On a recent Friday evening at the Waffleholic restaurant in Costa Mesa, a band played live music, the tables were draped in white tablecloths and the menu included risotto with mushrooms and pickled shiitakes; sous-vide salmon with tarragon and lemon compound butter over cauliflower rice; and maple bread pudding with candied bacon.
This is what happens when two 17-year-old students from the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts invade the kitchen at a waffle restaurant and create their own pop-up, dubbed Class Kitchen.
Every Friday and Saturday night through Aug. 15, when the Waffleholic shuts down after lunch, students Noah Rosen and Austin January bring in their team to get ready for service.
That team includes fellow students serving as line cooks, a publicist, garde-manger, servers and a graphic designer.
The students cook a three-course meal with an amuse bouche for $45 per person. Dishes may change based on availability, but for the most part, the menu includes a popover to start, followed by your choice of an heirloom and strawberry salad with goat cheese, prosciutto, spiced pecans and Champagne vinaigrette, or a root vegetable soup topped with creme fraiche, Parmesan crouton and chives.
For your entree, the four choices are a hanger steak with chimichurri sauce, croquettes with aioli and spicy ketchup and a parsley and radish salad; a house-smoked barbecued chicken with corn relish, mashed potatoes and coleslaw; a sous-vide salmon with compound butter, cauliflower rice, blistered green beans and carrots; and a risotto with mushrooms, quick-pickled shiitakes, fried Brussels sprouts leaves, fire-roasted bell peppers and green pea puree.
To end your meal, you can select a maple bread pudding with butter pecan ice cream, candied bacon and spiced pecans; a white peach cobbler with vanilla beam gelato and candied ginger; or a chocolate bombe with nut mousse, cherry coulis, caramel Chantilly cream and creme anglaise.
A host greets you at the entrance, you're seated and given menus, an attentive server waits on you and your meal comes out hot and in a timely manner. A peek into the open kitchen shows an executive chef working in an orderly kitchen and a well-dressed manager walking around during dinner, touching tables to make sure everything is perfect.
The experience and food were on par with, if not better than, what you'd expect from a restaurant run by hospitality veterans.
Just don't expect any cocktails or wine with your meal. This may seem obvious, but when you lose yourself in your perfectly cooked (and we mean perfectly cooked) piece of marbled steak and long for a glass of red wine, you'll have to remind yourself that the pop-up's general manager and chef aren't old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes.
To make a reservation, visit www.ClassKitchen.info. Seatings are available from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
I like my steak medium rare. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Jenn_Harris_