GLENN – I was a bit apprehensive about this one. I had first learned that the pop-up would be at Taza Chocolate Factory – intriguing location. But then I found out that it would be on Valentine’s Day weekend and feature a chocolate-influenced menu. This gave me pause. As an avowed bachelor, occasional misanthrope and with an allergy to the maudlin and sentimental in American consumerist culture, Valentine’s Day is anathema. Would there be centerpieces with cupids and red heart-shaped Mylar balloons floating above the tables? Would I feel, as Anaïs had, like “a spy in the house of love”? I knew that the food would be good but the enjoyment of it depends to an extent upon context. And just what would the context be?
KATRIN – I had some hesitation, too, especially when I found out that the tickets were only being sold in pairs. Lucky for both of us, no Mylar balloons or other cheesy decorations were on display. And in retrospect, there was no reason to expect that either. Co-conspirators Aaron Cohen and Will Gilson are both too hip and too classy to fall into that trap.
GLENN – Taza is located in one of Somerville’s more edgy neighborhoods – junkyards filled with cars, industrial laundries, a lot of chain link fence, vinyl- sided three deckers and a few seemingly out of place condo developments. The context here is gritty, but inside Taza all was in good taste. The factory store had been artfully transformed into a restaurant, but a restaurant with a view of the factory and all its arcane machinery. Much more interesting than some restaurant designer envisioning your experience for you. The ambiance was enhanced by the beautiful vases filled with roses and ranunculus offset with some green; these had been provided by Bittersweet Gardens which had done an exceptional job with the flowers for the Bloc 11 Pop Up. There were no cupids nor heart-shaped balloons. My anxiety had proved groundless. I could relax and enjoy the meal.
KATRIN – The menu was an inventive take on the chocolate theme. Unlike other chocolate dinners – like one that the Wine Dine With Us group enjoyed at Sel de la Terre a couple of years ago – at which the chef incorporates chocolate into every dish, Chef Will cleverly avoided using chocolate everywhere. Instead, the first course was an interpretation of a Hershey’s Kiss and came wrapped in foil. When the waiters walked out with them, I could not help but quietly gasp in anticipation.
I will remember this meal for its outstanding food overall and for Chef Will’s ingenuity, especially after seeing the sparse, non-professional kitchen in which he managed to produce this meal. The one course that was not a hit was the Chestnut Soup with white chocolate and truffle oil. We agreed with our neighbors at the table that it was too sweet and lacked depth.
GLENN – And enjoy the meal I did. For the most part, the food was outstanding. The amuse bouche “kiss” of squash and duck kibbeh was a tasty surprise – but then again Chef Gilson worked at Oleana.
The salad dressing – a combination of mole and Green Goddess dressing was outstanding. Chef should think about bottling and selling this creation.
The lamb – in both its iterations – was incomparable. I found the contrast between the two intriguing – the modern technique of cooking the sirloin sous vide then searing and the traditional dolma – cabbage leaves stuffed with ground lamb and smoked tomatoes.
But the highlight was the dessert – the Mexican Hot Chocolate Tasting. The chocolate terrine, made with Taza’s 60%, flavored with smoked chiles and piment d’espelette, was finished with a sprinkling of salt. The terrine, on a smear of house-made dulce de leche, was garnished with a foam of hot chocolate frothed Mexican-style stabilized with lecithin. Sweet and salty, spicy, earthy and ethereal.
KATRIN – As with the last pop-up, wine was provided by Bear Flag Wines and included in the meal. Marcus Andrews, Bear Flag’s charismatic representative, circulated throughout the dining room all evening offering pours of the winery’s Bright White Blend and Dark Red Blend. Perfect for a party, the Bear Flag wines were a big hit at our table and several diners commented on how much they were enjoying the wines.
GLENN – As we left, we were gifted bags containing bars of Taza chocolate, a selection of confections from chocolatier Elaine Hsieh and stickers, lip balm and grill seasoning from American Lamb, who had provided special support for the pop up. A thoughtful touch. With this pop up, Will and Aaron raised the bar for themselves. Just what will they do next?
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