Mismatched elegance at Zero Degrees Zero Minutes pop-up at Darnell’s

Walk into the Zero Degrees, Zero Minutes pop-up and you'll be handed a glass of bubbly and invited to sit at a communal table of people who are as into geeking out over food as you are. That's the crowd drawn to the work of J.J. Basil and Chris Wolff, two chefs from the highbrow New York restaurant wd~50, who are testing the waters with a pop-up at the cozy Blind Dog Cafe at Darnell's as they look for a more permanent D.C. space.

hard clam, asparagus and mushrooms at Zero Degrees Zero Minutes.

hard clam, asparagus and mushrooms at Zero Degrees Zero Minutes.

While the setting may be casual, with simple benches and unadorned tables, the food isn't. For a pop-up, especially one with a kitchen that doesn't meet all of their needs, Basil and Wolff's menu demonstrates elegance and depth. The $125 tasting menu, which will be offered on Sunday nights through Aug. 31, begins with amuse-bouches of live scallop and black bass, and progresses through seven leisurely courses, each more interesting than the last. Those include a play on texture with hard clam, asparagus and mushroom; a cured rainbow trout with fava beans; tilefish with celtuce and a crumble of chicken skin, and a show-stopping hangar steak marinated in bone marrow, followed by halvah ice cream with lavender and blueberry. There are wine pairings to go with nearly every course, as well as dessert libations.

The pop-up is intimate -- there are only 12 seats each night, and, at least in the dinner I attended, they tend to attract die-hard foodies who discuss everything from home kitchen sous-vide technique to the perils of DIY butchering. Throughout, Wolff and Basil come out from the kitchen to introduce dishes and answer questions. And the dinner is served on an assortment of delicate, mismatched china that the duo have picked up over the years.

The pop-up gets its name from the Zero Milestone, a stone on the Ellipse to mark the spot where all distances in the District are supposed to be measured. As a starting point, it's also a metaphor for new beginnings, and for Basil's return to his hometown. Basil says they're still looking at permanent spaces in neighborhoods like Bloomingdale and Ivy City, and a bricks-and-mortar space is still far in the future. For now, though, you can buy tickets via Eventbrite to the four remaining dinners they'll be hosting this summer.

Zero Degrees Zero Minutes at Darnell's, 944 Florida Ave. NW (Metro: U Street). 

Also on Going Out Guide

$10 or Less: Kaypi Peru Festival, DC Meet Market and HATFest