Good food and wine can turn strangers into friends. Nowhere was this more apparent than when we dined last week at the James Beard Foundation pop up restaurant. We were lucky to buy tickets to one of the Laurent Gras dinners - they were sold out in 15 minutes. Laurent Gras had just left L20 - a restaurant in Chicago we had been dying to try - and this dinner was hopefully a preview of what he had in store for his future NYC restaurant.
We arrived and found that the pop-up restaurant had taken over the former 202 space (202 was a clothing/antiques store nestled inside a cafe) at Chelsea Market. We were immediately served spicy nuts and a nice light, dry sparkling wine. The Veuve du Vernay Brut, France NV is a very affordable, bubbly wine that would be a good aperitif for at-home entertaining.
The 4-course meal was paired by wines chosen by sommelier Andrea Robinson (she is only one of currently 17 women to become a Master Sommelier). What we liked about the set-up of the dinner was the long communal tables. Not only was the food seamlessly served (no waiting), but throughout the meal, we got to know our table neighbors. We enjoyed lots of the conversation about food, travel, and favorite restaurants in the city. We also liked that our tickets were paid up front and included all tips and taxes so we didn't have to worry about additional expenses (even at coat check, no one would accept our tips). At $75/person (weekday price, it goes up to $100/person for Friday and Saturday nights), this dinner with wine pairing was a very reasonable meal.
Our first course was the Atlantic Halibut and Green Curry Ceviche with a hint of Chili, Coconut, Garlic, Lime, and Thai Basil. It was paired with a Finca La Celia Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina 2008. This was my husband's favorite dish as it was light and refreshing without being oily or greasy. He thought that the wine was okay - a little light for him but fine with the food. It was a touch tart.
I really enjoyed our second course of Jonah Crab, Butter Poached in a Red Togarashi Bouillon with Celery. It was paired with an Albert Bichot Montagny Blanc, Burgundy, France 2008. This dish was buttery and the crab was meaty and fresh. We both liked the wine, with my husband enjoying this pairing better. He thought that the wine was Chablis-like without being too rich.
Our third course was the Côte de Boeuf–Foie Gras Roasted in Sake with Bonito Flakes, White Soy Sauce Bordelaise, and King Oyster Mushrooms. The dish was paired with the Burgess Napa Valley Merlot 2005. Our meat portion seemed fairly small, but it was cooked to our liking (on the rarer side) and was still quite tasty.
The foie gras portion was decent, and wonderfully rich. And of course, I enjoyed my meaty Oyster Mushrooms. The Merlot was our table's favorite wine of the night - to the point where once our seatmate learned that both me and our wine server came from the same hometown (Toronto), he immediately got up to introduce us so that our red wine glasses were immediately refilled (several times that night).
Our final course was the Honey-Yuzu Consommé, Raspberry Salad, with Mascarpone. I love yuzu (Japanese lemon) and it made this dish tart, light, and refreshing.
There was only a small amount of Mascarpone cheese (if you didn't see it before the consomme was added, you probably wouldn't have tasted it),but I think the smaller amount helped the dish be lighter (almost like a palette cleanser).
We had a wonderful time at this dinner - we ended up feeling contently full (not that overly stuffed feeling that makes you want to go to sleep). Hopefully, we'll be able to buy tickets to another dinner before the pop-up restaurant closes (ends May 14th). Tickets quickly sell out. They go on sale every Wednesday at noon and the next one (Momofuku's David Chang) will definitely be a popular dinner. If you can't attend a dinner but want to see the pop-up restaurant, there are events during the day (11-4). The space is used to serve casual lunches and hold free cooking demonstrations and lectures by cookbook authors. Click here to see the daytime schedule and here for the dinner schedule.