Sometimes people ask how meals in restaurants can continue to wow when your job is to eat out. Often. They do, of course, wow you—in many ways. But one of the meals that impressed me most last month wasn’t in a restaurant at all, but in a pop-up.
The venue was Jettison, the new cocktail bar down a slinky hall from the main Houndstooth Coffee locale at Sylvan Thirty. The meal was the first in a series of pop-up suppers that spanned September and October prior to the bar’s official opening this Friday Oct. 21 (the last of the series will be next Monday, chef Cody Sharp, lately of Filament, doing Spanish cuisine with sherry pairings).
The space is beautiful, a sleek, intimate interior designed by Design-District firm Official in tones of gold, midnight, and sable. Mateo Roberson was the chef of that first dinner. He has spent much time in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand and Cambodia, and his meal was a Thai feast of particular nuance and finesse. Certainly part of the magic was the way the space was so beautifully suited to the understated elegance of the dishes, with those touches of temple gold.
There is the luxury, in a pop-up, of a chef being able to focus full attention on being precise or ambitious or ornate. In essence, you are privy to a finely orchestrated experience, in the vein of a chef’s tasting. In this case, fluffy crab in a yellow curry; the street snack mieng kham served on a leaf, its name meaning “many things in one bite”; a cold soup of pandan noodles, green squiggles like tadpoles in coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar; banana fritters encased in a batter of coconut and young green rice harvested only two weeks in the year. Banana flowers came out as décor for the course of tender banana flower salad—extravagant and beautiful. Roberson had drawn deep within tradition.
Perhaps most singular of all with a pop-up is the specialness of a single seating. Of going down a hall, sliding past your neighbor to your seat, passing dishes around the table, communing intimately over a curry then parting company and retreating into the night.
I find Jettison incredibly promising as a venue beyond the appeal of any pop-up dinner. It’s stunning in its minimalist opulence. It’s small enough that it will maintain a muted intimacy. And not least is the thoughtfulness and talent of bar program manager George Kaiho, who has worked at Parliament and Tei-An. Open till midnight on Friday and Saturday and 11PM other nights, the cocktail bar will also be a nice addition to a cluster of shops and restaurants that hasn’t, to this point, had anything like it.
Ultimately, though, the pop-ups were, for me a nice reminder that some of the finest creativity comes to you in alternate forms. If you haven’t sought one out, next time, perhaps you will. The city has many, from Industry Alley’s series of chef dinners to more casual pop-ups that involve fancy toast. Sometimes they can delight.