It's all about playing with your food. Saturday night's SLC POP dinner, held at Caputo's, was as playful as it was edible.
Pop-up dinners have been popular on the coasts for a number of years; in Salt Lake City, the MIST project's much-ballyhooed (yes, by me) temporary restaurant and Justin Kinnaird's By Invitation Only examples of the genre. SLC POP is Chef Katie Weinner's project–Weinner was Head Development Chef for the MIST Project and is currently a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City
A plate of raspberries, edible flowers and nasturtium leaves centered the table. A fresh raspberry on a nasturtium leaf is a lovely thing.
The amuse was a cucumber cigar, a mint-cucumber mojito granita rolled inside long thin slices of cucumber to form a fat cigar, with citrus ash.
Next, the bread course, presented like a tamale. The cornbread batter was aerated into the corn husk with an iSi nitrous charger, giving it the consistency of fragile foam rubber. Garlic butter made with fermented black garlic (so Portlandia!) gave the soft stuff a little more oomph and Weinner also suggested we chew on the lemongrass let that tied the cornhusks together.
Weinner's spin on caprese involved a layering of sourdough bread, juicy heirloom and cherry tomatoes, burrata, a crumbling of rattlesnake-rabbit sausage from Franco Meats, some mizune leaves and a plastic syringe of orange vinaigrette to squirt to taste. I had some problems here: the bread would have held up better under the tomato juices if it had been grilled or toasted.
And I'm not convinced about the appeal of cold sausage crumbles.
Welcome to Minnesota was a slightly confusing course just because the pictures Weinner handed out of her father fishing for walleye in Minnesota led me to expect fish. Instead, the long plate held souvenirs of her summer home, including a chunk of honeycomb she hand-carried back to SLC on the plane, buffalo and pepper sausage, vanilla blueberry goat cheese from Trader Joe's, freeze-dried grapes, rosemary macronas and a puddle of failed homemade jam, along with crackers.
The white dish with some yellow was admittedly misnamed–Weinner says she started out in one direction and ended up with something else: a puddle of pluot puree, darkened with activated charcoal and chocolate, a coil of daikon radish soaked in coconut milk and an unfortunately colored nut curry.
The clothesline is a favorite presentation of Weinner's: this one held thin sheets of Caputo's house-cured speck, smoked pork shoulder and, instead of the planned butter bound cheddar from Beehive, a wisp of duck foie cotton candy.
A pink granita of dragon fruit, garnished with a dotted die fruit cube and a sprinkle of finger lime caviar, was a marvel, one of my favorites. But then, I'd never had finger limes before.
Then we all received a plastic painter's palette of purees, along with an edible rice-paper notebook and a little brush. Creativity ensued and was consumed.
Finally, all the chefs came out bearing a 10-foot gutter filled with dessert: beet chocolate cake, root beer gelato, cream. Guests served themselves from the trough.
A wisp of mint ingeniously enclosing a chocolate full of pop rocks was the final flourish to a meal that was as much about fun as about food.
Conclusion: don't go ravenous to SLC POP: these dinners are as much food for thought as food for belly. But do go, and find out about the future of food–it involves a lot more than cooking on all four burners.