Experience Pop-up Dining with The Silk Rodeo
Chefs love a good challenge—like throwing a dinner party in a fabulous, one-of-a-kind space without an actual kitchen. The savvy entrepreneurs at Hammer & Hand recognized that their customers would love to watch that kind of culinary drama unfold. And, they just happened to have the perfect tables in their shop. Since the idea crystallized last spring, the home decor retailer located in The Gate has attracted top-notch local and national talent for a series of Asian-inspired pop-up dinners that always sell out sometimes within 48 hours.
Store owners Amy and Chris Plaisted go above and beyond to channel their guests’ excitement evenly between the food and camaraderie. As ticketholders arrive, the couple simultaneously rings up purchases via smartphone and directs customers to one of the farm tables in the front of the store. While the hungry throng chats and laughs amid colorful furnishings with Asian origins, the chefs are in the back of the store, prepping and staging the multi-course meals using whatever appliances they can plug in.
On The Plate
Most of the Silk Rodeo chefs have their own restaurant kitchens—Bernie Lee owns Hiro Asian Kitchen, Adam Lambay is the executive sous chef at St. Louis Union Station and Josh Charles recently moved from Elaia to Element—but working outside their “real” menus offers creative freedom. Take Charles’ fourth course at the October dinner, a Chinese- style steamed bun wrapped around tender pastrami and sauerkraut so mild that it still had a satisfying bit of crunch. His knack for putting a Midwestern spin on Asian ingredients also yielded a pale pumpkin soup with a slow curry burn tempered by creme fraiche and perhaps my favorite rice pudding ever, tangy with cinnamon, rich with coconut, sweet with golden raisins and white chocolate.
Regulars at Silk Rodeo dinners all have a most memorable dish. One was curried grilled okra with harissa, a Southern twist on Asian cuisine from Russ Bodner of Randolfi’s. Another was Lambay’s goat cheese cheesecake pops with mango custard and banana samosas. Attendees also tend to come away with a particular dish that’s tested the boundaries of their adventurousness, since the dinners’ themes are built on travel and novelty. The series got its name from the Silk Road, an ancient trading passage from China to the Mediterranean, with offshoots to India and the Arabian Sea. It gives chefs a geographic jumping- off point for inspiration, but where they end up is limited only by their imaginations.
In the Glass
For October’s dinner, Advanced Sommelier Andrey Ivanov of Reeds American Table brought in seven Spanish wines. It was his enthusiasm more than his awards and titles (though he has plenty) that caught guests’ attention. His favorite pour of the night was from Andalusia: The NV Bodegas Grant “La Garrocha” Amontillado paired perfectly with the rice pudding. Not only did Ivanov explain the science behind fortified sherries in a way everyone could understand after five courses of food and six glasses of wine, he also convinced several skeptics to give its unique flavor a chance to grow on them during dessert.
Drink pairings like these are a highlight of the Silk Rodeo dinners, not least because many of the dishes are tricky to match with wines. Sauerkraut is one thing, but some dishes were even more complex, like a six-piece bay scallop crudo, each topped by a different flavor of ponzu sauce. Exotic ingredients add to the challenge— Indian spices, pickled seaweed, smoked yogurt, chili sherbet. Wines from Missouri to Italy have been featured, along with the occasional local microbrew.
Amy Plaisted says future dinners will probably trend smaller than October’s extravaganza, which featured two seatings and kept the culinary team running in high gear for more than six hours. But she promises that the food-loving duo will partner with the chefs to figure it out as they go, just as they did with their friend Bernie Lee, who suggested the series and oversaw its first two dinners. Given their track record, it’s a good bet neither the chefs nor the guests will come away disappointed.
Silk Rodeo at Hammer & Hand
2714 Lafayette Ave. • 407.491.0421
Popular pour: 2011 Dominio do Bibei “Lalama,” a Mencia-based red blend from a small mountainside winery in northern Spain.
Top dish: The first course is always designed to capture your taste buds’ attention—whether it’s heirloom tomato salad with tamarind vinaigrette or curried grilled okra with harissa.
Insider tip: Even with a mostly volunteer staff, service is stellar. For example, diners not in the mood for wine might find themselves sipping whiskey on the rocks—even though it’s not on the drink list.
This article was featured in the December 2015 issue.