courtesy of ‘moleitau’
Blink and you’ll miss them, but pop-up restaurants may just be the wave of the future. What exactly is this culinary classification? Popular on the West Coast for some time now, pop-up restaurants are spots that are open for a day, a week, a month or another vague period of time and come from nowhere to dazzle diners before they disappear like that dingy snowbank outside my house this weekend. Characteristically slim on decor, these restaurants are a chance for chefs to try out something new and wacky in the name of spontaneity. Ludo Lefebvre, a Los Angeles area chef who you may remember screaming at everyone and their mother on Top Chef: Masters, has made quite the name for himself with LudoBites, a string of pop-up restaurants in Los Angeles. TIME Magazine named Lefebvre a “Chef of the Future” after his pop-up success, and D.C. is a town of the future, right? So it’s nice to see that we’re finally on the pop-up bandwagon.
Earlier this winter, Tacos Impala came on the scene with their brand of Mexican street food. Occupying the space at 1204 H St. NE that is the summertime home of Philadelphia Water Ice, H St. veterans Chef Erik Yang and Troy Hickman (both of the forthcoming Toki Underground) are serving simple tacos that are big on flavor. Tacos run you $3 a piece and come as steak, pork or bean and cheese. All tacos come with onions, cilantro and radishes and are served on house-made, made to order tortillas. Tacos Impala opens at about noon and serves until 10pm during the week and 3am on the weekends, and here comes the pop-up classification — they plan to only be open until March 31st. After that it’s all water ice, all the time.
On the completely opposite side of the spectrum is the Number 68 Project. Also known by the much less mysterious Washington D.C. Cultural Dinner Series, the Number 68 Project aims to “bring attention to some of life’s most important questions through the appreciation of some of life’s most important pleasures — food, drink, art and inspired conversation.” Hmm. I don’t know what that means either, but it certainly sounds intriguing. The five to seven course dinners put together by a rotating list of chefs (such as Todd Gray and Mike Isabella) will run Sunday evenings from February 20th-April 17th and are exclusively invite only. How do you score this elusive invite? Well, you request one on their website. Don’t think it’s as easy as filling out your name and email address though, the request form includes a handful of essay questions that you must submit to be considered for a seat at the table. Instead of singing for your supper, I guess you’re pontificating for your supper.
Your first experience with pop-ups (or “guerrilla cuisine” as Chef Lefevbre refers to them) may just have been watching the “Restaurant Wars” episodes of Top Chef. And someone was obviously inspired by them, because tonight in honor of Valentine’s Day, Top Chef alum Mike Isabella has put together Cuisine Contra — a one-night-only restaurant. Most of the menu will be inspired by his about-to-open Graffiato, and will be primarily rustic Italian and will include a standing station of assorted Italian antipasti as well as a seated dinner. The location of the restaurant (supposedly hip, supposedly warehouse-style) will be revealed to ticket holders hours before the dinner. Diners will also be entered in to a drawing for two business-class tickets to Paris on the new Open Skies airline. A secret dinner and a free trip? That’s a pretty spectacular holiday.
The latest pop-up to make my tummy grumble and brain hurt is Sensorium, put on by Bryon Brown of Artisa Kitchen, the grandfather of pop-ups in Washington. Beginning April 12th and running until May 22nd, the temporary restaurant will be located in a 36-foot geodesic dome on the east lawn of Yards Park, just around the corner from National’s Park (you may know it as the park with the trapeze). Chef Brown is taking the pop-up idea a step further by engaging not only your palate, but the bulk of your other senses too. Expect costumes, lighting, and music to go with your 12-course meal that is sure to be heavy on playfulness itself. There will be two seatings per night, with only thirty guests per meal. Tickets will run you between $125 and $150 per person, inclusive of everything (including sensory overload).
What else will pop up in the future? Only time will tell. The Westend Bistro Twitter feed alluded to a pop-up BBQ “restaurant” on M St. between 22nd St. and 23rd St. coming in April. The only details so far are that there will be a giant smoker, pork, chicken, beef, cornbread and pie. Not a ton of information, but probably not too shabby when we’re only talking 144 characters. Pop-ups are just too quick I guess — no time for actual sentences.