is what you put into it. Even though my role in the night, other than eating and drinking, was dashing on a little salt, somehow my evening still turned out really, really sweet.
Listen to my dramatic reading of my first pop-up dinner experience on KCRW's Good Food this Saturday, August 28 at 11AM on 89.9FM KCRW or anytime at KCRW.COM!
A Razor, A Shiny Knife Website
Room Forty Website
Watch my video of Michael Cirino of A Razor, A Shiny Knife make "blackberry caviar" with liquid nitrogen in uncanny HD!!