Pop-ups have a lot of virtues, for chef and diner alike, but excellence straight out of the gate isn’t always one of them. While it’s helpful to have another pipeline toward the eventual goal of a brick-and-mortar, patrons may need to be a little more forgiving than usual of botched delivery and various rookie mistakes.
Not at Abstract Table, Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkor’s periodic pop-up at Uptown Oakland’s The GastroPig. The two worked together at Duchess, a short-lived Rockridge restaurant that admirably went for the breakfast-lunch-and-dinner trifecta and brought out dishes like a 55-hour pastrami sandwich and Dungeness crab fries with the sea-arachnid carapace sitting on top like it was calling dibs on itself. Duchess had a slightly rough charm, but Greene and Kwitkor have banished any trace of that with their polished new venture, with seatings on Friday and Saturday nights at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Fine Dining on Paper, Abstract Table’s first “exhibition” — their term, as both chefs studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, and a nod to the paper-lined trays on which they served food — lasted from September to November. The follow-up, Blizzard, may almost sound like we’re mocking the victims of the polar vortex, but it’s all about the sense of snow. At $50 for five courses and $70 for seven, you can treat yourself to some high-concept technical excellence with heart, a rare combination.
Take the opener, a bowl of mussels with bacon dashi, charred citrus, and a mushroom veil in the form of a sweet-ish cracker on top. It isn’t the easiest thing to char citrus this delicately for 30 people all at once, and the salt level in the dashi was exactly right. If you’ve had enough repurposed subway tile as a colorless backsplash, Abstract Table is here for you, serving a chicory salad on top of the tile. (I laughed.) While mostly bitter, a spray of rice-cracker brittle added a caramelized note to everything, enlivening what could otherwise be a very typical salad.
This isn’t even the snow part, which begins as a light dusting of purple sweet-potato on some soba noodles in the third course and moves into the only properly abstract dish on the slate. That would be a wine-dark puff of pigment on a bit of goose, quince gelee, and some kohlrabi demi-glace, like something from the Saatchi Collection — except it has an almost Saison-esque intensity, as if it were distilled into itself three times.
The snowstorm winds down with maple-y candy cap ice cream snow atop birch-smoked whisky profiterole with candy cap creme anglaise. Profiteroles! It’s probably been awhile since you tasted a cream puff this elegant.
This Blizzard will clear in a month’s time, and as of March 8, Abstract Table will return with Atoll, a showcase for everything that lives on or around coral reefs and islets (think wild boar, goat, and breadfruit). Barring a collapse of capitalism, Abstract Table is almost certain to acquire its own home eventually. Go get it now and brag that you did.
Abstract Table, Fridays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., at The GastroPig, 2123 Franklin St., Oakland, abstracttable.com