You don't know the exact location. You don't know who else will be there. You don't know the menu. But if you have been to a 319 Hidden Kitchen dinner before, you do know that you won't be tasting a dish that you have already eaten.
That's because Ivan Jacobo, chef and chief organizer, keeps notes on each customer. If he sees you ate a dish at one of his previous dinners, or perhaps a plate that featured a certain kind of mushroom, he won't make that same thing for you again.
He wants even repeat diners to get a novel experience.
Jacobo's culinary career started in the Valley but took a detour to San Francisco, where he cooked in some "really fancy and really crappy restaurants." There was something that united these restaurants, something other than that both classes of eatery served food. "What I noticed that the diners had in common," he says, "is that diners would be on their phones all the time."
In response, after his return to the Valley, Jacobo has structured his ongoing pop-up to thwart the smartphone. At 319 Hidden Kitchen, the 27-year-old chef started hosting pop-up dinners on Friday and Saturday nights,
"It slowly grew into a full-service catering company," he said. In addition to catering, he supplies select vendors with pastries (like Luana's Coffee Yard), and still hosts pop-up dinners on Friday and Saturday nights that you can learn about through his Instagram or mailing list.
If you sign up for dinner notices, Jacobo will send an email a few days before each weekend event. Once you book a dinner from that initial email, you will get a confirmation email with the approximate location of the weekend dinner you'll be attending.
Jacobo has held pop-ups in nurseries. He has held them in collaboration with small businesses, right in their shops. He has held them in museums. Often, he holds them in a house that 319 Hidden Kitchen rents.
"Anywhere I find cool, I'll host a dinner event," he says. "How I pick out my locations is I ask myself, 'Would I go to an event hosted in a place like this?'"
You go to the revealed intersection. Nearby, somewhere, you see a red light. Near that light will be a table, long but not too long, ready for the 12 to 22 diners who attend each dinner.
A recent dinner was held in the dining room of a house on Roosevelt Avenue. Lights were dim. Clunky nudes sketched by a local artist contorted in frames on the walls. Roses dangled above the table, the flowers leftover from catering events.
Roses are one of Jacobo's signatures. After you've taken a seat and met your neighbors, after you've opened a bottle of BYO wine or swigged some that Jacobo will provide for a few bucks extra, sourdough bread is served – and its butter has been carved into roses.
At the dinner I went to, the guests were on the younger and rowdier side. Conversation whisked down strange and hilarious channels of thought as the booze started to flow.
The first course, plates set down by staff as Jacobo explained them, was a thick slab of grilled squash zapped with balsamic vinegar. Blue Sky Farms provided the squash. The vinegar was aged for 18 years. Tomatoes, goat cheese, pine nuts, microgreens, and edible flowers colored the top.
Next came steak, the outside torched to a bark-like color, the inside as pink as tuna. Horseradish cream sauce and spinach purée foiled the beef with fresh and herbal flavors. After steak, branzino arrived, melting soft, crisp with the ethereal thin snap of fish skin.
For dessert, there was a cinnamon and honey spuma (stiff meringue) with various add-ons that made each bite a little different. You'd get some carmelized banana here, some grated chocolate there, and oh damn, that's nice some graham crackers and salted caramel ice cream there.
The dinner was interesting. What made it interesting was the crowd, and not the composition of the crowd, but the fact that the crowd interacted.
It's more than kind of weird. Restaurants can be jammed with people. Your elbow can be 18 inches away from your neighbor's at the next table. But talk to that neighbor, even look at that neighbor for too long, and he or she will blink back at you like you're a leper.
Jacobo's pop-up has elements of surprise. They bring good food (with a hiccup or two) and great talking points. But what makes his dinners worth attending, especially for the price of $65-plus, is that you talk and laugh and bullshit with people, that the food isn't the lonely highlight.