Books tend to start or end with acknowledg-ments, dinners rarely do. This pop-up event that I’ve been teasing you with over the last week or so started off as the glimmer of an idea in the mind of a chef turned hospitality consultant, Jon Hochstat. Jon and I were active in the New York restaurant world in the same time period, have quite a few mutual friends, it’s actually pretty surprising we never met during that era, long before he found his way to Jacó, Costa Rica. Somewhere along the line a couple of years ago, Jon scribbled down a journal entry about bringing the world of puertas cerradas and popup events to this country. We actually talked about an idea a year or so ago, but it was a project that fell through, and he connected me at one point with a young chef trying to start a closed door restaurant in San Jose – though the kid has sort of disappeared on everyone. Jon is a connections guy, he’s got what the Russians would call blat – a word with no direct translation to English, but that kind of means, “he knows someone who knows someone whose uncle has what you need.” This event never would have happened without Jon’s spark, and his relentless tweeting and emailing to the world at large. Jon is blatnoi.
It also wouldn’t have happened without Danny and Katie Clark, the owners of Side Street Bistro and Grafitti in Jacó – Danny’s the chef behind both restaurants and partner or mentor with a couple of other restaurants in the past in town, and he jumped onboard with this project, full-in, and they both graciously opened their doors and organized all the details of this event, from space, to graphic design, to managing the reservations. Danny is also an avid homebrewer and whipped up a batch of an excellent “tropical summer ale” to accompany one of the courses. And I know they, and I, couldn’t have done it without their staff, the guys in the kitchen who pitched in and made it all possible both in the hours leading up to the event and right through service, the gals in the dining room (and one guy behind the bar) who did the same out there with the customers, and particular thanks go out to their waitress/graphics person, Cata, who designed the invitations, the menu, the tickets, and, the wall you’ll see below behind the tables.
And one special thank you goes out to Vivi Diaz, who not only took me around and introduced me to San Jose, mentioned in a couple of the earlier posts on this trip, but who made her way to the Mercado Central on Saturday morning to pick up some ingredients we couldn’t find in Jacó, drove down with her boyfriend Jose (who also deserves thanks for all the driving he did!), and pitched in all afternoon in the kitchen, and then spent the evening taking photos of the event for an article she’s writing. Actually, without her I’m not sure that all the prep work would have gotten done on time – the guys in the kitchen, great as they were, didn’t really get inspired to pitch in until they saw this petite girl “taking names and kicking ass” – all of the sudden they found religion and fully jumped into it all.
So let’s get into the dinner itself – I don’t have a lot of pictures – it’s been a long time since I prepped and served dinner for 20-some people all at once, out of a kitchen I wasn’t familiar with, lacking a lot of the equipment that I’ve come to rely on – let’s just say, way out of my comfort zone. Once Vivi, and Lauren Salisbury, a writer who was at the dinner, get their articles written and online, I’ll put up links so you can see a lot more of how the evening went. There was also Mike, a local photographer and videographer, who took lots of photos and even more footage for Danny and Katie, hopefully at some point I’ll have access to some of that as well. I really wish I’d had someone snap a couple of photos of me with the kitchen crew – something to remember for the future.
[Casa Saltshaker pops-up – and rides to shore – in Playa Jacó – Lauren Salisbury]
[Photos – Primer pop up del 2015 – Vivi Diaz]
Okay, I hate the plating on this – I was just a little overwhelmed at the start and needed to get focused and centered and all that good stuff. The flavors were all there – it’s a parrotfish ceviche cured with lime, passionfruit, red onion, ginger, garlic and cilantro, accompanied by a trio of sauces (we didn’t have a commercial blender like I do at home, nor a food processor, to get the really smooth purees I would have liked) – sun-dried tomato with toasted cashews and chipotle; corn puree; and a rocoto cream.
With no molds of any sort, the roasted beet causa had to take a bit more of a free-form salad look to it in contrast to our usual presentation. Mounded the salad in the center of the plates (these are small side salad plates), rolled the two types of mashed potato into balls – one with ají amarillo and lemon, the other with green onion and lime – topped with our spicy guacamole and dotted with black olive puree.
A small cup of parihuela with sweet shrimp and razor clams. Spiciest dish of the evening and I think it threw a few of the folk from town who weren’t quite used to that level of spice, but I had to get in one dish that hit the notes the way we’d serve it in Casa S.
Locally caught snook, topped with stoneground mustard, portobello duxelles, matbucha, toasted breadcrumbs with herbs, served over green beans and a mildly spicy cilantro sauce. I think this was the “hit” dish of the evening, though the main course wasn’t far behind.
Our adobo de chancho, cooked down for six hours until the sauce became a glaze for the meat, served with charred eggplant puree, roasted cherry tomatoes, fried yuca, mixed green kimchi (radish and beet leaves, baby bok choy), and a red onion salad atop.
Chocolate and star anise cheesecake (no baking molds available, so we made a half “hotel pan” out of it – basically a big rectangle) with a lime and apple puree (no green apples, so red it was), and local blackberries cooked in sugar and sambuca (no anisette – actually, no sambuca in house – one of the kitchen guys ran the five blocks to Graffiti with a glass and came back with it half filled with sambuca from their bar).
A last thank you should go out to the folk who attended, who, never having heard of me, and for the most part, probably never having heard of the concept of either a puertas cerradas or perhaps even a popup dinner, who had no idea what sort of food or setting they were getting themselves into, believed in Danny and Katie and Jon, and ponied up to attend an evening that was relatively expensive by local standards. We couldn’t have done it without them.
I get the impression that this won’t be the last popup invited chef dinner that gets put on at Side Street Bistro, or even elsewhere in Costa Rica, and I know it won’t be the last time that Casa S pops up somewhere outside of BA. That was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun, too!