Pop-up restaurants are a bunch of bullshit.
This is the conclusion that I arrive at while trying to drown out the asinine conversation taking place across the table from me by my random, newly met dining companions. They appear to be completely beside themselves with excitement after being granted the privilege to be part of the “underground dining movement,” going on and on about “how CREATIVE these dishes are!” I bite my tongue and refrain from making a sarcastic reference to Fight Club or Where the Streets Have No Name, opting instead to try, in futility, to seek out a “server” who will fill my long since empty vintage wine goblet.
As it turns out the “proprietors” of The Subtle Table Pop-Up Dim Sum have recently been successful with their ambitious Kickstarter campaign, where they effectively raised funds for 100 bamboo steamers as well as a vacation to China to observe how dumplings are crafted. This is their second successful pop-up, coming right on the heels of 12 Madison Park, where pop-up patrons were treated to “conceptual prototypes” based solely on recipes from the 11 Madison Park cookbook.
Though pop-ups have truly evolved from modest beginnings such as the Subway 6-Foot Sub at HR-approved office fiestas, they are still basically catered events that accommodate “chefs” who are too lazy to offer guests any real options. One of the primary benefits of an actual restaurant is that you can simply show up when you are hungry and not have to worry about hurting someone’s fragile fucking ego if you aren’t particularly satisfied with your experience. It’s interesting to me that the novelty food public is so fucking desperate to surrender both control and standard amenities just to be part of what they consider to be “exclusive.”
After 15 minutes of searching for a drink, I am able to fill my wine glass and pilfer six nips of Underberg bitters to steady my nerves, as I cannot even recall how long it’s been since we’ve seen a course of food at this point. The underground diners are busy discussing how wet they are over the new hyperlocal eatery being opened by a chef who has worked for free for over 1,000 James Beard award-winning chefs, who despite not having an actual space under lease does have a very snappy opening menu, complete with business cards reading “TBD” and a press kit.
The next course finally arrives in the form of “sacred jiazoi,” chock-full of duck meat that has been sous vide in actual water from the Ganges River, which, though not particularly filling, is quite delightful with my glass of Txakoli from the Basque Country. My server informs me that ST raises all of its animals and ships them to the event in small, artisan baskets procured from the local wicker peddler. I assume that the cost of these baskets must have been built into the $175 “suggested donation” price of the dinner party, and I take a moment to pause and feel fortunate to be blessed enough to be exposed to such culinary hooliganism.
Shortly after finishing my dumplings, I am informed that the moon is waxing gibbous and it is time to “be one with the beasts,” which involves dancing around a large bonfire currently being ignited by scantily clad male “servers.” The underground diners look like their heads are about to literally cave in with excitement, while I pour all 6 of my Underbergs into my now empty wine goblet and shoot them down in one gulp.
My refusal to dance around the fire is accruing dirty glances from the other underground diners, who don’t seem to be hip to the term “drinking the Kool Aid.” One of them plops down next to me, and starts texting. After a moment, he excitedly turns and informs me of a new, underground old-school clafouti joint that is popping up within an already existing bakery in the south end of Boston. “Yeah man, she’s a pastry chef from a three Michelin star restaurant trying to revive the old ways of the craft, and you can only get them from 10:30-11:30 at night. What are you doing later?”
I inform him that I will be going straight home to my pop-up hotel to enjoy some Factory-to-Table comfort food in very large quantities to avoid passing out. I then compliment him on his moustache, to which he pauses, shrugs, and skips off the to the bonfire just as they are burning a an effigy of a man in a superman-style costume bearing the word “Monsanto.”
This is not to say that I do not enjoy a well-executed dinner party, I actually very, very much do. Rather it is to say that executing a dining experience ONCE does not qualify you amongst the many who do it consistently day in, day out, all the while anticipating and accommodating a never-ending barrage of special needs from patrons.
Once I am safely settled in at my abode, I blog about the event while enjoying a box of Kraft Mac N’ Cheese that has been augmented with kewpie mayo, fresh scallion from the farmer’s market, ground tellicherry peppercorns, and my hand-made sriracha sauce.
Yes, I am also part of the problem.