The brassicas course, with grilled broccoli takoyaki. All photos: © tablehopper.com.
Trout and roe.
Lobster noodle soup and okra.
Mushroom tortellini en brodo.
Foie gras cake for dessert. You’re welcome.
There are many pop-ups that circulate through our city on nights when restaurants are closed, and one unexpected location is Dabba in the Financial District, a fast-casual daytime place which plays host to the pop-up ~R.T.B.~, serving 30-35 guests from Friday to Monday evenings. It’s a mightily impressive pop-up, with ingredients, creativity, and execution singing on a very high scale. Chef Rodney Wages has quite the pedigree, cooking at French Laundry, Benu, RN74, Morimoto, Saison, and he was most recently chef de cuisine at Atelier Crenn. Nope, no slouching in those kitchens. Oh, and he had a caviar business, United Artisan Caviar. (Always good when a chef is way into caviar.)
But it’s at this pop-up, a warm-up for his future restaurant, where he gets to riff on a range of influences, personal likes, and cuisines. It feels like he’s cooking for people who love to eat out, and who can roll with a tasting menu format without having to make a lot of substitutions. And Wages is always pushing: I ate there just one week ago and this week’s menu has almost entirely changed.
Our tasting menu ($89, service not included) featured a tour de force of top-notch seafood, with starters like grilled Sweetwater oysters with dill pickle (fab), and raw Maine lobster seasoned with preserved citrus and topped with Osetra caviar. (Sidenote: I love it when your server encourages you to eat something in one gluttonous bite.) The lightly grilled Monterey abalone was almost shockingly tender, with wild seaweed, braised cardoon, and black truffle (and a sauce we spooned up every damn drop of).
There are fun dishes like an aebleskiver filled with grilled broccoli and prepared like a takoyaki ball. Suddenly the heat scale got dialed up fast with spicy lobster noodles, with Maine lobster shells cooked with a touch of coconut oil into a stunning broth full of sweet aromatics and fresh herbs (like mint and Thai basil), with okra and Fort Bragg sea urchin kicking it in the bowl. We drank that one up too.
One of my all-time favorite Italian dishes, tortellini en brodo, show up here stuffed with smoked porcini and shiitake gel, plus thick shavings of smoked foie gras, all topped with a ham broth poured tableside. (Fortunately this dish seems to be a constant on the menu.)
And then for dessert, there’s foie gras cake—again, a playful one-biter. Yes, all of these ingredients are catnip for the gourmand set. And it becomes clear why he runs the pop-up on Sundays and Mondays—so industry folks can come by.
While $89 certainly isn’t cheap for a pop-up, the luxury ingredients and technique and complexity make it so worth it. It’s interesting to think how much this meal would cost in a real restaurant, but since that hasn’t happened yet, I say check it out before it does. The costs of operating a brick-and-mortar restaurant take a back seat in this bare-bones space, and if you truly love food, you’ll note the benefit instead of the detraction.
There are eight bottles of wine and sake available, and this is where I can see the Saison baller effect take hold (most are about $80 and up, but you can have any of them by the glass, or there’s a $23 glass of Collet, okay, it’s poured en magnum, but still), or you can do the beverage pairing for $78. Corkage is $35 per bottle.
After a couple of courses came out, I was like, wait a minute, how on earth is Wages carting all of this beautiful pottery and glassware and kitchen gear to this location each week? Because as anyone who has held a pop-up knows (raises hand), pop-ups require a monstrous schlep of everything, from what you need in the kitchen to what goes on the tables, and this pop-up was pulling out all the stops, all the way to the water pitcher. I found it an interesting detail that Dabba had some storage space to spare, so Wages can keep everything there during the week. Kind of a brilliant setup, and it makes a huge difference in hosting a pop-up on this level.
Now, the meal wasn’t pitch perfect—I found the maple and sweet potato purée with an otherwise gorgeous trout and roe dish to be extraneous, and some kelp wasn’t winning any points in the texture category once it was doused with the tortellini broth. Nothing major, really.
The room is chilly (don’t go sleeveless, ladies), and some folks may not totally jive with the occasionally rowdy hip-hop soundtrack. But I dug the energy and DIY aesthetic with a strong personal POV—because that’s how they roll at RTB. I like SF being a bit scrappy and chic at the same time. I applaud people making things work in an otherwise challenging restaurant industry landscape, with no PR or permanent address but a whole lot of hustle. And talent. And a funny pop-up name you’ll just have to figure out yourself.
Tickets available for Fri–Mon evenings.