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Behind the Cart: a Food Happening

Again, Michael Davidson is creating food excitement! This will be my third post about him – from our first meeting to my trip to LA via San Diego, there’s a lot of culinary busy-ness going on around that man.

When Michael moved to California from New Jersey, he and his parents went to Out Standing in the Field which I’d never heard of (I hope to become familiar very soon). The atmosphere and camaraderie reminded him of a family dinner in France — food prepared and served with passion and love. While attending UC Berkeley, Michael participated in ForageSF‘s Wild Kitchen Dinners.

Behind the Cart takes Michael’s inspiration and his current passion and blends them: six courses, six food cart chefs. BYOB, destination unknown until days before — it was truly a pop-up foodie happening. At the end of the meal, a round-table discussion between all the chefs and some of the assistants made the night that much more familial and comfortable. My friend Dana accompanied me and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

I’m going to be very honest even though Mike is a good friend — I’ll preface by saying as soon as the next event goes on sale, I’ll be first in line.The first course was an amuse bouche by Chef Jordy, the only non-food cart chef. Jordy works at Five in Berkeley, and was at Boulettes Larder before that. His tuna tartare with avocado, cucumber and a sesame vinaigrette was… fine, but nothing exciting.

The next course was prepared by Rhasaan Fernandez of Boffo Cart was described on the menu as “young lamb lollies with wild foraged flowers and Castelveltrano olive salsina.” The lamb was precisely rare/medium-rare and nicely under-seasoned; enough to pronounce the flavor of the lamb but not overwhelm the sauces.

Speaking of, the olive salsina and creamy sauce underneath — like a refined tzatziki, full of dill and cucumber — added beautiful texture and savory differences to the lamb. The fresh greens (I didn’t get an actual flower, but no harm) added balance, like an acid to tame the tzatziki.

Michael was next, with a family-style display of his signature grilled cheese masterpiece in “dipping stick” form. He’s been making for his cart — and tonight paired his sandwiches with a clean, light, fresh tomato soup. Elevating two classics, paired well together. It was a highlight of the night, especially the fun of passing plates and making sure your neighbor is happy.

The main course was by Katie Kwan of Kitchen Sidecar. Let me just paste the menu description so you get an idea of my anticipation during the meal: “Kurabuto pork belly served over a salad of roasted black radishes, golden turnips, and farro and topped with a walnut gremolata.” Sounds like a lot goin’ on don’t it? It was; but so harmonious.

If we were ramping up through the previous courses, this is the apex. The belly was perfect, crusted and supple, rich and everything you want out of belly. I saw a lot of leftovers on people’s plates; some just can’t handle the belly. It made me sad, but I was full!

The farro added a great nutty flavor, a beautiful snappy-tooth made a great textural difference too. The radishes and turnips were so sweet and earthy; I also had a beautiful piece of caramelized radicchio which was still bitter enough to counteract the luscious pork. The gremolata played well with everything, adding citrus acid to the mix. I could eat that plate again and again (if you can’t tell).

There were two (count ‘em – TWO) dessert courses, the first of which was Aaron‘s Almost Better Than Sex Cake. I’ll be honest, this was both underwhelming and overwhelming for me. After the pork belly, a pound of chocolate cake covered in caramel, marshmallow fluff, chocolate sauce and toffee was way too much. All the ingredients tasted ready-made too. I know many people really loved it, but it didn’t match the quality of our previous courses. I was also stuffed after the main.

Jesse, proprietor of Soda Craft, made an aperitif of gingerale with ginger, eureka lemons, cane sugar and yeast. Holy crap it was good — lightly spicy, fresh citrus, a beautiful champagne-like bubble. I wanted a really nice aromatic gin to top it off, but it didn’t need a thing. I’ll be following this guy around for sure! I’m glad he made extra; since it’s a fresh brew with no preservatives, it only lasts so long. I had a second glass just to help, y’know?

The round-table discussion was entertaining, enlightening and brought everything full-circle. Talk of the hardships of being a food cart vendor; the spirit of entrepreneurship and love of food; past careers/lives; the growing community that is food trucks and carts and pop-up restaurants. The food world is so alive right now, excited about new ways of cooking and new ways of providing a food experience.

As we left and thanked the chefs – especially Michael – we all took home (well, we did) our cake pops from Sweet Lauren Cakes. I’ve been apprehensive about the concept, since I saw them at Starbucks. I’m glad this was my first — a perfect little bite of red velvet cake encased in cream cheese frosting. At the end of our night, Dana and I sat in the car with our saved cake pops, extending the experience well past dinner. I didn’t get a picture of the floral display; but the pictures on her Facebook page are more awesome than what I could take that night.

9 Responses to Behind the Cart: a Food Happening

  1. Thank you for such a nice and honest review of our first meal! The pictures are very nice and I will give my own review of your review by saying that I personally thought the amuse tuna was by far the best. Your picture alone helps illustrate my point in my mind. But that is what makes Behind the Cart so fun for me. I get to bring in so many different dishes in hopes that we hit each and every patrons palette with something they adore!

    I’m glad to hear we will be seeing you at the next event. The brunch is being brought together as we speak. Stay tuned fans!

  2. Everything sounds wonderful,but I’m really interested in the drink. I will surely be trying it.(I may even try the gin.)

  3. This sounds amazing! I just liked Behind the Cart on FB so I can hear about future events. So cool!

  4. And I love having these discussions! The plating of Jordy’s tartare was definitely aesthetically skilled; even the pork belly course was a bit of a jumble – but it was so delicious…! Thank you for sharing, and I can’t wait to be there for the next one!

  5. Either way, it was delicious and a great apertif! Thank you!

  6. Super-cool! I hope we can talk at the next one and geek out together!

  7. Holy cow! Food carts? That is one magical place you have out there. kind of a culinary heaven. I live vicariously while eating my black-eyed peas, corn bread, and turnip greens. Heck of a good writer.

  8. Mom, stop making me jealous. Okay, keep making me jealous. I’ll have to do a Southern dinner night… black-eyed peas, collards, mac n’ cheese casserole, and maybe a pork roast? We should talk about that…

  9. [...] The great evening was followed up by a great review from the beautiful and entertaining Bold Italic who attended the dinner as well as my reporting friend Frank from Forkful of News. [...]

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