Mark is the master of surprise. Despite suffering a barrage of interrogations and unsuccessful tricks on my part, he refused to tell me where we were headed for dinner on Saturday night of my birthday weekend in San Diego. We drove to Encinitas, parked and walked to the address he had divulged only moments before, and as we hurried past, I noticed a sign in the window of a cafe announcing Relate, San Diego's first pop-up restaurant. "Oh, my God, what a coincidence!" I spluttered, "@KrisDub and @cattycritic (I used their actual names, though) are going to that this weekend!" Mark just led me inside where those two classy ladies waited.
For Chef Dan Moody's first pop-up, the former LudoBites sous chef has taken over the cozy space of St. Germain's Cafe in Encinitas (below). What should've been just a short drive north of San Diego, was compounded by a rare torrential downpour. Luckily, we made it nearly on time and without getting completely soaked.
With the majority of surprises out of the way, we took our seats and got right into the five-course prix-fixe. First up was an amuse bouche of sorts - Chef Moody's take on French onion soup (below). The little bite looked like a tater tot, but biting into it yielded a satisfying squirt of savory soup - French onion soup in just one bite. Any more than one bite, and you would likely be wearing your soup as some of our table mates learned the hard way.
Next up was by far my favorite course, a bacon-fried egg with a potato rösti (similar to a hash brown), baby lettuce, and sherry vinaigrette (below). The wonderful crusty sphere gave way to a perfectly runny egg on the inside. Much like Anthony Bourdain, I'm a sucker for runny eggs.
I was also a fan of the third course, grilled octopus, Mediterranean quinoa salad, burnt red bell pepper, lemon and oregano (below). The octopus was very nicely cooked, not overly chewy, and well-seasoned, and the lemon added the necessary bright notes.
We continued with the seafood in the fourth course with a sauteed local redrock (fish), served with Vadouvan beets, coconut curry hollandaise, and fried spinach salad (below). The fish, beets, and creamy hollandaise were tasty, but the light and airy fried spinach was the star, delightfully reminiscent of the most notable appetizer at one of our DC favorites, Rasika.
The last savory course was Mark's favorite, spiced beef with spinach avocado puree, crispy porcini spatzle, and a Green Flash double stout gastrique (below). The beef was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the chef clearly wanted to make sure we got all the greens we could. This one came with more spinach, pureed this time, along with avocado. Even the gastrique contained a reduction of Green. Get it? Not to be forgotten amidst the beef and greens was the addicting, German-inspired porcini spatzle.
Instead of the listed dessert (a chocolate terrine and green cardamom "crème brûlée"), Chef Moody himself brought out a chocolate mousse cake made just for me - thanks to the monumentally awesome @KrisDub - and it was the perfect end to the night. Really rich and luscious, but not overly sweet.
We were the last seating of the night, so the gregarious chef was able to hang out at our table for a bit. And since some of us had opted for the course-by-course pairings, it was quite the jovial conversation, yielding golden nuggets like, "He got me a shirt with an Ewok on it, and it looked just like me!" and "I wanna see you facedown in that cake."
It was stormy outside, but inside Chef Moody's pop-up (and my stomach), all was warm and cozy and content. And at just $55 per person, the experience was a great value. Relate's 23-day stint is over, but I can't wait to see what the chef has in store for us next!