"Have you done this before?" asked a young woman standing outside a private Venice Beach residence Friday night. A growing group of people gathered around her, all waiting to get in the front door.
"My friend told me about it," she continued. "I've never done it, but I'm really excited."
That "it" she's referring to involved around 60 strangers, flickering candles, a lot of wine and French fries. It's called Foodshop, and it's an exclusive, semi-secret pop-up dinner by Hyejin Cho and Itay Zach.
Cho and Zach started the concept about two years ago, hosting dinners in a warehouse in Venice, with diners surrounded by wood panels and various construction tools. For a better idea of what we're talking about, check out the Foodshop video above, which chronicles one of the past dinners, from start to finish.
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Friday night's dinner was a little more posh, held at a private residence near Abbot Kinney, with multiple levels — and a waterfall. The dining room, a long space with a single communal table the length of the entire room, was set with mismatched place mats, cutlery and dishware.
You may have sat next to a private chef, a freelance writer, a publicist, a model or the owner of the house. And since the food was served family style, there's a good chance you exchanged numbers and stories with at least a couple of your dinner companions by the time the main course was served. Which happened to be grass-fed hanger steak with a garlic and wine marrow sauce, served on a wooden board, with plenty of fries.
Before the steak, a smoky ginger and charred lemon cocktail; a board of Weiser farm melons, cured ham and d'Auvergne blue cheese; roasted romesco with garlic, cherry tomato, cured olives, anchovy, pine nuts and arugula; followed by pine needle-smoked Penn Cove mussels, cilantro and coriander olive oil.
Other than the welcome cocktail, it's BYOB. Prepare to share your wine with the person next to you. If that person happens to bring a package of Ludlow jelly shots, good things are bound to happen.
For dessert, light and chewy cocoa nib macarons with dark chocolate ice cream and salted caramel. By this time, you've sat next to your new best friends for about two and a half hours, and there's no embarrassment when ice cream drips down your chin.
At the end of the meal, a donation box is sent around. The suggested donation for Friday night's dinner was $70 per person.
Want an invite to the next one? If you haven't been to a previous dinner (in other words, you've been invited by a friend on the list), you can request an invite through the Foodshop website. Then maybe, just maybe, you'll get invited to the next one.
I love a good dinner party. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_