Have you heard the term pop-up restaurant yet? It's the newest trend "popping up" in the Boston area. (I hear NYC has been doing them for a while.) Basically, a chef will open a restaurant for a night or a few nights in a random location.
Back in November, Chef Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar and Aaron Cohen of Eat Boston teamed up to host a pop-up restaurant in Mohr & McPherson, a furniture store in Boston. Just this past weekend, they worked together again to create EAT @ Bloc 11, a three-night pop-up restaurant running this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (with Sunday being vegetarian).
Bloc 11 is a coffee shop that just so happens to be in walking distance of where we live. While I thought it would be fun to attend the dinner, I didn't initially get tickets for the pop-up. But on Friday afternoon, Jeff's friend Bill called me and told me he had extra tickets and asked if we wanted to buy them and come along. It only took a moment for me to jump on the offer and then call Jeff and talk him into it. (Bill knew I'd have more pull talking Jeff into a fancy dinner like this.) We both love Will's food, being frequent diners at Garden at the Cellar, so it wasn't too hard to convince Jeff to come along. (In the interest of full disclosure, Bill is really good friends with Will, and we know Will pretty well through him. I, as always, am giving you my honest opinion about the food and restaurant.) The tickets cost $60 apiece and included the meal, tax, and gratuity. (And as we found out once we were there, wine too.) This was an incredibly good value for everything we got.
The theme for the evening was coffee, since we were in a coffee shop, and all of the dishes on the five-course prix-fixe menu were coffee inspired.
When we got there, I sampled some hors d'oeuvres: an eggplant and goat cheese combo on toast, shrimp and kimchi, and pate with mustard. I really enjoyed all of them, and I'd have to say the pate was my favorite.
Bear Flag provided the wine, and lucky for us, the rep hung out near where we were seated and told us all about the wines, even letting us sample the Soft White Blend, which wasn't being served that evening.
The two wines accompanying the dinner were the Dark Red Blend and Bright White Blend.
I went with the red, and Jeff and Bill had the white. Both were really good, and I would definitely pick them up if I saw them at my local wine store, plus the bottles are really cool so they would be fun wines to bring to a party.
Shortly after we settled in with our wines, the first course arrived. This was whisky-cured/cigar-smoked salmon with sunchoke rosti, pickled mushrooms, and creme fraiche. I'm always a little worried about "smoked" things, but the salmon was pretty mellow, and I liked the flavor.
The little pickled mushrooms, which I learned are called beach mushrooms (or Enokitake), might just be my new favorite type of mushroom now.
The second course was described as a roasted pumpkin salad with fried sage, pepitas, and brown butter dressing. Pumpkin, sage, and brown butter is one of my favorite combinations, so I was really excited for this course. When the plate came out, it wasn't so much a salad as three piles of roasted pumpkin, topped with sage and pepitas and a leaf of arugula. This was totally okay with me -- more pumpkin, less lettuce!
And this brings up a side note: People always ask how Jeff and I get along so well when I love food and he's so picky. I'll let you in on a secret... because he doesn't like things like pumpkin, that means there's more for me! I finished my pumpkin salad and had some of his as well.
The third course, a parsnip and potato "latte," sounded a little strange but ended up being among all of our favorite courses. The latte was more of a potato and parsnip soup and had chestnuts, thyme, and cacao nib powder in it. It was served hot, and I sipped mine like coffee.
The main course was coffee-rubbed pork tenderloin with beet mole, charred onion sauce, and edamame ragout. The pork was perfectly cooked, and I will say this is typical of Chef Will. I have always enjoyed any pork dishes I've had at Garden at the Cellar. And I thought the edamame ragout on the side was so creative. I don't love the texture of most beans, but edamame are more waxy and less pasty, so this was a good side in my opinion.
Dessert, always the course I look forward to, was definitely the most coffee-inspired dish of the five. It was an espresso pot de creme with vanilla bean cake, cashew crumble, and coconut. I loved all of the components of the dish.
The flavors of the cashew crumble reminded me of pumpkin pie, and the vanilla bean cake was so moist. I tried just a bite of it before I traded with Jeff for his espresso pot de creme.
I loved the pot de creme so much, I ate all of mine and made it through some of his as well. The texture was firm and the flavor was spot-on. I even found espresso in the bottom of the cups. It was a great way to end the meal.
The whole dinner just amazed me. It wasn't like the whole staff from Garden at the Cellar came out and set up shop in a coffee house. I had seen Will put out a call on Facebook earlier in the week for some strong cooks to come help out at the pop-up, and I knew from talking to our waiter that he worked at Craigie on Main. These were cooks and staff from different places, coming together, and putting out an amazing spread in an unknown location. For the most part, the dinner was seamless, and it looked like all of the guests really had a great time and enjoyed some spectacular food. I know we all had fun. I think Will and Aaron did a great job putting this together.
I think the concept of a pop-up is so neat. What do you think?