Does restaurant quality food need to be confined to the traditional restaurant model? The answer is quickly becoming no. With the influx of pop-up restaurants and roving supper clubs, the landscape of New York’s dining scene seems to be shifting. Pop-ups give temporary homes to novel ideas and unique talent that may not have the resources to plunk down capital on a permanent home.
A pop-up restaurant is a temporary restaurant installation. It could be a try out for a more permanent restaurant, something more like a “food exhibit”, or a one-night stand. A good example is What Happens When, a pop-up collaboration orchestrated by John Fraser (Dovetail). The project that started as a fund-raising effort on Kickstart, a website that generates funds for pet projects and startups, has taken residency downtown for 9-months and will cycle through four “movements” or scene changes, much like Park Ave Winter (Spring, Summer, Autumn). Each quarter the team re-designs not just the space, but the menu, music and lighting as well. The first movement of What Happens When was inspired by snow and the menu featured a “Hunter’s Plate” with pigs parts and bread dumplings as well as potato skins with wheat beer fondue and pickled sausage. Inspired by hunting, the second movement menu offers venison tartar with saltine crackers and salt-baked celery root with truffles and cream of wheat. The genius of the ever-changing restaurant is that it’s always new. Hard-core foodies will want to experience every movement.
Bodega was a one-night only pop-up from Top Chef alum Dale Talde. Staged in a space on the Bowery, Bodega was a project that culminated from a “why not try it out” concept into a full-fledged food frenzy. With a makeshift kitchen outfitted with immersion circulators and a crew of Dale’s kitchen buddies, the restaurant turned out a multi-course meal to an invite-only crowd. Highlights included a rack of venison with buttermilk crumble and milk-style ramen with pork belly. The pop-up was so successful that the team hopes to turn out a longer run.
And then, there’s the Supper Club, which is usually run out of people’s homes and often invite-only or word of mouth events. Tongue in cheek names like Y-I-EAT-N and Midnight Brunch are indicative of the target audiences for these niche-eating experiences. The Whisk & Ladle is a long-running club that’s hosted once a month in a large apartment in Williamsburg. The organizers put together an elaborate dinner menu with plated courses and paired beverages. A recent meal started with salad topped with homemade charcuterie (by a neighbor in the building) followed by risotto topped with pork loin along with Turley wines. (It’s a large undertaking for a group with full-time day jobs.)
The Noble Rot is a traveling wine saloon and a wine nerd’s answer to the supper club. Founded and run by Jonny Cigar and Brian Quinn, a couple of self-proclaimed wine aficionados in three-piece-suits, their events are thematic and unusually dramatic. One month might be a tasting of sparkling wines, the next a journey into the world of sherry. Like a wine bar without the bar, they allow you to sample wines that you probably haven’t heard of and perhaps wouldn’t pick out at your local shop. (Sign up for their mailing list at thenoblerot.com.)
By RG Writer: Lauren Bloomberg