The rows of guests seated at the Dolcezza Factory in Northeast last Thursday weren't there for gelato. Rather, they were about to be served a five-course dinner featuring the cuisine of Colombia, such as fish stew with grilled corn and avocado, or yucca with pork belly and plantains. The factory was the first stop for Dinner Lab, a roving series of pop-up suppers, founded in 2012 in New Orleans, that has spread across the country and finally arrived in D.C.
Dinner Lab meals have the feeling of a homey party at your coolest friend's house. Seated at a table of strangers, conversation topics ranged from international media to marriage to the local music scene. No one deigned to talk politics at our table, thankfully -- but it is D.C., so no guarantees. The plates were disposable bamboo, but the silverware was real. And the phone-addicted among us have Dinner Lab's blessing to Instagram the meals.
Here's how it works: After you pay a $175 annual membership fee and fill out a user profile, you'll be able to buy tickets to upcoming dinners, which will take place once a week, for $50-$95. The dinner's location is often in a raw space (but not too raw: they'll be cooking, after all), and is always announced the day before the event. Future meals include a family-style crawfish boil (May 10), a Hawaiian luau (May 1) and a "Land vs. Sea" surf-and-turf challenge (April 23). All dinners include alcohol, too. Because meals are prepared for a set menu, Dinner Lab can't always make substitutions for allergies, but they note which allergies can and cannot be accommodated when each dinner is announced.
The dinners are planned and prepared by up-and-coming chefs looking to make a name for themselves, and to step out from under an executive chef's leadership to plan a meal of their own. And for in-the-know diners, it's a way to impress dates and friends with a surprising meal that's chic, underground, and ephemeral.