All around the District, pop-up restaurants are, well, popping up. They are taking place inside custom-built domes, on sidewalks and in private homes. These transient affairs might be serving food for one day or for a limited run of dates. And when they’re done, they’re gone for good. Westend Bistro’s chef de cuisine Joe Palma thinks these here-today-gone-tomorrow eateries are injecting a new excitement into D.C.’s dining scene. “Eating out in restaurants has almost become passe because so many people do it so often,” he says. “Pop-ups let people try a completely new experience with a unique setting and tone.”
Think of Hush as a gastro speakeasy. Up to 22 guests meet at an undisclosed townhouse in the U Street corridor (the location is revealed when your reservation is confirmed) for a vegetarian dinner party hosted by a part-time Indian chef who goes by simply Geeta. The evening starts with a rotating cast of cocktails infused with ingredients from the subcontinent, such as Geeta’s Kiss, which combines sparkling Prosecco with Rooh Afza (a sweetly floral Indian syrup). Guests’ appetites are partially assuaged with an appetizer or two before Geeta gives a 45-minute talk on the food being served and her Gujarati Jain heritage that inspired it. “I’m best at being a cultural anthropologist and ambassador,” she says. “I can guide you through my world in a way that is relevant to you.” After the lecture and a Q&A session, the rest of the meal is served. The most recent dinner included dishes such as rice, dal (a thick, stew-like lentil dish), a vegetable, some raita (mild yogurt dip) and papadum (thin, crispy flatbreads). Dessert might be a cup of chai (spiced tea) and a dish of falooda, a classic Indian dessert made with rosewater (rose-flavored syrup), milk, ice cream and thin vermicelli noodles.
Founder Emily Neifeld, right, is a fourth generation kitchen designer and an amateur chef with a self-described “adventurous palate.” On St. Patrick’s Day, she unveiled her below-the-radar supper club with a traditional Irish meal — corned beef and cabbage, soda bread and an Irish Car Bomb sundae (homemade Guinness chocolate ice cream drizzled with Baileys Irish Cream liqueur) — at her Arlington home. “I want to create social food memories,” says Neifeld. “Our motto is, ‘We’re young, we’re hungry and we’re social.” To add a level of collaboration between the kitchen and the dining room, potential patrons suggest menus and themes in advance via Nosh’s Facebook page and through Twitter.
Since mid-April Eric Ripert’s high-end eatery has been offering diners a more casual option with a weekly barbecue on its sidewalk. “Each restaurant has a personality, which is a blessing and curse when it comes to what you can and cannot do,” explains Palma. “This lets us shake things up a bit.” The cash-only, grab-and-go operation serves three sandwiches — a pulled pork with a mustard sauce, a pulled chicken with a vinegary sauce and a Texan beef brisket brined in Coke and rubbed in black garlic ($6 each) — as well as sides such as coleslaw ($2) and biscuits ($1). For Palma, the experience is an excuse to enjoy himself. “I’m hanging out and cooking in the sunshine,” he says. “That’s a nice place to be in life.”
Popping up: Fridays (through the summer), 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m; 1190 22 St. NW; 202-974-4900; Westendbistrodc.com.
Taking place in a custom-built geodesic dome near Yards Park, Sensorium creates a high-end culinary circus by bringing together performance art and fine dining. “This is about showcasing the gastronomic arts and enhancing food through art,” says ringleader and chef Bryon Brown, who honed his chops working at minibar and Jaleo. Diners enjoy a more-than-two-hour, 12-course dinner paired with wine, while a steampunk-styled improv routine featuring four local performers unfolds in front of them. Though the menu is constantly being tweaked to include new dishes, mainstay favorites include the Cloud 9 salad — salmon tartare presented on a plate made of ice — and the Nonsense course, which features a small cube of pork belly served on a miniature dollhouse chair and a potato and a wild onion laid out on a tiny table that’s the perfect size for Gastronome Barbie.
Popping Up: Tue.-Fri., 6 & 9 p.m. & Sat.-Sun., 6:30 p.m and 9:30 p.m. (through May 22), $150 per person. The dome can be found on the East Lawn of Yards Park at the corner of 4th and Tingey Streets. SE; 202-573-8197, Sensoriumdc.com.
Written by Express contributor Nevin Martell
Photo by Lukasova Veronika