Bon Appetitrecaps the pop-up episode of Bravo’s Best New Restaurant and has some insights on what makes a pop-up successful. They also had a few nice things to say about both teams. It was a very exciting competition. And if you want to see the episode, you can go to this link. If you’d like to make a reservation to dine at Union, please go to www.opentable.com or www.table8.com. Read BonAppetit.com’s full feature below.
MARCH 19, 2015 / WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA CHAEY
Welcome to our weekly recap of Bravo’s Best New Restaurant, where we share our unapologetically opinionated musings on the ups and downs of dining out. This week, we’re taking a look at episode no. 9: The semi-final battle between Pasadena’s Union and Miami’s Dolce Italian.
…each restaurant worked with what they had to turn out strong dishes and create a fun and memorable night for their guests.
Pop-up restaurants are the food trend that won’t quit since they first started, um, popping up a few years ago. It’s not hard to see why: A popular chef takes over an empty storefront or an industrial-chic abandoned warehouse and fills it with good food and drink, and an excited, big crowd—it’s any food lover’s dream evening. But plenty can go wrong when a restaurant tries to pull off a pop-up, which is why the stakes were high on the latest episode of Best New Restaurant.
In a high-pressure scenario, Union and Dolce kept their cool.
Semi-finalists Union and Dolce Italian were flown to New York City and tasked with creating a one-night-only pop-up restaurant from scratch, bringing everything from the menu to the décor to life. And although there were some hiccups, each restaurant worked with what they had to turn out strong dishes and create a fun and memorable night for their guests. In a high-pressure scenario, Union and Dolce kept their cool. Here’s how good chefs execute a great pop-up.
Tom Colicchio confers with diners at Union’s “Union Seafood & Provisions” pop-up. Photo: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo
They Bring the Chef to the Diners
Because pop-ups are often less formal than restaurants, they’re a good opportunity for chefs to get out of the kitchen and directly engage with diners periodically over the course of the evening. This isn’t just an excuse to schmooze—it’s a chef’s most useful barometer for what’s going right (or wrong) during service. For example, during dinner at Union’s pop-up, the judges didn’t receive their final dish because of a miscommunication between the server and the kitchen. Chef Bruce Kalman realized what had happened and later personally delivered the entrée—but the only way he discovered the food was missing was because he stepped out of the kitchen and talked with his guests.
They Maintain Great Service and Hospitality
Yes, a good pop-up should feel a little rock ‘n’ roll—but not at the expense of quality service. Both Union and Dolce suffered from server-kitchen miscommunications that led to service errors, resulting in some guests who had to wait for up to 40 minutes to receive their food. Although casual pop-ups can feel like a backyard barbecue or block party, the restaurants that do it right know good service is paramount, whether your guests are drinking Champagne from crystal goblets or drinking punch out of paper cups. Good restaurants know that when diners pay money for a special event, they expect service that’s just as good as what they’d find at a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
They Manage Expectations
Sure, if you’re René Redzepi or Thomas Keller, “managing expectations” might not be in your vocabulary—diners will expect 110% at all times. But for any other chef, we’re willing to be a little forgiving if your pop-up doesn’t quite hit four-star levels—as long as you don’t hype the beans out of it. Ideally, the prices of a pop-up should be a little softer than at the original restaurant. Not only does this make pop-ups more accessible to a broader range of diners, it also helps to temper high expectations. If the pop-up won’t have access to all of the usual ingredients and equipment, restaurants should price accordingly.
Above All, the Best Pop-Ups Adapt
When done right, a pop-up restaurant will feel effortless, like it was all just casually thrown together in an afternoon. But behind the scenes, there’s so much that could go wrong at any second. The real hallmark of a good pop-up is how well the restaurant adapts to its surroundings. The best restaurants are the ones who can create delightful experiences and delicious food while dealing with the perils of unfamiliar kitchens, limited space and equipment, and a tiny staff. They’re resourceful—and that’s what makes them so much fun.
The judges take in the scene and food at the Dolce Italian pop-up. Photo: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo