“That kind of mystery and mystique adds to the whole event,” said Hanke, 38, who went for a date night with his wife, Frieda Lamberg.
The couple were pleased with what they got for $75 each at the one-night restaurant in the back of an ad agency: a five-course gourmet meal with wine but with a kiddie twist. The appetizer featured peanut butter that looked like sand, grape jelly with port and brioche. Royal red shrimp were fashioned into fish sticks. The main course of wild boar meatballs with spinach linguine came on school-lunch trays.
Now that Orlando has embraced food trucks, some promoters have turned their attention to another big-city trend: the pop-up restaurant.
Mark Baratelli, an Orlando events promoter who runs the Daily City website, hopes to make ClandesDine a regular happening. Restaurant critic Scott Joseph recently held his first pop-up and will soon sell tickets for his second. Barbecue restaurateur John Rivers and even the Citrus Club have also experimented with them.
Here-today-gone-tomorrow restaurants have become a way for chefs to get exposure and test new concepts. Adventurous foodies, meanwhile, get a new kind of mystery dining. They buy tickets — usually pricey ones — often not knowing where they’ll have dinner, who they’ll sit with or what they’ll eat.
Baratelli stressed on his website that diners should come with an open mind and a daring palette. “Do not expect white-glove service. Don’t ask for your sauce on the side. Just come and enjoy.”
The novelty is appealing to some Americans who are weary of casual dining and find fine dining too stuffy.
“Today’s consumer doesn’t think of dining away from home as traditionally” as in the past, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based food-industry research firm Technomic.
Tristano said such concepts can work even in Orlando, which doesn’t have the same heavy concentration of urban dwellers as larger cities such as New York and San Francisco.
Baratelli agrees, although in Central Florida, organizers might have to think more creatively, he said.
“Some cities have hundreds of buildings and crazy spaces, things that are really old and interesting,” he said. “I think Orlando has those. We’re just going to have to dig and look for them.”
Baratelli held his debut dinner in the Mills 50 District, in the same place as his weekend Cardboard Art Festival. A few musicians from the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra played Beatles tunes as the 36 diners got to know one another among displays of cardboard animals and robots.
Much of the food came from chef Bryce Balluff’s Fork in the Road food truck, parked outside.
Baratelli is getting the word out about his pop-ups through his website, as is Joseph.
For his first pop-up, Joseph chose a chilly seafood-processing room at Gary’s Seafood & Specialties, where the dinner included a fish-filleting demonstration.
“I like the location to be logical, that it has something to do with the food or with the dinner, to help educate [people] about what we eat, what we drink,” Joseph said.
Just a few days before Joseph’s pop-up last year, legendary New York City restaurant Le Cirque opened for one night at the Citrus Club in downtown Orlando. That was one of a series Le Cirque held around the country.
Also last year, 4 Rivers founder John Rivers tried out a new concept called Cowboy Kitchen at Alaqua. Ultimately, Rivers decided to let the idea for a restaurant featuring upscale Southern cuisine wait so he could focus more on his growing smokehouse empire. But he plans more pop-ups, just for fun.
For Balluff, who cooked at ClandesDine, the pop-up is also a chance to expand his horizons.
“I wanted to be able to still do fine dining. That’s my first love,” said Balluff, whose food truck serves up dishes such as braised short rib sandwiches and paella-covered hot dogs. A pop-up, he said, is “kind of my outlet.”