I must admit that I sometimes roll my eyes when I hear the words "pop-up" in the context of a restaurant. I feel like everyone has a pop-up project going on. I could open the front door to my place while I'm cooking one night and claim I have an exclusive, limited time pop-up dinner going on. Not sure many would pay for that privilege, but when a real chef is between gigs, locations or wanting to branch out on his own, he might start a pop to try out some new dishes, build a following and test the whole restaurant thing out.
Chef Derrick de Jesus did just that. He helped open new downtown hot spot Alma last fall, but decided he wanted to try and give it a whirl on his own. He started doing pop ups at Sip City in Echo Park, and when the lights literally went out there, he moved to a random spot in Venice, Brick House Kitchen, on Monday nights. It's a super casual, neighborhood joint, and as they name would suggest, it's surrounded by brick inside and out.
In this off the beaten path location in a place that isn't even open on Monday nights, there wasn't an empty seat. Fellow friends, chefs and foodies were there to support the latest pop-ups. After a bit of a wait for much of anything including a corkscrew to open our wine (no corkage since they don't have a liquor license), four of us agreed to try everything on the menu, which was only 6 dishes, and a recommended way to go.
We were first presented with a hearty wedge of what looked like a basic white bread, but luckily I was very wrong. it was a warm, crusty, sourdough that was quickly devoured with the sweet, salted butter. A collection of pickled vegetables showed up next providing a nice acidic crunch to fresh cucumbers, carrots and apples. I'm pretty pleased with anything pickled, so this was another winner for me.
The vegetables continued, but instead of cold and sweet, they were warm and savory. Sure there was a difference, but I might have liked a greater jump between courses.
The vegetable garden was not cleaned out yet, so out came potatoes and bonita. I love salty things so I wasn't opposed the duo, but I also love meat and fish and was starting to crave something I could sink my teeth into a bit more.
Then we waited. And waited. Did we eat all the vegetables? Nothing left? As can be the case with pop-ups, there were a few kitchen malfunctions which resulted in quite a bit of time to digest our legumes before a new not fully cooked ramen came out.
It was warm, and I was happy to see a piece of pork belly happily floating on top, but the abundant noodles were stuck together and proved to be more of a sand bank for the pork. The broth hadn't come into its own either. It was a like a little kid who just hadn't grown up yet. More hang time to mature would have been beneficial.
I can definitely say I've never seen a dessert quite like this one. We were given golden donut nuggets in one dish, and beside it was a plate, yes plate, of kaffir lime panna cotta. The donut-plate-swirl found a nice collection of flavors and textures all the way through to sweet berries.
The chef did come out after and explained some of his woes with electrical failure and kitchen challenges, and these are the things that you have to be prepared for when dining a la pop-up. I will say that we each paid $28, which included tip, so I still think it might be a better deal than eating in my kitchen....for now, at least.