Last night was my first pop-up dinner experience, (besides Diner en Blanc, which is a different concept) and it was very intriguing. Cow By Bear holds pop-up dinners every Saturday night at different locations throughout downtown San Diego. The location is emailed to diners the day before, and each dinner is limited to 10 people. Known for its 45-day dry-aged ribeye, Cow By Bear includes a four-course menu, as well as a welcome cocktail and snack. The chef is dressed in a bear costume to conceal his/her identity, and goes to great lengths (no talking!) to remain a mystery.
The menu changes each week (ribeye is always the main course), and last night’s selection was creole-inspired, including: a wilted greens salad with onion, goat cheese and bacon vinaigrette, paired with viognier; a tomato and parmesan tart with arugula and sunflower seed pesto, paired with a cabernet/merlot blend; dry-aged ribeye with spicy Haitian slaw and sweet potato puree, paired with a bordeaux blend; and a chocolate pot de creme for dessert. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a Barbancourt rum cocktail, as well as crispy black-eyed peas and crostini with cajun pepper marmalade for snacking. This wasn’t the same menu emailed to us two weeks prior, but since dinner service doesn’t begin until 8 p.m., I wasn’t in a position to be picky. The ribeye is served medium-rare, which is most people’s preference, but a bit undercooked for my personal taste. The wine pairings worked well with each course, and the unconventional restaurant ambiance (former VI Star warehouse space in Little Italy that now contains six shops) felt special. It was interesting to be seated among strangers during the 2.5-hour experience who all seemed eager and open to chatting with people outside of their party.
Dinner at Cow By Bear costs $150/person (donation), with a 50% deposit required to hold your reservation. Because of its exclusivity and infrequency, reservations are typically booked a few weeks in advance.
Pop-up dinners seem to be gaining popularity lately, in our city that has a seemingly endless number of hot, new restaurants to check out. Dinner Lab is another popular one that recently hit San Diego (originating in New Orleans), but requires a paid annual membership to purchase tickets to their pop-up dinner events for 100 — 200 people. So far, most of the San Diego dinners have been prepared by Los Angeles-based chefs who come down for the night to cook, so hopefully we’ll hear about more local chefs getting involved soon.