by John Curtas
Eating Las Vegas
March 8, 2012
ELV has taken his time with posting the above tasty snaps from the Jet Tila/Tony Abou- Ganim/Origin India pop-up event of a month ago because he‘s be ruminating, cogitating, elucidating and agitating his brain over the phenomenon for a while.
For while it would seem that a food and chef snob like him would deplore the very idea, something in him thinks they‘re just the ticket for our troubled times.
Pop-up restaurants, for those not in the know, were all the rage on the coasts a couple of years ago. We can thank ―tortured artist Ludo Lefebvre for popularizing the latest incarnation of these temporary eateries, as he became all the rage in SoCal a couple of years ago — after making nary a dent or a peep in the Vegas food scene during his year at Lavo — with his taking over of various kitchens, and then social networking his way to fame and fortune. (In ELV‘s eyes, the Ludo Bites phenomenon stands for either: 1) further proof of Los Angelenos being slaves to fashion; or 2) how starved that part of the country is for anything noteworthy in the food world — probably both. Regardless of Lefebvre‘s actual talents beyond self-promotion, his pop-ups reignited a fashion that‘s been around a long time.
Unlike what this idiotic website says, pop-ups did not start in 2007 with Ludo. (That would‘ve been pretty hard for him, since Ludo was at Lavo from ̳07-‘09). Nor did they begin in Great Britain in the early aughts as proclaimed by Wikipedia. Any student of restaurant culture (which, dollars to donuts does not include Ludo, his fans, or sycophantic food writers) knows that temporary restaurants — in abandoned warehouses, operating establishments and people‘s houses) dates to the time of the origins of the modern restaurant in France in the early 19th century. Indeed, Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent de Grimod de la Reyeniere – the first modern restaurant critic — was known for staging elaborate, professionally-catered meals in various locations around Paris, as early as 1783 — when he staged one pretending it to be his funeral.
If you‘ve never been to one, the idea consists of an out of restaurant chef ―taking over‖ the kitchen of a well-known establishment, and turning out his food in an unlikely setting to those curious about the chef, the host, or the experience — or all three. Curiosity may be what drives people to such things, but good cooking is what keeps them singing the praises of the experience, and the Tila/Abou-Ganim/Origin event didn‘t disappoint on any level.
Tony‘s Negroni (his favorite cocktail btw), kicked things off, and watching him hand-saw chunks of artisanal ice for each drink was worth the price of admission alone. In case one of those killer cocktails got you drowsy, Origin India‘s papadums with their incendiary chutneys woke you up in a hurry. From there it was course after course of Tila‘s spicy/savory recipes matched with Tony‘s cocktail matches (including a Jet 75 – a fresh take on the classic champagne and gin cocktail using Bombay EAST gin).
Unlike in a regular restaurant where spices have to be toned down for the general public, the chef can let things fly in a pop-up, and Tila‘s take-no-prisoners yum salad, Pa-lo (braised and crispy pig‘s tails), Easan lemongrass chicken, and a true kao-soi (stewed, curry chicken) were on a whole different level than your average Thai restaurant. Sucking down Abou-Ganim‘s cocktails hurt not a bit either, and made our staff wonder if cocktail pairing with off-the-hook Thai food might not be a restaurant model of the future. (―Only if designated drivers are included in the prix fixe,‖ was ELV‘s response.)
Regardless, pop-ups like this one are a ton of fun and a great way for both a chef and a restaurant to dazzle diners while operating a bit out of their comfort zone. Or maybe within one. Because if nothing else, what you‘re experiencing a more personal side to his cooking, if you will, done without the constraints of the daily restaurant grind – in a setting that excites and stimulates both the cook and the diner to be at their best.