If you want the excitement of a pop-up restaurant that surprises you with new and exciting flavors (and whose location is kept secret until 24 hours ahead of time), then come to Dinner Lab! Dinner Lab is a concept that began in 2011 in New Orleans and has now spread to 30 other U.S. cities. It describes itself as a nomadic dining experience whose motto is new ideas. rotating chefs. unique spaces.
The dinners are held in unique spaces that exist for only 24 hours and chefs are selected to bring forth a delicious and adventurous menu. I was recently a guest of Dinner Lab, held at the Moniker Warehouse in San Diego’s East Village. DJ Park was the featured chef whose credentials include former stints at L.A. restaurants Okasha and The Fare Life. Chef Parker’s menu had a loose Thanksgiving theme and featured a variety of charred dishes and beer-based sauces (Sam Adams sponsored an open bar at the event). During the evening, Parker introduced his guests to some new taste adventures and definitely woke up some previously bored palettes with dishes such as Duck Carnitas.
The evening started off with the lovely event manager Samantha Saad, who rang a bell and welcomed everyone to Dinner Lab.
Next, Chef DJ Park said a few words to the guests about his menu concept Friendsgiving, of bringing people together around the dinner table. He explained that the first Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 probably featured some seafood which influenced his Surf and Turf offering on the menu.
All guests were seated together at communal dining tables and were presented with five different courses throughout the evening, each course matched with an appropriate glass of Samuel Adams beer. All dishes were served on paper plates or bowls in order to keep things moving; the emphasis was more on taste rather than on beautiful plating of food.
Appetizer: Pickled and Charred Crudité
The first course was Pickled and Charred Crudité, an appetizer of raw pickled vegetables dipped in a delicious beer-based sauce. The vegetables were dominated by purple cauliflower, which I had never eaten before, but tasted similar to the white variety. The sauce was a base of crème fraiche flavored with Sam Adams Winter Lager and seasoned with olive powder, a mixture made from dehydrated olives. Although I wasn’t exactly ‘wowed’ by this dish, I was certainly intrigued, thinking “what other interesting things does Chef DJ Park have in store for us this evening?”
The second course, Corn Porridge, extended the chef’s theme of charred vegetables, accenting the porridge with ember charred corn and toasted walnuts. I found the charred corn kernels to be a bit too brittle for my taste, but loved the leek ash butter which fused nicely with the porridge.
Roasted Vegetable Stuffing
Roasted Vegetable Stuffing was next up on the list, featuring croissant stuffing, oyster mushrooms and Sam Adams ‘Thirteenth Hour’ stout gravy. It’s not easy presenting a ‘stand alone’ vegetable stuffing, but the chef didn’t disappoint here, marrying the rich taste of the croissants with the meaty oyster mushrooms.
As the evening wore on, my anticipation for the main course reached a crescendo: would the chef trot out the usual turkey offerings or would we be graced with something new?
Answer: we got something new! Surf and Turf, consisting of Duck carnitas, pork belly, charred lobster and seared sole. This dish was definitely the star of the show- the duck was tender and flaky and the pork belly- well let’s just say that I could go for seconds! The pickled berries offered a nice contrast to the savory duck and pork belly, however I felt that the seared sole lacked texture and could have been eliminated from the dish.
A delightful finish for the evening was Rustic Apple Tart– a dish that was small in size but big on taste. Toasted walnuts, cinnamon cream and apple butter, ‘Bravo’ to Chef DG Park!
If you’d like to try a new dining adventure, come along to Dinner Lab! You can book a ticket for their events through their website https://dinnerlab.com/ All tickets include cost of the food, tips, tax and unlimited access to the bar.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Dinner Lab; however all opinions are my own.