The late ’90s had Pop-Up Video. The early teens: pop-up restaurants. The genre has taken off in recent months, with everything from guest chefs (such as Tru’s Gale Gand cooking at Gilbert Langlois’s Chalkboard restaurant) to ingredients (such as a dinner at Balsan restaurant at the Elysian spotlighting a rare type of duck) being hailed by restaurants as a “pop-up.” But it’s three teams of creative cooks with no brick and mortar to call their own whom we’re most excited about, particularly as these chefs take advantage of the flexibility of limited-time dining to present hard-to-find (and hard-to-master) spices, dishes and cuisines to Chicago.
The Rice Table
Kendall College graduate Chris Reed started the Rice Table with his mother, Priscilla-Jane Reed, in 2008. “There really was nowhere in Chicago [to get] Indonesian food,” Chris recalls of the time. (Since then, one Indonesian spot has opened.) So the pair started filling that void with catering gigs, booths at street festivals and twice-monthly pop-ups at Sip Coffeehouse. When the Reeds serve dishes such as tofu simmered in red curry, or deep-fried jalapeño peppers stuffed with ground beef and potato, people sometimes ask the most basic questions—such as where Indonesia is located. The unfamiliarity with the cuisine is Chris’s best guess for why there aren’t more Indonesian restaurants in town. Whatever the reason, the Reeds plan to rectify—they hope to open their own brick-and-mortar in the next year. The Rice Table pops up at Sip Coffeehouse (1223 W Grand Ave) every other Friday (next meal: May 27). Dinners cost $18 and are BYOB. Tickets at thericetable.com.
Washburne Culinary Institute student Fred Noinaj comes from a family with a long line of Thai restaurants to their name. Perhaps that helps explain his lack of trepidation in starting a (pop-up) restaurant of his own before he even graduates. In fact, of the four chefs involved in Khûin, none have yet to graduate from culinary school, and the eclectic format of the pop-up (which changes not only its menu but its entire concept each time it occurs) exudes an excited, we’re-doing-this-for-the-first-time energy. The first Khûin featured contemporary American food, the second an amalgam of various street foods (including a deconstructed Chicago hot-dog skewer), and a forthcoming third event (date TBD) will be organized around local, sustainable produce. “Khûin means to rise in Thai,” Noinaj says. Note that it doesn’t translate to to graduate. Khûin is planning a locally sourced dinner for its next pop-up. Check khuin.blogspot.com.
The under-the-radar duo behind X-Marx, Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo, has been creating unusual and ambitious dining experiences since 2007. “I wanted to do something that was the antithesis” of the traditional restaurant, Conlon explains, “and just give a big middle finger to the fine- dining world.” X-Marx’s previous dinners—usually underground, e-mail-list-only affairs taking place at lofts, wine stores, galleries and other locations—have included tributes to Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon and “ComaToast” brunches with dishes like foie-gras wontons. Their most recent pop-up, titled Flour & Bones, turned Dodo (whose rebirth began itself as a pop-up brunch on weekends at Dino’s) into a noodle shop for ten days, featuring handmade Chinese dumplings and noodles. It was so successful the duo is planning a reprise. Or in Conlon’s words: “We didn’t realize that Chicagoans were gonna get so fucking excited. We’re like, shit, these people want some fucking noodles.” Sign up for the mailing list at xmarxchicago.com.