WHAT HAPPENS WHEN: Pop Up Restaurant (Movement 3: 19th Century France)

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Dear Food Diary:
Pop Up Restaurants have been the new trend around town, even the James Beard Foundation jumped on the wagon. And why not. For any commitment-phobic, curious and audacious foodie/chef/decorator, this is a dream and a win-win. Your imagination is allowed, better yet… encouraged to run wild, brining all senses along for the ride. At What Happens When, the menu, interior design and soundscape change every 30 days, promising a full new experience. 
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MOVEMENT 3 just happens to revolve around one of my favorite art movements of the 19th-century, Impressionism. Focusing specifically on Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (which is currently in The Phillips Collection in Washington DC) as their main inspiration.

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Though the obvious difference of night and day, from painting to our dinner experience, walking in felt like I was being transported to Paris, but in another time and place than the Paris I so love and know. Notice the awning and that communal, small space gathering feel. A modern still of the past. 
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The sound was a collage of French music from the 13th-21st century, lightly in the background, stimulating my ears. All senses are well taken care of throughout the night. The lighting is playful, romantic and fun. 
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A small window peeks into the kitchen, in a very personal/intimate way. Almost like watching that next door neighbor without getting into trouble. Still life and fresh flower in soil are placed all around. 
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Tables are literally an inch away from each other, for that communal effect. And the menu is presented creatively. 
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I love how every little detail enhanced my time there. Even our utensils were presented in a playful way, by opening the drawer right on our table. There are clear marks under each chair for position. So clever.

Now to the food…
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Warm cheesy garlic knots. Soft and pretzel like was a great way to start.
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AMUSE-BOUCHE came in the form of Spinach and Eggs that were fair, cross between omelette and quiche filling. The Lemon lavender Gelee in the middle was like potpourri on a spoon. I much rather smell these notes at home, not in my mouth. Garlic Gazpacho was well, cold creamy garlic soup. Though my tastebuds were not amused by these, my other senses were, so I let this one slide.

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SHELLFISH SALAD with fennel, olives and anchovy vinaigrette had fresh, generous chunks of mussels, squid, octopus and shrimp. Lightly dressed over strands of finely shaved fennel. Solid flavors, just enough tartness. It was good, but not wow.

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RABBIT IN FILO with yogurt, dates and fresh garbanzo beans was by far the better starter course. The tender rabbit is enhanced by creamy yogurt and dates but above all, the buttery and crispy filo is a mouthful of fun texture to play along with the savory/sweet mix. And that extra buttery flavor lingered far after the rest was gone. Once again, butter making everything better.

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SWORDFISH GRILLE with cranberry beans, tomates confits and basil was solid. The nicely grilled swordfish is moist and meaty. Paired with a bright sauce, an array of garden vegetables and topped with almonds for that little bit of crunch. 

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VEAL BRAISE with peas, panisses and herbs de provence was amazingly satisfying. First of all, it looked like a painting and excited my carnivorous side greatly.
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The veal was ohhh so tender and juicy. Most importantly, fork friendly. Everything was rich and flavorful. The pea puree brought a brightness to it, while snow pea tips added that extra fresh spring in the garden aroma. Sort of like fresh cut grass on a sunny morning, imagine hints of that contracting the bold flavors of the meat. Plus, chewy panisses (fried chickpea flour cake from the South of France), introduced a crunch and texture to the mix, replacing the “potato” factor in this delicate meat and potato kind of dish. Se magnifique!

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PRE-DESSERT came in the form of a strawberry compote with a swirl of yogurt. Light and refreshing. A perfect palate cleanser in a sweet way.

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ALMOND TART with honey, olive oil and lemon was as pleasing to my eyes as it was in my mouth. The beautiful motif on the plate, so appropriate for the theme. Made me feel like Marie Antoinette… saying “let them have tart!” (ok, different time period, different century, I know I know, but you know what I mean right?). Anyways, back to the tart, its 1/2 tart crust 1/2 cornbread cake-esque. Moistened by the drizzle of honey and dab of whip cream. The toasted almonds played an important role. 

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SOUR CREAM TART with pistachios, lavender and feuilletage was the winner. Melt in your mouth center, surrounded by bits and crunches of feuilletage aka French for “flaky puff pastry”. Dabs of pistachio cream adds a touch of that salty nutty flavor to the mix. Light, not too sweet, yet creamy and palate pleasing. I wanted more.

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Ending the evening with a French macaroon was perfect.

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Even a trip to the bathroom is filled with visual treats. Love every little detail. So creative and interesting. 

The best part about the night, aside from the company of course, was that we weren’t expecting the food to be as good as it was. I thought it would be a novelty idea, fun night, pretty decoration. So it was turned out to be a tasty surprise. I can’t wait to go back for the next movement in May. $58 prix fixe for a 3 course meal was pretty worth it. 
P.S. Chubby’s RATING: 
25 Cleveland Place